A Twenty-Five-Year Career at the AAUP

By Kelly Hand

Robin Burns, the AAUP’s assistant director of media relations, retired in September after twenty-five years of service.

When she began her career at the AAUP in 1990, the national office had a mainframe computer system but no personal computers. Burns was the first employee to request a PC; after her colleagues saw what she could do with it, everyone wanted one. A few years later, as the world was beginning to grasp the potential of the new World Wide Web, Burns was asked to develop the AAUP’s first website. This was quite a daunting project at a time when the office still lacked dial-up Internet access and the WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) concept had not yet revolutionized website design. It is a wonderful irony that the person who ushered the AAUP toward an exciting new digital future also happened to be a Civil War history buff who had written a master’s thesis on Union general John Gibbon.

After a reorganization, Burns moved from the membership development and public information office to the AAUP’s Department of External Relations, where she worked on a series of websites and expanded the AAUP’s press program by developing a broader network of media contacts. One example of her strategic approach to cultivating new contacts was her decision to reach out to student newspapers. This effort paid off because student reporters have a natural interest in issues affecting faculty and sometimes go on to cover higher education as professional journalists.

The media environment has grown increasingly competitive for higher education coverage during Burns’s career at the AAUP. Except at a handful of publications, including the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, few journalists now focus exclusively on higher education issues. Burns helped to develop webinars and other resources to educate member leaders about interacting with the press in this new environment.

AAUP executive director Julie Schmid says, “Working with the media is essential to everything we do. For the past twenty-five years, Robin has worked tirelessly to improve the AAUP’s media coverage. By attracting press coverage about our organizing campaigns, our work to protect academic freedom, and our promotion of tenure protections and shared governance, Robin has maximized the impact of all our actions. She has also been a driving force behind our website and was essential to the successful web redesign. We will miss her.”

Burns said that her first big retirement project will be to earn a Master Gardener Certificate at Virginia Tech and landscape her new home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

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