Meet OP: President Napolitano’s executive correspondence team
All day long, we dash off emails and texts. Much of the time we’re not even using full words — just acronyms, abbreviations and emojis. When was the last time you wrote a real letter, making sure you conveyed your message eloquently and precisely?
Now imagine being responsible for the formal correspondence of President Napolitano.
Fortunately, a talented team of three in Public Affairs handles this daunting task: Terri Campbell and Deborah McCaskey serve as writer-editors while Bernadette Scully provides administrative support. Together, they handle the hundreds of emails, letters and requests directed to the president each month. Every message receives a personalized response. Amazingly, their response time for all incoming mail is less than a week – even in a month like June, when they had to produce over 200 letters.
With topics ranging from admissions to legislation to campus issues, answering all this correspondence takes a village – or in this case, all of UCOP. After evaluating the subject matter, the correspondence team determines whether they or another department should draft the president’s response, with areas such as Student Affairs and Government Relations frequently being called upon. Fortunately, almost all the incoming mail is positive, said Campbell.
While all UC presidents receive a lot of mail, McCaskey observed that Napolitano is unique: “She’s a celebrity.” Because of her previous positions as governor of Arizona and secretary of Homeland Security, “people know her face and feel they know her,” McCaskey said. “And she’s a role model for girls and women who are inspired by her success.” She and Campbell handle the frequent requests for photos, autographs and information about her. Some correspondents want to share something, such as the fourth-grade girl who sent a photo of herself and her school presentation about “Famous Arizonans” that featured Napolitano.
Campbell and McCaskey also draft correspondence initiated by the president such as get well messages, thank yous, condolences, and letters of congratulations to UC faculty and staff for awards and honors they’ve won. The latter could be a job in itself given the many accolades that the people of UC receive.
The group also plays a crucial role in supporting both federal and state legislative outreach on UC’s behalf. They’re “a key partner in assisting the UC Office of Federal Governmental Relations (FGR) in ensuring that communications from policymakers are responded to and appropriately handled,” said Chris Harrington, FGR’s interim assistant vice president. “In addition, they help to ensure that key communications from our office, including updates on legislative activities, are properly routed through the president’s office. Knowing we have such partners at OP allows us to focus on our advocacy efforts here in Washington, D.C.”
Of all the tasks they are responsible for, perhaps the one most familiar to UCOP staff are the decision memos for approval of policies, programs, funding, and other issues requiring a presidential decision. They sometimes receive as many as a dozen of these requests in a single day, and each is carefully reviewed by a president with a very busy schedule.
While it can be a challenge to juggle all these priorities, maintain that impressive turnaround time and complete documents with meticulous attention, the team enjoys the fact that they have contact with almost all areas of UCOP.
“It’s like an aerial view of the university,” McCaskey said. “We get a sense of everything that’s going on at UC.”
While they hold scheduled “meet and greets” with their internal customers to better serve them, they also welcome drop-in visitors to their cubicles on the 12th floor of the Franklin building.
“Come see us,” McCaskey said. “We have chocolate.”
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