Pub. aff. VP arrives on campus

by Tara Kyle | 11/9/01 6:00am

The team at Dartmouth's Office of Public Affairs received a new member last week, when Rutgers University import William Walker walked into the Lebanon Street offices to fill the newly created position of Vice President of Public Affairs.

After President James Wright announced the department's expansion last August, Walker spent the following months completing his duties as Executive Director of University Relations at the New Jersey institution.

In his time at Rutgers, Walker advanced a method he described as "integrated communication." This program, which he aims to bring to Dartmouth, strives to use the strengths of specific elements of an institution (for example, the achievements of the Tuck School) to enhance the university's overall health and image.

"It's increasingly important that we communicate with a more coordinated voice," he said, citing plans to work with leaders of the Department of Development, Admissions Department and Alumni Affairs in enhancing the College's literature and information sources.

"The challenge is that every constituent group has it own interests," he said.

A week after arriving on campus, Walker expressed enthusiasm about his new job.

"I have a lot to learn about Dartmouth ... I just know that it's a great place populated by great students and great faculty," he said. "This is a great place that's becoming even better."

According to Walker, his hiring follows a trend of expanding public relations departments across the Ivies and in higher education as a whole.

"I think Dartmouth saw a need to increase the level of activity" in public relations, Walker said.

Less than a year separates the two public relations disasters of the Zantop murders and Zeta Psi sex papers from the creation of Walker's position.

"I don't think there's a direct relationship," he said, describing the cumulative power of those events as "one occurrence among many" in recent years that fueled an interest in expanding the Office of Public Affairs. Walker noted that his perception is that those employees with the College during those crises handled them properly.

The trial of Zantop suspect Robert Tulloch, set for next April, will bring a further challenge to the department.

"We'll need to be prepared for that," Walker said, noting that he anticipates the focus of national and local media to again fall on the College. Public Affairs will bear the responsibilities of both accommodating the needs of the visiting press and assuring that Dartmouth gets the appropriate message out.

Another problem that plagues Public Affairs is the persistent "Animal House" image, resurfacing periodically in such odd instances as a "Simpsons" episode containing the line "drinking like a Dartmouth boy."

"My approach to this is to create other perceptions of Dartmouth that are more timely and accurate," Walker said, adding, "There are so many other good things going on here, and we need to find ways to illustrate that."

One of the areas in which Walker will focus efforts to strengthen Dartmouth's image is the Internet. Projects will pursue improvement of the quality of the current website's look and message and expanding the quantity of resources available online.

"The reality is, for most institutions, the web has become the first form of contact with prospective students," Walker said.

Walker's previous work at Rutgers involved similar responsibilities, even though the nature of public relations at a 50,000-student public university spread across three campuses holds differing complications.

After receiving a degree in journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Walker briefly served in the military. He then explored a tight job market before settling on what he thought would be a temporary position as a staff writer at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

"I thought, 'I'll do this for a while until the right journalism job comes along.' But I found that I loved what I was doing," he said.

Walker also held public relations positions at the College of William and Mary and Skidmore College.