Senate Source

June 2009


Interview with Senior Vice President Daniel Dooley: UC’s Image Maker


Dan DooleyThe Senate Source recently sat down with Senior Vice President for External Relations Daniel M. Dooley to learn more about the newly restructured unit he has overseen since November 2008, which brings together Federal Governmental Relations, State Governmental Relations, Institutional Advocacy, Communications, and Alumni Affairs under a single division at the Office of the President. Mr. Dooley is an agricultural and environmental attorney who worked extensively on California agricultural and water resource issues before coming to UC. He has moved quickly to transform External Relations into a more cohesive unit that is taking a stronger, more pro-active role advocating for the University and defining the terms of media coverage.


We felt lucky to secure time on Mr. Dooley’s calendar for the interview because his new role comes on top of his existing position as Vice President for the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR), a position he has held since January 2008. He also is one of the Senior Management Group leaders in charge of the UCOP restructuring. We did not ask if this arrangement could be a realistic model for other Senior Management positions, although Mr. Dooley is making a strong case that someone can take on two positions and still do an excellent and effective job.  


Senate Source: What is the mission of the newly reconstituted External Relations unit, and how does it differ from the old unit? What are its main goals, and how will those goals be attained?


Daniel Dooley: In the past, there was not a clear or consistent sense among and between the various UCOP communication units about what UC’s public message should be. The goal of the restructuring is to consolidate these disparate units under the umbrella of External Relations so that they are integrated more fully with each other and with our government relations activities so that UC can produce more consistent, coordinated messages. We have new associate vice presidents on board in the federal and state governmental relations offices, and we are in the process of designing a new advocacy unit, too. That unit will focus on developing and cultivating relationships with alumni and other external constituents with whom we have not systematically engaged in the past, but who do have an interest in UC and have important relationships with public policy officials.

What is your approach to effective communications and advocacy? How does the current strategy differ from the one(s) used in the past?


My approach closely parallels the President’s. I believe UC has to be more forceful and pro-active. We cannot wait to respond, and to the extent that we have to respond, we have to be quick and direct. We must maintain a presence with public policy leaders not only in the bad times, but also in the good times. We need to do a better job of talking about how the University impacts the lives of Californians who may not have children eligible to attend UC or another direct connection to the institution. UC has not been effective enough in communicating the ways in which our research and service touch lives up and down the state and across the economic spectrum. UC cannot continue to engage in communications episodically. Our efforts have to be systematic and sustained over time, but we cannot expect to see a dramatic, instantaneous turnaround. UC does not have the resources to buy Super Bowl ads, so we have to be targeted and focused, and we have to use our human resources in ways we have not used them in the past.  


How can UC make better use of its human resources?


We need to find ways to more systematically harness UC’s enormous capacity to provide information that can inform public policy decisions. We frequently talk about the number of Nobel laureates in the UC system, but I think the real story to communicate is how discoveries at UC have changed peoples’ daily lives. The Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, for example, has Cooperative Extension offices in every county in California and a vast network of people who know local opinion leaders. We have people on the ground doing translational research and educating the community about health, nutrition, and environmental issues. Historically, we have not asked these people to engage in advocacy, although they know local elected officials, and in many cases, work with county governments. I would like to find new ways to organize and engage them in ongoing efforts on behalf of UC, to make them ambassadors for UC in ways they have not been in the past.  


What are you doing to combat negative perceptions about UC, particularly around executive compensation issues, in the aftermath of the negative reporting of the last few years?


President Yudof is very concerned with directness and transparency, and he is engaging me and other External Relations staff in discussions about what the appropriate policies should be to help ensure that the public messaging implications are considered thoroughly. This consultation also makes it easier for us to respond to public reaction over difficult and complex decisions involving, for example, student fees and compensation. The salaries for the new chancellors at UC Davis and UC San Francisco generated some negative press, but we explained clearly to the public how and why we arrived at the specific salaries – the role of careful market research and the necessity of recruiting leaders of a quality commensurate with multi-billion dollar world-class research institutions. It is critical that we integrate a long-term message about the importance of competitive compensation for all UC employee groups into our core message about UC’s importance to California, the nation and the world. 


What has been the impact of the ‘UC for California’ campaign and website? Are you planning other web-based communications?


The “UC for California” campaign has been very successful, but we need to continue taking a fresh look at our communications strategies. Our new team, which includes former journalists and public relations experts from the university, government, and private sectors, is thinking creatively about how to package our messages in ways that complement our overall objectives. The messaging opportunities are vast. We have developed an email network of over 120,000 influential people, including many alumni, with whom we communicate regularly, and we have received a lot of positive feedback from them. People appreciate receiving more frequent communications and factual information, such as the recent “UC Budget Myths and Facts” piece. We need to continue to refine and enhance that capability so that we can have quicker and more routine communications with people who have a ready affinity for UC.  


Some faculty are concerned that UC is not doing enough to communicate to the State UC’s real funding needs and the implications of funding shortfalls on academic quality. How are you working with the UC budget office to lobby Sacramento to repair, solidify and re-invigorate the State’s public investment in UC, particularly funding for UCRP?


Quite simply, the budget and the UC Retirement Plan are our number one priorities. The President, [VP for Budget] Patrick Lenz, and I raise these concerns with every group we meet and in every conversation we have with members of the legislature. We make the point that the state needs to invest in human capital if California is going to succeed economically in the long run. Note that in January 1983, there were fewer prisoners in the department of corrections than there are prison guards today, and compare that with the fact that over that same time we have seen a decline in state funding per student from $15,000 to $9,500, adjusted for inflation. We also emphasize that it is inequitable for the State to fund other public employee retirement systems but not UC’s.

For the long term, however, it looks less probable that states will have the resources to renew their commitments to investment in human capital, so one possibility is a new federal government role in building an integrated national strategy for higher education with more stable funding. It is with these factors in mind that UCOP also is starting to engage in a healthy dialogue about alternative funding models. 


What can faculty do to help the University more effectively communicate its tangible benefits to the State as an intellectual, research, and economic engine?


UC faculty can do a lot. I realize that not all faculty want to be publicly engaged, but many do, and we need to provide encouragement and opportunities for those faculty who are comfortable engaging with the greater community. One of UC’s best possible communications strategies is for its faculty to apply their knowledge and to advertise the application of their research and expertise to real-world issues and problems that the public cares about and to help interested communities find solutions to real problems. I believe that if UC can offer more organized mechanisms for faculty to become engaged in the public policy process, it will help improve UC’s image and change perceptions in the public and legislature about our relevance. The Energy Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley is one example of a group engaged with state and federal agencies and others looking at energy policy. Another group at UC Davis is collaborating with the Public Policy Institute of California to bring scientific perspectives into discussions about California water resource issues. In the long term, these mechanisms are the best possible kinds of engagements we can ask of our faculty to help communicate the relevance of UC and advance its interests more broadly.  


Some faculty have expressed frustration with the quantity and quality of information they are receiving about the UC budget. Does External Relations have a role in communicating with faculty, staff and other internal constituencies about fast changing budget issues? How does that differ from what campuses do locally, and is there any coordination?


External Relations is presently completing the staffing for a new internal communications unit that will have specific responsibility for improving communications with faculty, staff and other internal constituencies. UCOP is working hard to improve transparency related to the budget. Each UCOP department has its own budget and is expected to keep to specific targets. Regarding campus communications, UCOP aspires to communicate information to the campuses as quickly as possible and we are making budget allocations to campuses in a more transparent way. UCOP also wants to ensure that campuses are engaged and informed about what transpires in Sacramento and the expected implications for various budget scenarios. At the same time, campus communications and budget offices are run locally, and UCOP does not tell them how to manage intra-campus communications. UCOP does not discourage local communications strategies, but we work hard to ensure that messaging is consistent across the system. The worst thing we can do in terms of public credibility is to have inconsistent messages.  


How are you resolving the tension between systemwide leadership obligations and the need for campus flexibility?


There is a cultural shift under way, part of which involves making UCOP more of a collaborator in communication and advocacy rather than a competitor or a command and control center.  We have been trying to work collaboratively with the campuses to achieve common objectives. For example, in April, when President Yudof and I traveled to Washington to meet with California legislators, the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Secretary of Education, and others, we had campus chancellors with us at the table in most of the meetings. The objective is to present an image that UC campuses are all part of a team trying to achieve common objectives.  


Is there anything that faculty should not do?

We always encourage faculty to engage in public policy issues as private citizens, but in some areas, such as the recent ballot propositions related to the California budget, there is a fine line and faculty should not engage in lobbying using University resources and facilities. Only the Board of Regents can take an official position on ballot propositions, and UCOP can use resources only to educate, not to advocate.


UC’s response to an increasingly diverse California population could have important funding implications. California citizens and legislators do not want to fund ‘your UC’; they want to fund ‘my UC’. What media strategy can UC employ to reach the maximum number of Californians and institute a sense that this is “My UC”?


California will continue to become more diverse, and UC will need to respond to the demands of an increasing multicultural population, but this is an issue that goes beyond external relations. The President is very interested in expanding the number of Community College transfer students, and the new eligibility policy will broaden the pool of freshmen applicants. We are developing communications strategies in these areas. We also have a team working on a comprehensive communications strategy targeted to high school students, parents, and counselors to make sure that everyone knows about the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan. It will help communicate to families that if you make less than $60K you don’t have to worry about fees.  


The Senate is reviewing the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) Academic Review. The average faculty member probably knows little about DANR. Is there anything you can tell us about the review and why faculty should be interested?


I have been a long-time, outspoken advocate for integrating the agricultural and natural sciences into the broader science and academic community. Issues like human nutrition and health, genetics, and air and water quality now intersect with multiple academic disciplines and they no longer align neatly with the agricultural sciences. DANR’s funding reality also has changed. For 100 years, DANR was well-served by the original land grant model and having the USDA as its primary source of competitive funding. But in the last 30 years, the NIH, NSF and other science agencies have led a boom in research dollars while the USDA funding has grown smaller. Making ANR more integrated with the broader University will align its capacities more both with funding agency priorities and with the needs of California. Additionally, I believe ANR, and the University more generally, could serve as a National Academy-style resource to help the State objectively review the science underlying proposed policies and regulations. But first UC must create a system to engage with the State more pro-actively and to become a primary resource, and I think we have an obligation to do so. There are three legs to UC’s historic land grant mission – research, instruction, and public service. Sometimes we forget that part of public service is seeking opportunities to help the State, but that is where the greatest opportunity exists for communicating the importance of what UC does for the people of California. The DANR academic review and strategic visioning process are designed to position UC to more effectively deliver on these obligations.