The last time the Tucson Weekly requested an interview with Ann Weaver Hart was six months after she was appointed the UA's first woman president by the Arizona Board of Regents less than a year ago.
That request didn't go anywhere, just like the one we made last week to ask Hart about major administration turn-over that's occurred since she replaced former UA President Robert Shelton. No response.
Several people who reached the Weekly to talk about the changes remarked that some resignations came as a surprise, but there is a general feeling that the changes taking place are about cleaning house. One upper-level administrator, we were told, had to bring in a congressman to help keep his job. No one wanted to be identified, and one person said the best thing to do is keep a low profile and not draw attention.
The most recent change was former chief financial officer Milton Castillo, who quit earlier this month and was replaced by Jim Hyatt, senior research associate and principal investigator at the University of California Berkeley, as interim chief financial officer.
Another surprise change was Senior Vice President for Research Leslie Tolbert, an admired administrator who had been in her position for eight years, but returned to research work full-time. Associate vice president for research, Jennifer Barton, was named interim vice president for research.
One of the first changes under Hart's administration was the appointment of Andrew Comrie in July 2012, who replaced Jacqueline Lee Mok as vice president for academic affairs and provost. Mok left to work at Johns Hopkins University as vice president/chief of staff and secretary to to the board of trustees.
However, one particular hire, Teresa Lucie Thompson as senior vice president for university relations, hired in February after a national search, has brought additional changes to the UA's external and internal communications departments.
Thompson came to the UA in May from Purdue University, where she oversaw the college's marketing, branding, communications, community relations and public radio. Several months ago, UA's assistant vice president for communications Johnny Cruz left to work for World Vision in Seattle. George Humphrey was appointed interim assistant vice president for communications while continuing to work as vice president of the Arizona Health Sciences Center office of public affairs.
Another key member of the UA's communications team, Jennifer Fitzenberger, former director of external communications, recently announced she's leaving for a marketing and communications position with Tucson Electric Power.
We asked Thompson to confirm the temporary hire of Chris Sigurdson, who signed a contract to work at the UA on June 20 and started his position as senior communications advisor, although he'll be working closely with Humphrey in his interim position. Thompson said Sigurdson, whom she worked with at Purdue University, is expected to work at the UA through October.
When asked to confirm his pay rate, which the Weekly was told is $3,500 per week, Thompson said she didn't have his contract in front of her, but that figure sounded about right. The Weekly was also told that part of Sigurdson's duties are to manage current staff, assess staffing need and existing talent, as well as build relationships with "colleges and centers to enhance content flow."
Thompson said she hired Sigurdson because of his science writing background and track record working with national media. He'll also be involved in the search process for a new assistant vice president for communications.
"This is a short-term assignment," Thompson said of Sigurdson. "He has family back in Indiana."
Essentially, she said, Sigurdson will work as a communications advisor and provide an "extra set of hands," to help Humphrey, not take the lead.
"That team right now does a great job with a limited number of bodies. They are cranking out a lot of work," Thompson said. "We are always hungry for more exposure."
Those who've shared with the Weekly concern that Thompson was brought in to clean house and Sigurdson will help do that, Thompson said one of the things that came up in her interview process was the need to develop a more integrated messaging platform for the university, part of that includes a better articulated brand strategy.
Thompson confirmed that the UA has contracted with Ohio-based Ologie to work on that messaging, but focused on the packaging of the university's strategic plan, a process Hart has been working on since her arrival at the UA from Temple University. Right now the plan is "an internal manifesto," according to Thompson, that won't be presented to the public until November.
Ologie was hired to do the strategic plan packaging for $31,644, which includes binders and a tab system, a brochure, and a PowerPoint presentation and customizable template. Another contract with Ologie is for $24,325 for a video to accompany the strategic plan, and includes a library of video assets to use in other formats, such as recruiting materials and social media.
The Weekly was told the tagline for the Ologie project is Never Settle, but Thompson said there are many phrases that are being discussed, but Never Settle comes from the fact that the UA as a research university has all these researchers bound by one common goal and characteristic: Striving for excellence and never settling.
Thompson said the Ologie project is not a rebranding effort, since that takes more quantitative and qualitative research. But she said Hart has been "socializing" the strategic plan at forums, with the Arizona Board of Regents and most recently with the Breakfast Club, a group of community leaders who meet monthly.
Criticism isn't new to Thompson's work. In Purdue a group of professors questioned an increase in administrative spending, as well as brand spending when Thompson worked there are vice president for marketing and media and the chief marketing officer. A rebranding campaign Thompson worked on revolved around Purdue's nickname — Boilermakers, the factory workers who made steel boilers. The new campaign slogan developed was: "We are Purdue. Makers, all. What we make moved the world forward." The campaign came with a $500,000 price tag.
Thompson said her role at the UA isn't about bringing in new blood, as some have said, but bringing in a fresh perspective.
"Branding, marketing, building communications platforms are areas of expertise that I can bring," Thompson said. "... a fresh perspective and as we have positions to fill, identify top talent to fill those positions."