The general purpose of my research was to study who is responsible for responding to an institutional crisis. Specifically, I examined how one Jesuit university responded to the sexual abuse crisis. The eruption point of the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report that documented these crimes was starting period of examination. I compared the University response to the principles of effective crisis communication, and then focused on the University response in relation to the concept of framing, public relations functions, and thinking through an organization’s mission and social legitimacy as a comprehensive approach that can help an organization properly address a crisis. The appeal of studying a religious-affiliated university is that it serves dual missions: as part of the larger religious institution and as a higher education institution. For this work I implemented a case study methodology using key informant interviews and university documents.
An institutional crisis occurs when individuals and organizations fail to perform the routines and roles that produce the collective interests and social order of the institution. The institution of the Catholic Church continues to endure a crisis of priest sexual abuse and those in positions of leadership covering up these incidents. Any organization within the institution could proactively decide that it must respond to maintain its credibility, while also helping repair the reputation of the institution. A response to an institutional crisis should be driven by an organization’s assessment of events as well as its mission, values, and sense of responsibility to its stakeholders. The response should also use the unique skill and resource capabilities of the organization. The university I studied demonstrated a focus on victims’ concerns from the religious mission perspective and is using its capabilities of amassing and disseminating knowledge from the higher education mission perspective. An organization’s mission cannot merely be an aspirational espousal, but rather has to manifest itself as foundational values displayed in real-time decision-making and implemented actions, especially during times of crisis.