Interview with Lynda Sirk

On Friday August 31st, Chancelor Toni Murdock announced the appointment of Lynda Sirk as part of a new administrative team to lead operations at Antioch College.
Sirk was hired to assist former dean of students Andrzej Bloch in his new dual position as Chief Operating and Academic Officer. “We needed someone with background in institutional advancement to help Andrzej with his responsibilities,” University spokesperson Mary LaPierre explained in a phone call on Saturday. “The task of oversight and management was given to Lynda.” University spokesperson Mary Lou LaPierre explained. “We needed someone with background in institutional advancement to help Andrzej with his responsibilities.”
The Record asked the new special assistant to the COO Lynda Sirk about her background at the college and plans for her new position.

What will your new tasks consist of in the new structure with Andrzej and Milt ?
Well I’ll be working, like it says, on public relations which fits with what I did. So I’ll be in control of myself. And then working with institutional advancement. Andrzej is now taking on an additional role as dean of faculty plus taking on the president’s work: that’s a tremendous amount of work. It’s enough to be dean of faculty and look over the academic program. We’re an academic institution, so to be incharge of the academic institution is a big job. We haven’t had a chance, Andrzej Milt and I to sit down and talk about how it’s all this going to work so I’m going just on my perception of what I think: It would be impossible for Andrzej to also take on the responsibility of Institutional advancement. Steve was very involved in Institutional advancement and he understood it. He travelled, he fundraised, but Andrzej has his plate full. I started here in the institutional advancement office and college and university public relations is part of institutional advancement. And because I’ve had a lot of financial background it seemed like a natural fit. I don’t see my role as trying to craft their job, these are very professional people here and I know that from working with them before. What I’m going to do as the administrative person is to make sure that their technology is up and running, that they have the things they need.

Why has this new position become necessary in the new structure, why can’t andrezj take that on?
Because it’s too much. He’s got all the president’s work plus all the academic work. Steve, when he was president, was very actively involved in here. He [Andrzej] can’t do it, it’s just superhuman. So now I will act as a liason, I’ll talk with them, they’ll give me an idea what they’re doing, I’ll help them with some of their difficulties. Then I think the plan is for Andrzej and Milt and I to talk daily, have a short meeting every day just to sort of bring the three of us up to speed and say what do we need to do; are we having some difficulties somewhere, who can pitch in and take care of that, We have few staff, we have a very small staff and we have a very big job to do and that is to put on an academic year that is really robust and sound for the students that are here. So we’re going to have to work closely to see that that happens.

And what exactly is your background in Institutional Advancement?
Well, other than the fact that I was actually in this office for a year and we had office meetings every week, in any of the other jobs I’ve had as director of communications I’ve always had to explain intricate financial information to large groups of people, the public. So I understand financing. In Dublin we had a 150,000,000 dollar general fund budget. That’s a one hundred fifty millions dollars that we spent every year, and it was up to me to explain it to the public: where did it go, how was it spent, their role, and it was all funded by the community people so it’s a very similar relationship. So I’ve had a lot of time with financial information and trying to explain it, negotiate it.

And while you were working here for a year, what capacity was that exactly? What were you doing?
I was the director of communications and public relations, so what I did was make contact with the alumns, worked with everybody here, we had a weekly meeting. We talked about how to engage alums, with the message, how do we get together, what about reunion, things like that; so I listened and be part of their conversations about talking to and approaching alumns, and give some whatever and helping them craft material and messages and…

Is there a role for Adcil in the new structure that is created now? As a COO Adrzej does not have the same authority as the president, do you report back to Toni? Do you report to Andrzej?
I don’t know. That would be a question you’d have to ask Andrzej. I report to Andrzej. And that’s another reason that we want those daily meetings too is that the three of us, just like the people here [in the development office], will be working very closely together too.

So you report to Andrzej and Andrzej eventually reports to Toni. What is the level of communication and the level of interaction between you and the university?
Well, I think whenever they call…Steve was very open with all that. He gave his permission to have this talk and knew what was going on. There were times he would call me and say “what’s up” or I would call him and say ‘i think you need to know this” so he was very open with that relationship and I would imagine that that will continue. Although I think I feel a real strong sense, particularily from the conversation this morning that I will be very very focused on the campus and on institutional advancement and making sure that they are well served and that I support Andrzej and Milt in all the things that they need to do.

So your communication with the university will be limited, and will mostly be through Andrzej?
Well, I mean this is the first day, so I really can’t say. Andrzej and Milt and I haven’t met yet to even decide how that will be. Andrzej and I met very briefly today to just talk over some things, but we both said a daily meeting would be a good idea. But as far as having the three of us sit down and see how do we relate how do we talk, how do we connect, we haven’t had a chance to do that yet.

Were you hired into this position by Toni?
Well ,I think it was a collaboration with Toni and Milt and Andrzej.

So Andrzej and Milt got to state a preference as to who would take the position?
Oh, I have no idea

You say it was a collaboration…
Well they were there when this whole thing was discussed. Now, how did it come about? I can’t say that. Did they talk in advance? I don’t know. I was away so I don’t know who was in on those conversations.

Do you have a specific fundraising plan? Is it all going to be left over to Risa? What is your background in fundraising? Do you have any background?
We talked about this at the meeting and that’s definitely up to them to do. They are professionals at that, thats not my role, thats theirs. They work together well, they have a clear idea of where they want to go. I see my role as more of an advocate for them and to make sure they have what they need, not to dictate to them what is a fundraising plan. They are good at that.

How do you think you can overcome the events of last Friday when the development staff was locked out of their offices.
It’s a bad start to a working relationship when people express a lot of mistrust now going into this year.
As Aimee said when she brought it up [during a meeting on Tuesday], she said “I know you weren’t here and weren’t part of that, but you need to know how we feel about this right now.” So when she explained it, I said then you’ll have to help me understand over time what can be done to help you feel more comfortable with what happened. And they said we haven’t thought about that yet, we haven’t gotten to that place but we will. And I’ll continue to ask them about that so that we can work something out.

Are there plans to prepare recruitment for 2008. Steve talked about it although there wasn’t a full okay to start because of the financial exigency?
Well that’s an Andrzej area. I”m just in institutional advancement, not admissions. So I know the alumni board is talking with the BOT about what we can and what we cannot do with admissions now, but thats a whole different area.

So you’re going to focus on the facilitation part, you don’t have a background in fundraising specifically?
Right. That’s not my role. That’s what they’re professionals in, now I did ask them and we talked about being able to talk once or twice a week so I can have a talking knowledge of what their plans are. All this comes back to budget and what they’re putting together. If can just hear and understand their plans, then administratively I can support them better on what they decide to do

Do the people in the alumni and development office feel there is a need for a facilitator to be coordinating between Andrzej and the development office?
They have a lot of unanswered questions, and so we’re going to find out those answers for them. […] They said if you can give us direction, can we go ahead and do this? Absolutely I said, I think you can. Give me your questions and I’ll make sure I get those answers so you can go ahead and do your work and well try to get these answers for you . So there are some facilitation issues that do need to happen so they can not be bogged down and move forward and they’re good people and they’re good at what they do.

In the ideal scenario, what would you see as your role between development and the alumni, since that’s where a lot of the force comes from right now?
Well, when I was in this office before, I worked very closely with Rick Daily so I’ve had a relationship with him; he was on my communications committee. I worked closely with alumns, and I see this as a highly collaborative, very sharing environment. That’s our goal, that’s our effort, that’s what Wendy and Risa and Aimee are excited and willing and prepared to do and that’s absolutely what we’re going to do.

Out of the telephone conversation this morning between you, members of the University leadership and alumni board, can you mention some of the key points that have been decided.
Well I’d say there were eight or 10 things that were talked about, one of which is of course that Aimee as a resource will be available to all the alumni chapters. They designated four point-people from the alumni board that will be the conduit for questions and requests from the alumni board. It should be more assured that they’ll get what they need and get it in a timely manner. They discussed a goal and a goal of the institution that both sides agreed on is to have a collaborative sharing environment where the college provides as much information as it can. Both sides recognized during the conversation that we have a very limited staff and within that limited staff there’s only so much you can do in a day with getting your regular job done plus the request for information. So they said, given a small staff, everything within our power we will do to try to provide. Knowing that there’s a short timespan for what the alumni board is trying to do, we’ll try to put as much effort as possible into providing them with whatever they need.

For how long did you work for the Dublin School system?
About 10 years, I was the director of communications, PR, and business liason. So I was the direct contact with the community. It’s a structure very much like the college and the alums, where you have an admin staff, you have a teaching staff which is the faculty, and then you have the group at large that contributes the money that makes the machine run.The difference is just that the Dublin school system has 13000 students and 150 000 000 dollar general fund budget, so it’s a bigger operation than what Antioch has here. But the structure and the way information flows, the fact that it is an educational institution and the way it is put together is very similar.

Is it true you have worked a couple of years for homeland security after that?
No. A couple of years I was at the state level head and I worked with all the school treasurers in the state of Ohio. There are 614 districts in the state and I worked with all of them. And again, that is a strong financial piece.

Over the course of the summer there was a lot of bad media attention for the college. Students working over the summer hear from their colleagues ‘oh you’re from that violent school.” What have your efforts been over the course of the summer to turn that around?
Well that reputation was out there long before all of this started.

Do you have specific plans media and publicity wise: an image campaign for the college?
Well, I also have the Antiochian. So on top of all this, I also write the magazine and publish that. I have an edition that’s ready to go out, but the three stories that Steve and I had developed probably three months ago have changed over the last several months. Every time it gets ready to go to press, it’s different. At this point I have a magazine that’s about 90 percent done so at this point in time I have to pull all that.

Well, apart from the Antiochian, on the alumni forums I see there are committees dedicated to PR to make a positive image for the college; is there any co-oporative efforts or planning between you and the alumni to put out positive PR for the college while they are trying to raise money to keep the college open?
Well there’s always been a communications subcommittee of the alumni board. Rick Daily was on there and there are probably eight or 10 people on that committee. But I haven’t had a chance to meet since all of this started. But there has been a really strong committee and I have gotten a lot of good direction from them and we have worked very closely together. I’ve always had a co op student or a fwsp student and I am supposed to get one this term. But they haven’t been assigned yet. I’ve always enjoyed having a student. That’s why I want to be in education because I really enjoy being around students

But are there any concrete plans putting out positive PR for the revival in your capacity as PR director, even though you’re working under a adifferent title?
Well we’ve always put it out, in fact I’ve gotten complaints from people because its too positive, we need to put out some negative PR because its too positive.
When I got here there wasn’t one email address not one email address. I had to establish a lot of processes whether its a press release, or the good news email, which now I have over 6000 people who’ve signed up for that. Those are the vehicles I use to get the good news out, and also the Antiochian. I think the centerfold of this Antiochian will probably be the three resolutions and that historic board meeting on august 25 and the agreement to work so closely in supporting the boards plan, I’ve talked to Nancy Crow about writing an article for it.

Are you personally committed to keeping Antioch College open past 2008?
Sure. I am committed to supplying the alumni board with as much information as they need to make the best decisions as possible. This is a moment in history and we don’t have much time to make it.