In an attempt to address growing concerns about Cornell’s image both nationally and abroad, the University will announce today that Thomas W. Bruce is to become the new vice president for communications and media relations.
Bruce’s appointment will complete a University relations revamp made by President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 at the start of his tenure last July — an initiative which led to the resignation of Henrik N. Dullea ’61, former vice president for university relations.
Lehman consequently began searches for vice presidents in two departments — government and community relations and communications and media relations. Vanda B. McMurtry Ph.D. ’79 was announced as the new vice president for government and community relations last Friday.
Bruce worked previously as the senior vice president of Omnicom’s Washington, D.C.-based Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates and has international experience in corresponding between foreign governments and corporations. Lehman has expressed a desire to focus on bringing the University to the international forefront — labeling his vision of Cornell as a “transnational university.”
Bruce, who will start his term in early April pending Board of Trustees’ approval, will almost certainly begin work on revamping the highly-criticized University logo and website, according to Lehman. Both projects have been supported by both Lehman and Peter S. Cohl ’05, leader of the Committee on Improving Cornell’s Image, an ad-hoc Student Assembly group. Cohl said that Bruce’s familiarity with global issues and other skills will benefit the University in a variety of ways.
“I think it is important for the University to have an internationally-known spokesperson like Mr. Bruce to help us promote Cornell with a global brand and to further the prestige of the institution,” Cohl said. “His work in prestigious branding certainly coincides with some of our goals in improving Cornell’s image.”
In addition to Bruce’s interest in international issues, other characteristics such as his wide range of experience and his understanding of numerous forms of communication set him apart from other candidates, according to Mary Opperman, vice president for human resources and the search committee staffer. Opperman said that although the committee interviewed a variety of candidates, Bruce became the “clear favorite.”
“[Bruce] understands viscerally the academic values that define our great university,” Lehman said in a University press release. “And, he has the kind of subtle, sensitive mind that is required to project those values with force and integrity, nuance and clarity.”
According to Cohl, Bruce’s success will depend on his working relationships with the University community and whether the new vice president can “leverage the accomplishments of Cornell students and faculty in a way we have not done in the past.”
Bruce agreed with Cohl in both respects, saying that his first task will be to establish connections with himself and the various groups around campus. Additionally, Bruce hopes to illustrate nationally and internationally the “incredible stories and incredible people” that the University possesses.
“As the University strives to establish its transnational character, I think my understanding of different cultures will help enormously,” Bruce said. “My job is to make Cornell as eloquent as possible. Those experiences will bear directly on that.”
After several rounds of searching and interviewing, a search committee consisting of faculty members and administrators whittled their list of potential vice presidents to five, and Lehman interviewed each candidate. After becoming the clear favorite during the selection process, Bruce was invited to campus to meet with various community members and was offered the job in late February.
Among a variety of different work experiences, the University of Paris and Georgetown University graduate was the creator and director of the Office of External Relations of the Organization of American States. He has also served on the International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and for two years served as a news anchor for the Christian Science Monitor. Born in Midland, Texas, Bruce grew up in Paris.
“This guy’s experience in [public relations] is critical for the University,” Cohl said. “The image committee looks forward to working with him on a regular basis.”
Archived article by Brian Tsao