January 13, 2014

Joel Malina Named Cornell’s VP for University Relations

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Joel Malina, CEO and general manager of the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm Wexler and Walker Public Policy Associates, has been named Cornell’s new Vice President for University Relations, the University announced Thursday.

Malina has worked in political advertising, campaign fundraising, lobbying for over two decades and, for a few years, musical theater. He will take office March 31.

“The life of a working actor is not always as fulfilling as those who dream about it,” Malina said, though first cousin and television star Joshua Malina urged him to perform professionally straight out of Yale.

After performing in off-Broadway productions and on national tours, Joel Malina said he was “able to see what a working actor’s life was like,” adding that he realized he wanted to pursue a career doing something else.

“I knew that Washington, although I wasn’t sure what elements of it, held a lot of interest for me,” Malina, 49, said.

Since then, Malina has worked for Sen. Max Baucus (D – Mont.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.-17) before moving to Wexler and Walker. One of Malina’s major clients there was the Science Coalition, a group dedicated to sustaining federal funding for scientific research.

“I was able to learn the lobbying business from a lot of smart and generous people, and in 21 years developed an understanding of how the public policy system works, grew a set of relationships with clients, interest groups and policy makers and ultimately assumed the leadership of my firm,” Malina said.

Joel Malina became the CEO of Wexler and Walker in April 2013.

“Now, as difficult as it will be to leave a place after 21 years, this is the kind of unique opportunity that I was waiting for and hoping for,” he said.

The Vice President for University Relations oversees all of Cornell’s internal and external communications, including relations with the media, community groups in New York State, plus federal, state and local governments.

“It’s a pretty important portfolio — one that is tasked with making sure there is a cohesiveness in the way that the University is presenting itself to all sorts of audiences,” Malina said. “How do we best communicate the extent of the value that the entirety of Cornell provides to the city, the state, the region, the nation and the global community?  Cornell is improving the lives of people every day. That’s a great story.”

Following a “competitive national search,” President David Skorton said in a University press release that Malina’s background in government relations and strategic communications best matched the position.

“Joel brings to Cornell a superb background in government relations and strategic communications at a time when coordinated approaches and strong partnerships locally, across New York state, in Washington and around the world will help define our future,” Skorton said. “I look forward to welcoming Joel to the University.”

After Stephen Philip Johnson announced his retirement last spring, his position of Vice President for Government and Community Relations was merged with that of Vice President for University Relations, previously held by Prof. Glenn Altschuler Ph.D. ’76, American studies, and dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions.

The merging of responsibilities, Malina said, will create an interesting opportunity.

“The Cornell opportunity caught my attention because the position has lines into so many of these important functions,” Malina said. “I think it is a testament to David Skorton’s realization that describing the contributions of Cornell to reporters is very much the same as describing them to a legislator in Albany, a senator in DC or to a civic organization in Ithaca.”

According to Malina, this includes significant engagement with students as well.

“I consider the initial stages of my tenure to be a lot of sitting down with all sorts of individuals, in all sorts of positions at the University, a lot of listening, engaging and discussions around what makes Cornell unique,” Malina said. “I have to imagine that those [discussions] will include a number of conversations with undergraduates.”

Malina does have some personal connections with Cornell already — his uncle, Robert Malina ’60, was an Editor in Chief of The Sun and the a cappella group he sings in, the Tone Rangers, was created by three former members of the Hangovers.

Now, he said, he is prepared to make himself at home on the Hill.

“I am very much looking forward to immersing myself in this community for the long-term,” Malina said. “I wouldn’t be making this move if I felt otherwise. My wife and I and my kids are really excited about moving to Ithaca.”