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October 23, 2014

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Q+A: ROBERT ULMER:

Renowned professor of crisis communication takes office at UNLV

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Robert Ulmer is the new dean of UNLV's Greenspun College of Urban Affairs.

A nationally renowned professor of crisis communication will head the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, UNLV officials announced this morning.

Incoming dean Robert Ulmer is a recognized expert in the field of risk management who has helped cities and corporations craft a responsible communications strategy and rebuild their brand after natural and man-made disasters.

“Rob brings with him to UNLV an impressive background of research experience, leadership and community engagement that fit in perfectly with the goals of the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs,” John Valery White, UNLV’s executive vice president and provost, said in a statement.

Ulmer is chairman of the department of speech communication at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he has taught and conducted research since 1998. He has co-authored six books and dozens of peer-reviewed articles on effective crisis response to crises such as Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Sun spoke with Ulmer this week about his plans for the Greenspun College.

What does your research focus on?

I study risk and crisis communication situations, but I take a different look. If you look at the literature, most study the obvious failures. However, I’m interested in how communities can come back stronger, more productive, more inclusive and more resilient in the future. What makes cities and organizations respond to crises ethically and in a way that allows them to grow and prosper?

What’s an example of a city that faced a crisis effectively?

New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina focused on the opportunities that it brought in terms of education. Because of the damage, they were able to rebuild their education system. Now, New Orleans has one of the best charter school systems in the country. Yes, there were problems — they focused too much on their image and reputation — but they built consensus and worked together to capitalize on those opportunities.

Las Vegas faced a major crisis during the Great Recession. Do you have any advice for a city trying to rebuild from one of the worst economic downturns in the nation’s history?

I really feel like Las Vegas is on the renewal track. Yes, it went through a tough time, as did a lot of cities in the U.S. We’re all struggling with underperforming schools, neighborhood violence and poor health outcomes. But there are opportunities that come out of crisis, and I’m excited by that. I think Las Vegas is a resilient city.

Where does UNLV fit into Las Vegas’ economic revival?

UNLV is well-respected throughout the country and the world. We have outstanding programs at the Greenspun College, programs in criminal justice, journalism, communications, marriage and family therapy, social work, environmental and public affairs. Our hotel and hospitality school and our nursing programs are among the best in the nation.

That said, urban centers only grow when the university grows. They must work together. Metropolitan centers need an educated workforce that understands the needs of business and government and social issues so that they can serve the needs of the community. UNLV is an outstanding brand. It’s one of the many reasons I was attracted to this position.

What opportunities are there for UNLV and Las Vegas in the aftermath of the Great Recession?

There are huge opportunities in how our schools perform, the way that our neighborhoods function and the overall health of the city. Building an environmentally friendly city is a huge opportunity for Las Vegas. The gaming industry in Las Vegas is a great model for cities around the world. Now is the time to capitalize on those opportunities.

What are your immediate plans for the Greenspun College?

My initial goal is to work with the faculty to address the needs that we collectively have as a community and as a state. We can accomplish a great deal when community partners work together to make a positive difference. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to lead the Greenspun College. This is an outstanding college. We’ve got a great group of students, faculty and staff.

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