The Poisoning of an Icon: A Public Relations Challenge for Rival Universities


  • Susan E. Waters Auburn University


case study, higher education, agenda setting, image restoration, social media, football rivalry


On February 16, 2011, Auburn University learned that fatal amounts of a controlled herbicide had been applied to two iconic oak trees on Toomer’s Corner, and the act had been one of malicious intent by a fan of its rival school, the University of Alabama. Both universities had critical public relations challenges in front of them. Auburn wanted to keep the public informed about the trees’ progress while encouraging students, fans, and alumni not to retaliate, and Alabama wanted to distance itself from the incident, asserting that the perpetrator was in no way affiliated with the university and to show its support for Auburn University. Both universities were largely successful at each of their respective goals.