This has been a tough year for many of our Jewish communal organizations. As The New York Times pointed out in a February 1st editorial [relative to Brandeis University] “hard times force hard choices”.

Now we have Hebrew Union College – where passions, along with letters and emails, are flying across the world as more and more news stories concerning the future status of the various campuses are published. This is the latest report, from yesterday’s The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Even a Website, SaveHUC.com, has been launched – with the purpose, “to inform about the current plight of Hebrew Union College and to advocate on behalf of maintaining the Cincinnati campus.”

But the College appears to be placing its head in the sand. HUC’s Public Affairs Office has not responded to written requests for additional information or clarification of comments by Board members being reported in the press. Seems they prefer soundbites rather than a formal statement. Just adds fuel to the commonly held assumption that decisions have been made and are just waiting Board approval.

Don’t they get it? The ground rules have changed. Stakeholders, all stakeholders (including the student community) deserve much better. Sticking ones head in the sand leads only to sufficiation. HUC was founded in 1875 and has spent the past 100+ years developing a world class reputation in many disciplines. In the past few weeks they’ve done a superb job tarnishing it.

As Gail Hyman so eloquently wrote back in February – a message worth repeating over and over and should reverberate with every single organization, regardless of size, or fiscal health,

“It is simply the latest example of how smart people and revered institutions seem to never think through the implications of their actions to their institution’s reputation. Brand building and reputation burnishing are important responsibilities for every organization and their leadership. As important as balancing the books, keeping an organization fiscally sound, being transparent to its supporters, focusing on its mission and being respectful of its many publics…

One bad decision can create an avalanche of woes. One bad economy can make some smart people act unwisely. With all the troubles our institutions face, we cannot afford for them to ignore the basics – treat your supporters well and cherish your reputation like your life depended on it. It does.”