For the second time in six months, the University has lost one of its top public relations specialists.
Julie Peterson, the University’s interim vice president for communications and former chief spokeswoman for the University, is leaving at the end of the semester to take the top PR job at the University of Chicago.
Peterson was spokeswoman for the University of Michigan during the Supreme Court battles over affirmative action and was a key part of the University’s public response to November’s ballot initiative that forced the University to stop using affirmative action.
With the University still adapting to the constitutional amendment and implementing a controversial plan to renovate Michigan Stadium, its public relations and communications office faces a challenge in replacing its two highest administrators.
Lisa Rudgers, the University’s vice president for communications, stepped down in December to start her own consulting firm.
Peterson assumed her position on an interim basis, but her own tenure will be short-lived. In May, Peterson will become vice president for communications at the prestigious Chicago school.
“Chicago is a better career choice for me, with new environments and new challenges,”
Peterson said. “I believe that change is really important – personally and professionally.”
David Greene, the University of Chicago’s vice president for strategic initiatives, said Peterson’s “extraordinary experience” will help the school improve its academic reputation on an international level.
“She has built up a reputation as one of the top communications professionals in higher education, which was apparent to us when we met with her,” Greene said.
The University of Chicago, located on the city’s South Side, doesn’t have much in common with the University of Michigan. A private school, Chicago has just over one-third as many students as the University of Michigan. It was a founding member of the Big Ten, but its athletics programs haven’t been a large part of campus life since it withdrew from the conference in 1946.
Although Peterson said the Michigan athletic program sometimes presented public relations challenges, she said she will miss the University’s top-tier sporting events.
Peterson, who has worked at the University for 13 years, said she feels a familiarity with the workings of the University that she hopes to replicate in Chicago.
She described her job as “a college student for life,” constantly requiring her to learn about the University. Peterson said her knowledge of the University could fill encyclopedias.
She said her job required her to promote the positive aspects of the University and to minimize the school’s “problems and vulnerabilities.”
For a school the size of the University, that work was “exhausting,” Peterson said. She frequently worked long hours, often receiving media inquiries late into the night when the University was in the news.
On Election Day in November, Peterson struggled to sleep while reporters called her for comment on the results of the landmark affirmative action ban. She told The Michigan Daily in November that one reporter from another paper asked if the reporter could call her at 3 a.m.
“I said, ‘Please, call me before 10,’ ” she said.
Peterson said that her job at a smaller university will be more “focused.” She said she also looks forward to learning about a new institution.
Kelly Cunningham has filled Peterson’s previous job as chief University spokeswoman. All that remains now is the search for a new vice president for communications.
Peterson said in an e-mail sent to her colleagues Wednesday that the University will find a replacement soon.
“(University President Mary Sue Coleman) has assured me that the search for a new vice president is proceeding expeditiously,” she wrote.