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San Diego State fights drug image

After a huge bust, the university enlists some big alumni names for an ad blitz to reassure parents and students.

May 16, 2008|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Stung by bad publicity from last week's massive campus drug bust, San Diego State University has begun a public-relations blitz with the theme "We're prouder than ever."

The university has taken out a full page in today's Union-Tribune with names of more than 500 alumni and local notables boosting the school.

The $19,000 ad was paid for, in part, by Cox Business, a division of cable and television giant Cox Communications, and by restaurant owner Ralph Rubio.

Radio and television spots were being recorded Thursday that feature prominent alums such as San Diego Fire Chief Tracy Jarman, Hall of Fame baseball player Tony Gwynn and former Jack In the Box executive Jack Goodall. The spots will play on KPBS public radio and television through Memorial Day weekend, officials said.

Bill Trumpfheller, president of the San Diego State Alumni Assn., said the ads are part of an effort to reassure parents that the campus is safe and to emphasize to students that the drug arrests have not devalued their diplomas.

"When I hire, I'm still going to give first look to San Diego State students," Trumpfheller, executive of a local public-relations firm, said as he waited to film a spot. "Always have, always will."

The newspaper ad does not mention the drug arrests, but says the undersigned "support the university and its leadership in taking a stand to ensure a safe campus environment."

Among those signing the ad were San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender, former San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano, Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, Chula Vista Police Chief Rick Emerson, actor and former pro football player Fred Dryer, State Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) and San Diego City Council members Kevin Faulconer, Ben Hueso, Tony Young and Jim Madaffer.

San Diego State grads are spread throughout local government and business.

The five members of the county Board of Supervisors are alumni, as is San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. Among his recent predecessors, Maureen O'Connor was a San Diego State grad, and Susan Golding was the daughter of a former San Diego State president.

Authorities last week announced that 96 young men, including 75 students, had been arrested after an undercover operation centered around San Diego State's fraternity houses. The number of arrests was later revised to 125, including 95 students.

Drug Enforcement Administration officials said 130 undercover buys were made as part of what they called Operation Sudden Fall.

Within a few days, officials had clarified the numbers.

The undercover operation led to the arrest of 54 of the students. The other 41 were arrested as a result of normal police work over a period of months, and many of those arrests involved small amounts of marijuana.

News stories about the bust made international headlines.

"We've been on the road for three weeks, and we got ragged a lot about it," said Gwynn, now the university's baseball coach.

Six campus fraternities have been suspended pending an investigation.

But student-body President James Poet, 23, a business major and member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, said he doubted that the publicity would hurt the fraternity system.

"The Greek system battles stuff like this all the time," said Poet, fresh from filming a spot. "We're always fighting against bad stereotypes, but Greeks are very resilient."

Goodall said he thought the school would be too.

"The publicity was mammoth, but I don't think, long term, that the university was hurt," he said.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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