Truth should have been the number one goal of communication to students, employees and the community about the AIB and University of Iowa merger. Unfortunately, it looks like that imperative was violated when the president of AIB announced the deal last week. Saying that the school merger was brought up during a casual conversation last summer was disingenuous at best.
Rumors have been floating around about the financial situation and declining enrollment at AIB for years. The merger with the University of Iowa was a graceful way for the 90-year old AIB to exit "stage left" and not leave a big empty campus behind. Unfortunately, AIB leaders chose not to share the full picture with their constituencies at the school and in the larger community.
Of course, they had students to think about, and the announcement was carefully timed so as not to have a bunch of students bail at the semester break. There were many loose ends - such as the future AIB athletic scholarships - that were poorly communicated. There are other deals in mid-stream as well, such as the AIB-Lincoln high school athletic fields partnership - that is now left hanging without any real resolution. I am disappointed that this renovation may be stopped in its tracks before being completed, leaving Des Moines schools officials holding the bag and students without the fields they were planning on. I hope there was a tightly-worded contract in place so that AIB will be forced to fulfill its end of the deal.
It also seemed as though students found out about many of the details of the takeover in the media. That is unfortunate. As difficult as it might have been to break the news, students are the customers of AIB that really deserved special treatment and over-communication about what was going on. The last thing they deserved was to have the sketchy details of the merger announced in the media. Adding insult to injury, it seems they were also misled on several aspects of their scholarships and athletic careers.
I'm sure that when things shake out the University of Iowa campus will be a wonderful addition to the Des Moines educational community, but that does not help the 300 student athletes with more questions than answers. Just because AIB is a privately-run institution doesn't mean it can conduct its affairs in secret. There are many people and community partners (some of them publicly-funded) to whom AIB owes transparency. And saying that they "want to be as transparent as possible" is not the same as being transparent.
Here are the values listed on AIB's website:
- Quality education and experiences that encourage and stimulate intellectual and personal growth.
- Leadership, teamwork, open communication and lifelong professional development.
- A diverse campus community based on respect and integrity.
- Ethical and transparent decision-making.
- Stewardship of all College resources.
- Service to others – locally, nationally and globally.
- The health, wellness and safety of our students, faculty and staff.
Kind of rings a little hollow now. As my mother always told me, there is no better time to tell the truth than the present.
Claire Celsi is a communications consultant in West Des Moines, Iowa. Connect with her on LinkedIn.