NBC News Criticized for University of Phoenix Participation in Education Event

By Alex Weprin 

In June, NBC News announced its “Education Nation” event, which NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker said would help “jump-start a national dialogue on education in America.”

NBC will host the summit at Rockefeller Plaza in New York in September, and will feature education reports on NBC News programs all that week.

Now, however, Inside Higher Ed is criticizing the company for its inclusion of the University of Phoenix in the program. University of Phoenix is a sponsor of the event, and its president, Bill Pepicello, will be speaking at the forum, joining leaders such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and MIT president Susan Hockfield:

Even if sponsorship and speaker decisions were made entirely independently, “it looks like the University of Phoenix bought access,” said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism education and research organization based in St. Petersburg, Fla. “That image is a dangerous one for NBC’s credibility and it also undermines the credibility of the project.”

In the article, Insider Higher Ed speaks to experts who suggest that U of Phoenix is using the event to essentially buy its way into a better branding situation:

Having Pepicello get equal billing with Hockfield and possibly other elite college presidents suggests “cachet, prestige and legitimacy as a very serious provider of educational programs.”

It is not at all unusual for event sponsors to get time on stage during forums and events, but having a reputable news organization involved makes the situation dicier.

What do you think? Should NBC News have handled the situation differently?