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The Exciting World of Educational Public Relations

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Michael Radock, Vice President (Retired), The University of Michigan

University of Michigan

The recent college graduate or young person aspiring to a career in public relations, few areas can boast of greater opportunities than educational public relations. It offers a broad range of learning and experience, professional development and intellectual growth, along with a deep sense of purpose and personal satisfaction.

Consider the obvious advantages of working for an educational institution familiar territory, a stimulating intellectual and cultural environment, a generally favorable constituency, and a highly regarded product. Unlike other areas, the education community encourages new ideas, does not downgrade youthful enthusiasm, and is generally receptive to proposals and projects that might be rejected elsewhere.

All around you are opportunities to test creative ideas, expand personal horizons, take additional classes related to public relations, seek career advice, and acquire helpful mentors.

Behind the Academic Curtain

To the outsider, the academic environment may seem peculiar or, at the very least, different. Many undergraduates don't understand it; some graduate students eventually do.

What does an institution of higher education do? College presidents generally cite a trinity of teaching, research, and public service. Every institution can claim some activity in all three areas, but for the major institutions, both public and private, there is a diversity of activity not commonly appreciated.

There are, above all, some very positive things about working for an educational institution. In a college or university, you work with people who are keen and questioning, who respect knowledge, who are at once radical and conservative, who have a large measure of freedom, in addition to (and to a certain extent, despite) their organizational affiliation.

People in academia are literate and humane. They are themselves and attract artists and scientists. The place is constantly changing. The flow of youth through the institution is part of it But so is the fact that much of the activity of a university press so a college) is devoted to what is new, whether a new interpretation of history, a new means of overcoming natural rejection of transplanted human organs, or a new finding in number theory.

In other words, you must have an affection and a tolerance for academe if you want to work in educational public relations. That goes beyond the fundamental communications skills required for any area of public relations.

Tolerance Is a Must

What must you tolerate? Faculty, for one thing. Essentially, the faculty considers itself in charge. Faculty governance, in form if not substance, means the kind of participatory democracy. Speed and efficiency are not its great attributes. You learn to live with the circumstances, appreciating the advantages and tolerating the disadvantages.

To work in education at any level, you must also tolerate financial constraints. This is particularly true in public institutions, at all levels, but also in private colleges and universities. They are not profit-making enterprises. They generally do not employ the marketing and pricing techniques used by business. Educational institutions don't have business' financial flexibility. Furthermore, education continues to suffer from the "poor-but-proud" syndrome. Somehow, some professors are expected to be a little seedy, almost flaunting their genteel poverty; if they aren't, they've violated the image. Plainly put, don't expect to get rich. There are no bonuses and no stock options.

Because of the broad responsibilities in an educational institution, there are many opportunities for those who wish to transfer to other nonprofit organizations, government, public affairs, or public relations agencies.

Each year, the College and University Personnel Association makes a survey of college and university administrators, both public and private institutions.

Noting that increases depended on jobs held, the report indicated that median salaries for administrators in academic and external-affairs positions increased by just over three percent in 1992.

Median salaries for chief public relations officer for 1991-92 were:

All institutions, public and private. $43,048

For Doctoral institutions. $70,422

For Comprehensive institutions. $46,920

For Baccalaureate Institutions. $36,943

For Two-Year Institutions. $36,600

In institutions which combined the position in the director of development and public relations officer, salaries for 1991-92 were:

All institutions, public and private. $71,000

For Doctoral institutions. $100,000

For Comprehensive institutions. $72,677

For Baccalaureate Institutions. $52,198

For Two-Year Institutions. $44,898

Now advisor to the president and CEO of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, MICHAEL RADOCK has had a career combining the academic, business, and professional fields of public relations, journalism, and development.

For 20 years, he was vice president for university relations and professor of journalism at the University of Michigan. He also has been vice president at the University of Southern California and the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies and has taught public relations at five educational institutions.

A past president of the American College Public Relations Association, he recently was selected as one of the world's 40 outstanding public relations leaders. He served for nine years on the corporate public relations staff of Ford Motor Company. As manager of educational affairs, he was responsible for company-wide educational PR programs.

Radock was an editor of the Handbook of Institutional Advancement, a contributing editor of Lesly's Public Relations Handbook, the Handbook of College and University Trusteeship, editor of The College Publisher magazine, and the author of more than 110 publications and papers. A former chairman of the Educational and Cultural Organizations section of PRSA, he has served as a consultant to more than 300 colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations.

In 1980, Mr. Radock received the Distinguished Service Award for leadership in institutional advancement for minority colleges and universities. He is a Fellow of the Public Relations Society of America and a past trustee of the Foundation for Public Relations Research and Education. Radock is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in Public Relations, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in Advertising, and Who's Who Among Human Service Professionals. He is a graduate of Westminster College and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
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