Image Restoration for University Leaders’ Public Health COVID-19 Response: A Case Study of Notre Dame

Image Restoration for University Leaders’ Public Health COVID-19 Response: A Case Study of Notre Dame

R. Tyler Spradley, Ph.D.

Department of Languages, Cultures, and Communication, Stephen F. Austin State University

Do as I say, not as I do is a common phrase that applies to the case of Notre Dame’s president as he began the Fall 2020 semester chastising students for gathering in large groups off campus leading to the spread of COVID-19 while he, just a month later, gathered unmasked in the U.S. White House Rose Garden to celebrate the nomination of a Notre Dame alum to the Supreme Court.  This study draws upon image restoration strategies in crisis response literature to examine Notre Dame and its president’s public response to both the two-week move to remote education in Fall 2020 following COVID-19 outbreak among its students and the unmasked attendance to an event that resulted in Notre Dame’s president testing positive for COVID-19.  Overall, evasion of responsibility and corrective action typified the university’s response to students’ behaviors that led to public health risk, but mortification along with contradictory messages evading responsibility typified the individual response of the university’s president that led to public health risk.  Of interest to the case is the lack of religious appeal intertwined in the  image restoration strategies used in the president’s apology yet the use of religious appeal in the university’s accusations against student public health behavior.  Given that Notre Dame is a religiously affiliated university and the president is clergy, the inconsistent use of religious appeal may undermine the image restoration rhetoric of the president.

Keywords: COVID-19, crisis response, image restoration, university public health response

Free Full-text PDF

How to cite this article:
R. Tyler Spradley.Image Restoration for University Leaders’ Public Health COVID-19 Response: A Case Study of Notre Dame. International Research Journal of Public Health, 2020; 4:47. DOI: 10.28933/irjph-2020-10-0906


1. Benoit, W. L. (1995). Sears’ repair of its auto service image: Image restoration discourse in the corporate sector. Communication Studies, 46, 89-105.
2. Benoit, W. L. (1997). Image repair discourse and crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 23, 2, 177-186.
3. Benoit, W.L. (2000). Another visit to the theory of image restoration strategies. Communication Quarterly, 48, 1, 40-43. DOI: 10.1080.01463370009385578.
4. Benoit, W.L. (2015). Accounts, excuses, apologies: Image repair theory and research (2nd ed.). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
5. Benoit, W.L. (2018). Crisis and image repair at United Airlines: Fly the unfriendly skies. Journal of International Crisis and Risk Communication Research, 1, 1, 11-26. DOI:10.30658/jicrcr.1.1.2
6. Brinson, S.L. & Benoit, W.L. (1999). The tarnished star: Restoring Texaco’s damaged public image. Management Communication Quarterly, 12, 4, 483-510.
7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Considerations for institutions of higher education. Retrieved from
8. Coombs, W. T. (2007). Protecting Organization Reputations During a Crisis: The Development and Application of Situational Crisis Communication Theory. Corporate Reputation Review, 10(3), 163–176.
9. Coombs, W. T., Frandsen, F., Holladay, S. J., & Johansen, W. (2010). Why a concern for apologia and crisis communication?. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 1, 4, 337-349. doi 10.1108/13563281011085466
10. Dewberry, D.R. & Fox, R. (2012). Easy as 1, 2, 3: Rick Perry and self-deprecation as image resto-ration. Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric, 2, 1, 1-10.
11. Dionisopoulos, G. N., & Vibbert, S. L. (1988). CBS vs. Mobil Oil: Charges of creative bookkeeping in 1979. Oratorical encounters: Se-Selected studies and sources of twentieth-century political accusations and apologies, 241-52.
12. Elias, J., Troop, D., & Wescott, D. (2020 Oct. 1). Here’s our list of colleges’ reopening models. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from
13. Jenkins, John. (2020 Aug. 18). Address to Notre Dame students by University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. Retrieved from
14. Jenkins, John. (2020 Sept. 28). A message from Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.: I regret my error of judgment in not wearing a mask. Retrieved from
15. Managan, K. (2020 Aug. 21). The student-blaming has begun: Is it fair to fault college students for Covid-19 outbreaks? Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from
16. Rowland, R.C. & Jerome, A.M. (2004). On organizational apologia: A reconceptualization. Communication Theory, 14(3), 191-211.
17. Spradley, R. T. (2017). Crisis Communication in Organizations. The International Encyclopedia of Organizational Communication.
18. University of Notre Dame. (2020). Health & safety. Retrieved from
19. University of Notre Dame. (2020 Aug. 10). Our approach. Retrieved from
20. Wooten, D.B. (2006). Using apologies to overcome the bumps in the road to redemption. In Erika, H.J. & Larry, L.S. [Eds.] An executive briefing on crisis leadership (pp. 45-51). Charlottesville, VA: Darden Business Publishing.
21. Zhang, Juyan & Benoit, William L. (2004). Message strategies of Saudi Arabia’s image restoration campaign after 9/11. Public Relations Re-view, 30. 161-167. Doi: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2004.02.006.

Terms of Use/Privacy Policy/ Disclaimer/ Other Policies:
You agree that by using our site, you have read, understood, and agreed to be bound by all of our terms of use/privacy policy/ disclaimer/ other policies (click here for details). This site cannot and does not contain professional advice. The information on this site is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of professional advice. The use or reliance of any information contained on this site or our mobile application is solely at your own risk. Under no circumstance shall we have any liability to you for any loss or damage of any kind incurred as a result of the use of the site or our mobile application or reliance on any information provided on the site and our mobile application. We may publish articles without peer-review. Published articles of authors are open access. Authors hold the copyright and retain publishing rights without restrictions. Authors are solely responsible for their articles published in our journals. Publication of any information in authors’ articles does not constitute an endorsement by us. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, adequacy, validity, reliability, availability or completeness of any information that authors provided. more..

This work and its PDF file(s) are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.