Changes in communication

The top two officials at UNR’s Office of Communications quit at almost the same time — but they say it’s just a coincidence

Sandra Rogers, the director of UNR’s Office of Communications, recently announced she was stepping down to spend more time with her family.

Sandra Rogers, the director of UNR’s Office of Communications, recently announced she was stepping down to spend more time with her family.

Photo By Deidre Pike

At first glance, it certainly looks suspicious.

John Lilley, the new University of Nevada, Reno, president, comes in and moves the Office of Communications—formerly part of the school’s Advancement Division—directly under his control. A number of changes take place. For example, Silver & Blue, the university’s alumni magazine, is cut from six issues per year to four. Then, within several months, the top two members of the Office of Communications announce that they are stepping down.

Yep, it looks suspicious. But both Sandra Rogers, the outgoing director of the Office of Communications, and assistant director Greg Bortolin, whose last day on the job was Oct. 5, insist it is all just a big coincidence.

“There is no ‘hidden story’ here,” says Rogers, who will be staying on the job on a part-time basis (three days per week) through early January. “Greg and I did not choose to leave because we don’t like the changes being made. We both made the choice to move on for our own reasons and entirely on our own volition.”

In Rogers’ case, she says, it was a matter of family obligations. Her husband, Jim, has spent the last two years commuting between Reno and Billings, Mont., as part of his job as president and CEO of Kampgrounds of America. She has three sons who are spread throughout the country: Ben, a master’s student at UNR’s School of Engineering; Judd, a senior at the University of Colorado; and Tyler, a Reno High School junior who is spending the year in Washington, D.C., working as a congressional page.

“I’ve been juggling a lot of balls,” Rogers says. “I would just have to say the reasons to leave are more compelling than the reasons to stay.”

In Bortolin’s case, he says, it was a matter of an offer he couldn’t refuse. Bortolin was hired to be Gov. Kenny Guinn’s press secretary effective Oct. 8.

“I am getting a tremendous opportunity to be part of the governor’s executive staff,” Bortolin says, adding that he never applied for the job before getting offered the position. “I’m getting a nice pay raise, and I am excited about the opportunity.”

The changes
Not only do both Rogers and Bortolin say that their departures are just a matter of coincidental timing, they also say the changes being made to the Office of Communications are a good thing.

The office has gone through a number of large changes in the past several years. Rogers, who became director of the office in 1997, brought a number of different groups together into one cohesive organization, Bortolin says. The editor of Silver & Blue used to work off campus, and the creative services (layout and design) department, in Bortolin’s words, “did its own thing.”

Under Rogers’ leadership, the 12-employee office—whose job is to serve as a public relations arm for the university and promote the school’s mission—runs more smoothly and does much more than it did in the past, Bortolin says.

“I think that we were at ground zero five years ago,” Bortolin says. “I am proud of what this office has accomplished. When you consider how short-staffed we are, and that we have no advertising budget, no marketing budget, it’s pretty amazing what this office accomplishes on a daily basis.”

And the office has to do a lot; nobody would deny that.

"[UNR] is a $320 million operation,” Bortolin says. “Statewide, it has an economic impact of almost $700 million annually. We have 50,000 alumni, 14,300 students, 3,500 employees, and research and development topped $100 million in the past year. All of that said, this is a pretty complicated organization.”

When Lilley decided to move the office directly under his control, Bortolin says, it was done to show the focus the university—which gets only about one-third of its monies from state coffers—is putting on fund-raising and alumni development.

“If anything, having the Office of Communications directly under the provost and John Lilley elevates the status of the organization,” Bortolin says, adding that the office is now acting directly on behalf of the president in everything it does.

Other, smaller changes in the office—such as the reduction of the number of Silver & Blue issues—are money-based moves, Bortolin says. He says the decision was made in conjunction with the decision to start publishing Nevada News, the Office of Communication’s newspaper, every two weeks rather than every three weeks. He also says the office is producing such things as a yearly donor publication, a yearly media guide and a president’s report every two years—things that weren’t done before.

“I would rather put out a higher-quality publication less often than an inferior product more often,” Bortolin says.

The future
All of these changes are just a part of Lilley’s campus-wide strategic plan, which will be completed in May. As for how that will eventually turn out, nobody knows.

But it’s inevitable that change is coming to the Office of Communications, with its top two officials either gone or on the way out. Rogers is reorganizing the office so that John Trent, a former Reno Gazette-Journal staffer who has served as editor of Nevada News and the office’s other publications, is now the assistant director of the office, replacing Bortolin. However, Jean Dixon, a former Gazette-Journal photographer, will be taking over the media contact duties, a duty Bortolin used to have.

“I believe in reorganizing around the talent that people have,” Rogers says.

The future of the director’s position remains up in the air. Lilley is considering elevating the job to a vice president’s position, which would mean that only someone with advanced degrees would be eligible to fill it. Obviously, the new director may have some changes he or she would like to make as well.

Whatever happens, Rogers says she hopes that the office receives more funding than it has in the past. With no real marketing or advertising budget, the university largely depends on media coverage of events and accomplishments to promote the school.

But no matter what happens, Rogers says she has faith in the Office of Communications under President Lilley.

“Strong people work here," she says. "This office can adapt, and it will."