Sherry Knight, tasked over the summer with leading damage control of the Central Michigan University image following a tumultuous 2011-12 academic year, was named Wednesday the university’s associate vice president for communications.
In a Wednesday afternoon release, University President George Ross conceded that CMU needed a “strong communications leader and strategist.”
“Sherry has demonstrated her ability for building strong relationships for CMU, both internally and externally, with integrity,” Ross said. “Together, the entire campus can focus now on building awareness and support of the university with positive energy.”
Ross named Knight interim associate VP of communications in late May following the public resignation of PR chief Renee Walker, who had been at CMU since 2008. Ross said Walker’s resignation was a mutual decision, but Knight at the time said Ross had been in talks with her since April about “helping to expand the university’s communications efforts.” Walker exited her job with a hefty severance package, receiving more than $140,000 in pay and benefits and 18 months health coverage.
Communication efforts plagued CMU for much of the 2011-12 academic year, confirmed in March by Penson Associates, Inc., a California-based research and consulting firm. In a 13-page strategic planning report prepared by John Moore, president of Penson Associates, a breakdown in communication was identified as the main indicator of a lack of trust between faculty and administration.
Problems began in the fall with a seven-month contract spat between the administration and faculty association, eventually coming to an end in December.
Issues continued in the spring, as a series of academic departments issued votes of “No confidence” against Ross and Provost Gary Shapiro and Central Michigan Life reported details about the university’s lack of public disclosure over a $10 million allocation toward the $22.5 million renovation of the CMU Events Center, which had been promoted as a privately-funded project.
In May, CM Life reported the university spent more than $850,000 on the cmich.edu website redesign, more than the $550,000 price tag CMU originally said. Ross and Roger Rehm, vice president of IT, blamed “miscommunication” on the cost of the project.
Since her May appointment, Knight hasn’t had it easy. Fall enrollment numbers released in September showed a 2.2 percent decline in on-campus enrollment, with an even-more alarming 12.4 percent decline in freshman enrollment. Even so, she continues to push the work of Steven Johnson, hired in November 2011 as CMU’s first vice president of enrollment and student services.
Most recently, Knight led what she later dubbed “crisis control” after former teacher education and professional development professor William Merrill was charged with using his campus computer to possess and distribute child pornography. Within hours of alerting the campus community of Merrill’s suspension, Knight called a news conference to to address and confirm media reports.
“During the past six months, I have met countless faculty, staff, administrators and students focused solidly on telling CMU’s story and expanding its reputation as a first-choice university,” Knight said in the release. “It is an honor to join my alma mater in this role and to serve with the energetic, creative team in University Communications.”
Knight begins her full-time duties on Monday and will earn a $140,000 annual salary. She had been working under a six-month contract that paid her $1,500 per day of work in Mount Pleasant.