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Transcending the Spin Cycle

TC's new AVP of External Affairs is looking to engage a range of stakeholders in meaningful dialogue
Jim Gardner has worked in some high-profile positions during his career--policy advisor to New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman; editor at the Philadelphia Daily News; and, most recently, as special assistant to University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann. But one of his more satisfying moments came nearly two decades ago as an editorial columnist for the Asbury Park Press. New Jersey's Governor at that time, Jim Florio, had just engineered the passage of a major education bill, and Gardner responded with a four-part editorial series devoted entirely to the new legislation.

"It prompted an avalanche of letters not only from educators and the general public, but also from the Governor, who responded point by point to his critics," recounts Gardner. "It illustrated for me my newspaper's potential for sparking constructive dialogue on issues that bear directly on our lives." 

Gardner, who joined Teachers College in July as Associate Vice President of External Affairs, intends to achieve similar results by representing the College's work to the press, policymakers, alumni and the broader public. 

"President Obama has said that our economic and societal health depends on education," Gardner says, "and great educational institutions such as TC have both the credibility and the responsibility to shed light on the enormously complex issues surrounding education to which there are no shortcuts or easy solutions." 

"To effectively engage the public, we have to present everything we do--our research in education, health and nutrition, our ideas for reforming and rethinking education, and our work with our friends and neighbors in Harlem and with institutions all over the world--in edgy, captivating and exciting ways," Gardner maintains. 

Gardner describes himself as "a passionate believer in higher education" and its critical role "preparing future leaders and professionals while serving as the conscience of the nation and of society." He came to Teachers College, he says, because, "When it comes to transforming education across the lifespan, TC is where the action is. This is a place with brilliant people, led by a brilliant, innovative president with a vision for charting and strengthening the essential connections linking educational theory with policy and practice. 

"When you contemplate TC's interdisciplinary breadth, the depth of its various programs, and its influence and impact in New York City, you're talking about an institution that is ideally poised to be the transformational agent in our society," he says.

In his new role, Gardner, who earned his undergraduate degree from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and spent some time working toward a master's degree in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia, will lead the full range of external relations and communications for TC. 

"We are so fortunate to have a creative communications professional of Jim's stature and experience join our TC team to help position the College for our upcoming fundraising campaign and 125th anniversary," said Suzanne Murphy, Vice President for Development and External Affairs. "On a personal note, Jim is a warm, witty conversationalist who looks forward to getting to know the people of Teachers College. He'll be a great TC citizen." 

"If you've never set foot here, you know something of our storied history," Gardner says. "But there's a lot we can do to reinforce that TC is on the cutting edge right now. How we present ourselves to friends, alumni and other constituents is very important, because the trust they place in us isn't a given--we have to keep earning it. And to do that we have to articulate why a healthy, vibrant TC is essential to the country's future-'"and to the world." 

Published Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2010