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University appoints new director of Public Affairs

By Sam Gringlas, Daily News Editor
Published August 10, 2014

Rick Fitzgerald, associate director of the Office of Public Affairs and a University spokesman, has been appointed the office’s new director.

The appointment became effective Aug. 1.

The University’s Office of Public Affairs handles media requests involving executive officers, plans communications strategies for major policy initiatives and is responsible for managing communication during a crisis. The office’s director and associate director also serve as the University’s spokespeople.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily Saturday, Fitzgerald said he will act as the University’s primary spokesperson until a new associate director is hired. He said he plans to convene the Public Affairs team in the next few weeks to gather input for the search.

In the past year, the Office of Public Affairs has played a key role in the University’s response to a variety of issues, including the federal investigation of the administration’s response to sexual misconduct, the appointment of the next University president and the rollout of the shared services center.

Fitzgerald succeeds Kelly Cunningham, who has accepted a new position in the Office of the Provost. She will serve as special counsel to Provost Martha Pollack.

“It’s been fantastic, but I though this was another opportunity to try something different,” Cunningham said in an interview Sunday.

In her new role, Cunningham will coordinate initiatives that span multiple administrative offices and chart strategy for big-picture policy challenges. She also said she will work to “spot issues before they become big problems.”

Pollack created the role in an effort to reorganize the structure of her office after a member of her staff took a job in another unit. Though the position is new, the number of staff in the provost’s office will remain unchanged.

The provost is the University’s chief academic and budget officer who, in the past year, has been involved in implementing the shared services center, composing the University’s budget and responding to members of the Black Student Union’s calls for expanded diversity initiatives, among other issues. However, Cunningham said she doesn’t know yet what she will be asked to take on.

She also said August is generally quieter than most months for Public Affairs, making it an opportune time for the transition. Though there is not a Board of Regents meeting in August, the staffing change comes just one month into new University president Mark Schlissel’s term.

“Rick is going to be brilliant and it will be an easy transition,” she said.