California State University, Stanislaus, has appointed an interim director of media relations to help improve the school's communications during its challenging budget period.
Eve Hightower, a Modesto Bee reporter from 2006 to 2009 and more recently communications director for state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, was appointed to the new position and began work last week.
Hightower reports directly to CSU Stanislaus President Hamid Shirvani and handles all of the university's media contacts as well as the president's communications with the community, faculty and staff.
"Given the budget situation is changing all the time, we need to make sure someone is relaying how those changes affect us," Hightower said. "(I'll be) working with the media and making sure that people on campus and off campus know what is going on here."
Monthly salary $5,584
The position will be re-evaluated in six months, but Shirvani said his intention is to make it permanent. Hightower's salary will be $5,584 a month or $33,504 for the six-month period.
Hightower will take over media responsibilities from Kristin Olsen, the assistant vice president for public affairs. Olsen will focus more on legislative affairs, marketing and internal publications.
Olsen announced earlier this month she is running for the state Assembly. Shirvani said her decision did not influence the new position. Instead, he said, the idea had been in the works for more than six months.
"There are certain things that have to be done in the university, otherwise we will never be the university that we want to be," Shirvani said. "This is not a matter of luxury. This is part of the infrastructure-building we need to do."
He said many of the other California State universities have more than one director handling public affairs responsibilities.
The announcement of the new administrative position troubles some faculty. Analysts are predicting a $21 billion state deficit for the 2010-11 budget year. Last year, the school made $13.5 million worth of spending cuts and fee increases, which included staff and faculty furloughs, layoffs, and reduced class offerings and services.
"At a time when we're having serious discussions about people not having jobs and programs not going forward anymore, it does concern me," said Steven Filling, speaker for the faculty. "We are perhaps losing sight of the core mission of the university, which is to educate people."
John Sarraillé, president of the Stanislaus California Faculty Association chapter, also questioned the wisdom of creating the position amid the school's financial difficulties.
"Naturally, I'm concerned about what this might be costing us," Sarraillé said. "I am asking myself whether a hire like this should be a priority when we're struggling with just providing the classes for our students to make progress toward our degree requirements."
Sarraillé said if the university had to hire to fill new positions, he would rather internal candidates fill the roles instead of outsiders.
The budget cuts and some of Shirvani's policy decisions have strained his relationship with faculty. In November, staff overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in him.
Hightower, a Modesto native, graduated from Johansen High School and received her degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before coming to The Bee, she worked at the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville.
She said her background in newspapers and the state Capitol gives her a greater understanding of the position and how best to serve the university.
"It is not just about the climate we are in, but the media is changing and demands are changing," she said. "The university is trying to meet that. The university has reached the stage of maturity to need a full-time media expert."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2284.