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Restructure causes shift in University communications

November 13, 2008

The UW-River Falls Office of Public Affairs and the Publications Office will merge to become the Office of University Communications on Nov. 24 as a result of an institutional restructure. The shift comes in response to the resignation of the University’s Director of Public Affairs, Mark Kinders.

Kinders, whose last day is slated as Nov. 18, will leave UWRF after 23 years of employment. He has accepted the position of vice president for university relations at Northeastern State University, the same institution former Chancellor Don Betz moved to.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Kinders said. “It was too good to pass up. I have the opportunity to work with Betz again, which will be fun. The job brings with it a whole new set of challenges, of opportunities.”

Kinders’ current responsibilities will be split up between several different parties. Emerging from the reorganization is the position of public information officer, a new title created on campus to handle internal and external public relations coverage for UWRF. This new job will go to Kevin Harter, currently employed as the head reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press Wisconsin Bureau. Harter has been covering the state, focusing primarily on western Wisconsin, for nearly a decade. As a result, he has been in close contact with UWRF for several years.

“The vast majority of [UWRF] faculty at least know of him,” Kinders said. “Kevin knows the campus upside down. He brings a tremendous amount of practical knowledge.”

Harter said he first became aware of Kinders’ plans to resign in late September or early October. He heard that Kinders was a finalist in consideration for the VP job at Northeastern and became interested in assuming the vacated role. Harter is no stranger to academic institutions; he holds a degree in secondary education.

“I’ve long covered education and spent a lot of time on college campuses,” Harter said. “Over the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested in a career in academia. There is a lot of energy on a college campus, an elusive something no other environment has.”

Harter will take over the PIO duties on Nov. 21. He will be hired on an interim position for one year. After that, a search and screen committee will interview possible candidates.

“I plan to apply for the permanent position after the one year is up,” Harter said. “I feel hopeful as long as I do the job that I know I am capable of.”

Due to the immediacy of Kinders’ last day, there was no time for the University to coordinate a thorough search for a candidate to become PIO, Interim Chancellor Connie Foster said in a phone interview.

“The University laws say we need someone in that role,” Foster said. “Harter has worked with Kinders in the past and is familiar with us. He was interested in the University and was hired to an interim spot under emergency hiring guidelines and procedures.”

According to Foster, the merging of public affairs and publications has been an idea talked about for years, originally put forth by former Chancellor Betz, as a way to follow current practices at higher education institutions. Kinders leaving seemed like the perfect opportunity to put the change in place, Foster said.

“We need a consistent message sent out to both internal and external sources,” she said. “Rolling the two offices together gives us that.”

When the two do merge, they will form the Office of University Communications, which will be headed by Kevin Bertelsen, the current director of publications.

Blake Fry, special assistant to the chancellor, will assume all duties surrounding federal, state and local communications.

“With this new role, Blake will collaborate with our campus community, UW System Administration and our sister institutions to implement a cohesive campaign with the Wisconsin executive and legislative branches to advance our operating budget, capital construction and other legislative initiatives,” Foster’s press release said. “With our congressional delegation, he will pursue opportunities for directed or other federal funding that will support our institutional initiatives that not only address challenges within our service area, but can also serve as regional and national models to other institutions.”

Kinders said he is certainly sad to leave UWRF behind.

“I have a lot of great friends and colleagues here,” he said. “We all have sweated [sic] and bled to advance this University.”

In his wake, however, Harter eagerly anticipates his move from journalism to academia.

“I have been a journalist for 25 years; you can never accomplish all you want to in only 25 years,” Harter said. “I’ve done a lot and I feel good about my work as a journalist. I’ve a lot of good, ethical work I’m proud of, but I’m more excited about the new challenges ahead than I am saddened by leaving journalism.”

He likens the change to that of a teacher leaving the classroom to be a principal, or a beat cop becoming chief. The change is drastic, but worthwhile.

“I know this is the right time to do this,” Harter said. “And I know I’ve found the right place to do it at.”