Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education (PhD)

Degree Level



Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders


Michael T. Miller

Committee Member

G. David Gearhart

Second Committee Member

Suzanne McCray


higher education public relations, presidential statements, public relations, responsive messaging, stakeholder demands, values-based messaging


Historically, institutions of higher education (IHE) have been cautious and slow in making changes. Yet in today’s fast-paced and dynamic world of content availability and information flow generated by 24-hour news cycles and the ubiquity of social media present a challenging reality for colleges and universities in their public relations and communications approaches (Sands & Smith, 2000). Creating a harmonious and agile approach to managing these responsibilities against the backdrop of an incessant flow and public demand for information, including responses to national events often with seemingly little or no connection to the institution, suggested a need to examine the duties of university relations organizations. The study yields valuable insights into how university relations organizations offer timely and relevant responses to meet stakeholder demands for statements about off-campus events in ways that serve to build and maintain the trust of these key audiences. The study answers five research questions to understand the stimulus-response phenomenon that triggers stakeholder desires to hear from institutions, and how that informs decision-making by senior university relations officials and, finally, the development of values-based messaging strategies on the behalf of the institution. The contemporary issues faced by these offices is also discussed. The study used a case study approach manifested as a series of interviews with the communications leaders at 5 IHEs. The conclusions reveal several themes, which are described in the areas of candor, frequency, allegiances, trauma, and power – and ultimately suggest there are times when a president should respond to demands to make a statement, and times when a president should say nothing, both are equally complicated and important decisions to be made.