WACO, TX: Dallas public affairs maven Lisa LeMaster is helping Baylor University weather its continuing storm.
LeMaster was called in by acting university relations VP Larry Brumley in June, when murdered basketball player Patrick Dennehy was still a missing person. Baylor's crisis team then included two faculty members who later resigned amid controversy: men's basketball coach Dave Bliss and athletic director Tom Stanton.
Baylor's tabloidesque chain of events included former Dennehy teammate Carlton Dotson being arrested on murder charges. Questions raised by Dennehy's family led to allegations that Coach Bliss improperly paid the murdered player's tuition, and attempted to cover up those payments by asking others to portray Dennehy as a drug dealer. Bliss also allegedly secretly taped an opposing team's practice.
Communicators carefully crafted statements for university president Robert Sloan as suspicions about Bliss mounted, Brumley said. They also steered clear of speaking for Baylor's in-house investigation committee to avoid compromising its independence.
Located near President Bush's summer home, Baylor hosted a Bush economic forum last year, and relationships built with national reporters then have paid off, Brumley said.
The communications team has used university media facilities to produce video releases, and relies heavily on the internet. Sloan also answered tough questions during a live chat last Monday.
The Waco Tribune-Herald, however, has run editorials questioning the private Baptist university's openness. And shockers keep coming, like an attempt by faculty senate members to bring a no-confidence vote against Sloan.
"You cannot make a bad story a good one, but I think Baylor is hanging in there," LeMaster said.