Crisis communication and management syllabus fall 2017
University of San Francisco
College of Arts and Sciences
M.A. in Professional Communication
Strategic Communication Concentration
Crisis Communication (3 units)
Professor: Mitchell Friedman, Ed.D., APR
Phone: 415-517-5756 (cell)
Office Hours: Thursdays 5:15-5:45 p.m. and by appointment
Office Location: Downtown Campus (101 Howard Street), Room 208A
Office: Downtown Campus (101 Howard Street), Room 157
Class Meetings: Thursdays, 6-8:45 p.m.
Final Exam: None
This syllabus is subject to change. The instructor will publish any changes to the
syllabus on Canvas (e.g., guest speaker presentations) and notify the class should
there be such changes.
This course aims to provide you with an understanding of the framework and tools
necessary to successfully address communications in a variety of crisis situations.
Through discussion of theory, analysis of case studies, student presentations, role-
playing exercises, and other activities, you’ll be asked to think strategically, make
recommendations to address crisis-related challenges, and develop robust, proactive
plans to assist organizations in this arena. In short, you’ll gain the skill set and
confidence needed to maneuver through myriad potential crisis situations today’s
organizations and individuals will encounter.
Course Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:
• Identify and apply crisis prevention strategies to different situations in
• Isolate and describe crisis planning and preparation measures;
• Differentiate between different crisis types;
• Assess the appropriateness of a crisis response;
• Assess the information needs and resources of a crisis situation;
• Identify and assess the application of social media tools in different stages
of crisis communications and reputation management;
• Critically analyze previous crisis situations in established organizations;
• Create a crisis communication plan for an organization; and
• Act strategically in a simulated crisis situation by applying lessons learned
throughout the course.
MA in Professional Communication Program Learning Outcomes
• Core Knowledge: graduate students will define, identify, and apply the
rhetorical conventions and strategies appropriate to communicating effectively
and ethically to varied audiences;
• Scholarly Communication: graduate students will write and edit a
substantial amount of revised prose, meeting standards and applying
conventions defined by the field of communication;
• Professionalism: graduate students will produce written, oral and digital
communication of high quality consistent with their professional concentration
and focus; and
• Research: graduate students will conduct skilled and ethical research in the
field of communication and contribute original knowledge in their chosen
industry and profession.
We will read all of each book in this course, so you’re advised to purchase them. Please
secure the editions indicated.
Coombs, W. Timothy (2015). Ongoing crisis communication (4rd
ed.). Thousand Oaks,
CA: SAGE Publications. ISBN 978-1-4522-6136-2.
Fearn-Banks, K. (2017). Crisis communications: A Casebook approach (5th
York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 978-1-13892374-4.
Ulmer, R. R., Sellnow, T. L., & Seeger, M. W. (2013). Effective crisis communication:
Moving from crisis to opportunity. Sage Publications. ISBN 978-1-4522-5751-8.
Other Course Readings
Additional weekly readings may be assigned to complement the required textbooks.
These will be made available on Canvas. The instructor also will announce their
availability to students in advance of deadlines.
Required Assignments, Due Dates, Value
1. Discussion Board Postings and Class Participation (75 points)
a. Discussion Board Postings (40 points)
You’ll compose a 250-word comment (i.e., questions, insights, observations) on
the assigned readings for the week (plus any others you may choose to
complete), posting it to the discussion area for 8 of the designated class sessions
on Canvas (Session 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, and 12). The deadline for your original
posting is 4 p.m. on the day of class). In your comment, answer one or more of
the following questions:
• What was helpful to you about the reading in understanding crisis
communication and management? How did it help you?
• How might the reading inform your efforts on upcoming projects (in this
class or on the job)?
• What confused you about this reading? What would have helped you
avoid or manage that confusion?
• What did you find dubious or disturbing about this reading? How does this
challenge your thinking about the ethics of professional communication?
• What would you have liked to find in this reading that was missing? How
would this missing information advance your understanding of the
subjects under consideration? Where might you look for this missing
After you have posted your comment on the assigned reading, respond to at
least two student postings by the time you arrive for class. In your responses to
the comments of your colleagues in the course, try to answer their questions,
challenge or reinforce their thinking, and identify possible resources to help them.
b. Class Participation (35 points)
You are expected to assignments; (1) come to class; (2) arrive on time; (3) stay
through the end of class; and (4) contribute in the following ways:
o Provide strong evidence of having read and thought about required
o Advance the discussion by contributing insightful comments and
o Listen attentively
o Demonstrate interest in your classmates’ comments or questions
o Share constructive feedback with your classmates when appropriate
Students are responsible for all information covered in class, whether or not they
are present, and should seek assistance from classmates to stay current on any
missed material or assignments. In addition, students are expected to deliver
assignments on due dates indicated in the syllabus even if they are physically
2. Crisis Case Analysis (125 points)
Each student will prepare a 1,500-2,000 word analytical essay on a crisis they
choose. Please consult with the instructor about your selection before beginning
to work on this assignment. Note that you may not select a crisis covered in any
of the assigned readings to complete this essay.
In analyzing this crisis, you’ll demonstrate an understanding of the key topics
covered in this class specifically by responding to nine questions:
1. What happened that prompted the crisis you’ve selected? Provide a brief
overview of the chain of events that precipitated the crisis, what happened during
it, and how it concluded (which may consist of an update on most recent crisis-
2. How were the crisis communications theories covered in the readings reflected
in the particular crisis?
3. Can you identify the five stages of a crisis outlined in the readings? Please
describe each stage in relation to the crisis you have selected for analysis.
4. What issues, reputation, and/or risk management efforts, if any, did the
organization(s) pursue by way of crisis prevention? How did the crisis itself
highlight strengths or limitations of these efforts (or the absence of them)?
5. Assess the response of the organization to the specific crisis you’re
considering. What tools (e.g., social media) and techniques were used? Which of
these tools/techniques were effective in terms of the overall crisis communication
and reputation management efforts? Why?
6. How did crisis response tools and techniques employed in your case study
come up short? Why? What might the organization you studied have done
7. In your opinion, what distinguishes this crisis from others we have discussed in
class? What makes it like them?
8. What about this crisis in particular informs your overall understanding of crisis
communication and reputation management?
9. What did you learn from your work on this crisis that you anticipate will help
you when preparing the crisis communications plan for your organization?
You may choose to answer the nine questions individually or write an essay
incorporating your responses. If you choose the latter approach, please indicate
that you have answered the specific questions by using subheadings in your
essay. You also should be prepared to informally discuss your case in class on
its due date (see schedule provided below).
3. Crisis Management Plan (300 points)
Students will divide themselves into groups to complete a crisis management
plan for an organization they choose. This assignment consists of five smaller
assignments (phases) completed throughout the semester as noted in the
“Session Topics” below: organizational history, risk assessment, strategic
communication action plan, and evaluation. Students will deliver a final report
with their plan to their organization, and deliver a presentation on its highlights to
the organization’s representative(s) in class on November 30. The framework for
each section will be reviewed in class. The instructor has allocated time during
class sessions to meet with each team to help them develop their plans.
COURSE GRADING SCALE
125 96.0-100% Superior (A)
90.0-95.9% Excellent (A-)
87.0-89.9% Good (B+)
83.0-86.9% Fair (B)
Below 83% needs
SCALE USED TO DETERMINE FINAL GRADES
Below 414 B- (needs improvement)
About Your Assignments
All work must be typed, in 12-point font, and double-spaced in Microsoft Word (no
PDFs, please) unless otherwise stated. Be sure your name and date are included. You
should name each of your submissions as follows: firstname_lastname_date.
Specific requirements, expectations, and standards for evaluation will be provided as
the due dates approach along with rubrics used for grading. You are encouraged to
consult with the instructor throughout the semester to discuss assignments, grades,
class content, or to receive additional guidance.
As a Jesuit institution committed to cura personalis—the care and education of the
whole person—USF has an obligation to embody and foster the values of honesty and
integrity. USF upholds the standards of honesty and integrity from all members of the
academic community. All students are expected to know and adhere to the University's
Honor Code. You can find the full text of the code online at
https://myusf.usfca.edu/academic-integrity. The policy covers:
• Plagiarism—intentionally or unintentionally representing the words or ideas of
another person as your own; failure to properly cite references; manufacturing
• Working with another person when independent work is required.
• Submission of the same paper in more than one course without the specific
permission of each instructor.
• Submitting a paper written by another person or obtained from the internet.
The penalties for violation of the policy may include a failing grade on the assignment, a
failing grade in the course, and/or a referral to the Academic Integrity Committee.
Policy on Late Assignments
Assignments are to be submitted on their due date. A full letter grade will be deducted
for each day an assignment is late. Should there be extenuating circumstances, talk
with the professor as soon as possible—preferably in advance—to make special
Missing more than two classes may result in the lowering of your final grade by half
grade, and that missing more than four classes will result in the lowering of your final
grade by one full grade. Exceptions: University of San Francisco sponsored or
sanctioned events (e.g., athletics, debate, religious holidays) shall be excused from
classes on the hours or days such events takes them away from classes. However,
such students shall be responsible for advising their professors regarding anticipated
absences and completing course work for classes, laboratories, and/or examinations
ahead of time. A limited number of documented medical or emergency absences may
be allowed at the discretion of the instructor. It is also important that you come to class
on time and stay for its duration. Each time you are significantly late or leave early will
count as one third of an absence. Tardiness often disrupts class, so if you are tardy, do
not enter the class if one of your peers is conducting a speech. In our class, three late
appearances equates to one absence, so make sure you arrive on time.
MAPC Probation and Disqualification
Any graduate student whose cumulative grade point average (GPA) falls below 3.0 will
be placed on academic probation. Students on academic probation who fail to raise
their cumulative GPA to 3.0 by the time they have completed the next six (6) semester
hours of graduate work are subject to disqualification from the MAPC program. Students
whose cumulative average falls below 2.5 in any one semester are also subject to
disqualification unless otherwise noted by the specific school or college. Students
admitted on Academic Probation are subject to disqualification if they do not receive at
least a grade of “B” (3.0) in their first four classes.
Students with Disabilities
If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you
are encouraged to contact both your instructor and Student Disability Services, (SDS)
422-6876 as early as possible in the semester.
Confidentiality, Mandatory Reporting, and Sexual Assault
As an instructor, one of my responsibilities is to help create a safe learning environment
on our campus. I also have a mandatory reporting responsibility related to my role as a
faculty member. I am required to share information regarding sexual misconduct or
information about a crime that may have occurred on USF’s campus with the University.
Here are other resources:
• To report any sexual misconduct, students may visit Anna Bartkowski (UC 5th
floor) or see many other options by visiting our
• Students may speak to someone confidentially, or report a sexual assault
confidentially by contacting Counseling and Psychological Services at 415-
• To find out more about reporting a sexual assault at USF, visit USF’s Callisto
website at www.usfca.callistocampus.org.
• For an off-campus resource, contact San Francisco Women Against Rape
(SFWAR) (415) 647-7273; (www.sfwar.org).
Session Topics, Readings, and Assignments Due
Note: You’re strongly advised to spend time reviewing Chapters 6-13 in Fearn-Banks,
even though they are not assigned below.
Session 1: August 24, 2017
Welcome, Introductions, Course Overview, and Syllabus Review; Formation of Groups
for Crisis Management Plan Assignment
Session 2: August 31, 2017
Approaching the Subject of Crisis Management
Ulmer, Sellnow, & Seeger: Chapters 1, 2
Coombs: Chapters 1, 7
Fearn-Banks: Chapter 1
Session 3: September 7, 2017
Crisis Communication Theory, Lessons, and Applications
Ulmer, Sellnow, & Seeger: Chapters 3, 4
Fearn-Banks: Chapter 2
Session 4: September 14, 2017
Social Media for Crisis Communication (Part 1)
Fearn-Banks: Chapter 5
Coombs: Chapter 2
Session 5: September 21, 2017
Social Media for Crisis Communication (Part 2)
Read: To be determined
Session 6: September 28, 2017
Ulmer, Sellnow, & Seeger: Chapters 5, 6, 10
Coombs: Chapters 3, 4
Fearn-Banks: Chapter 3
Session 7: October 5, 2017
Coombs: Chapters 5, 6
Fearn-Banks: Chapter 6
Session 8: October 12, 2017
Case Analysis written assignment due. Students to informally present cases in class.
Session 9: October 19, 2017
Ulmer, Sellnow, & Seeger: Chapters 7, 8
Coombs: Chapter 8
Fearn-Banks: Chapter 4
Session 10: October 26, 2017
Putting Together and Evaluating the Crisis Management Plan
Ulmer, Sellow, & Seeger: Chapter 9
Fearn-Banks: Chapter 14, Appendices A, B, C
Session 11: November 2, 2017
Instructor Meetings with Student Teams to Review Crisis Management Plans and
Session 12: November 9, 2017
Ulmer, Sellow, & Seeger: Chapter 11, 12
Coombs: Chapter 9
Session 13: November 16, 2017
Crisis Simulation (details to be determined)
No class on November 23, 2017 as it is Thanksgiving Day
Session 14: November 30, 2017
Crisis Management Plans and Presentations; Final Thoughts and Class Wrap Up