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BU Taps Experienced Advocate for New Washington Office

Remade liaison efforts with national leaders completed

Jennifer Grodsky, Boston University government affairs

Jennifer Grodsky will represent BU on Capitol Hill and before federal agencies. Photo by Dietmar Quistorf

BU has hired its first Washington, D.C.–based government affairs officer and promoted to vice president the current University leader for state and local relations. The moves cap President Robert A. Brown’s yearlong reorganization of the University’s government relations operation.

Jennifer Grodsky’s wide-ranging portfolio in Washington will include boosting BU’s institutional profile in the capital, as well as helping individual professors navigate the congressional committees and executive agencies relevant to their work. Grodsky, who has directed the Washington office of her alma mater, the University of Southern California, since 2005, takes the new post of vice president of federal relations on July 15.

Robert Donahue, who has been an associate vice president for the past year, has been promoted to vice president for government and community affairs, overseeing relations with state and city officials for both the Charles River and the Medical Campuses. Donahue served the University for two decades before that as director of city relations.

Grodsky “brings to BU an important depth of knowledge about the public policy issues that are relevant to higher education,” says Brown. “She has developed substantive experience in a wide range of important issues at the federal level which affect research institutions such as ours.” In the coming months, Grodsky and other University officials will develop a strategic plan for opening the office, determining its staff, and supporting the University’s increasingly active role in D.C.

“BU faculty are leaders in their fields,” says Grodsky. “They’re conducting research that has the potential to transform the future and change lives. I’m excited to be joining BU and to have the opportunity to work with such a dynamic group of faculty and staff.”

In the past, BU has relied on Washington-based firms to represent its interests on specific projects. “With the new office,” says Stephen Burgay, BU’s senior vice president for external affairs, “we’re taking a broader, more holistic view of how BU as an institution should engage a whole set of issues and reaffirm the University’s presence on the national scene as a premier academic research institution.”

Burgay says Grodsky and her staff will have a four-pronged mission:

Ensure the University’s participation in public policy debates in Washington affecting higher education. Those include intellectual property rights, scientific openness, support for the humanities, funding for federal research agencies, and student loan programs.

“Public policy decisions around these issues have a profound impact on the institution,” says Burgay. “We’ll engage them through our new office and by involving campus staff whose opinions can be brought to bear.”

Establish closer relations with executive agencies that determine the nature and funding of research. Previously, BU focused on relations with congressional committees; the Washington office will expand that to include agencies in research areas in which BU faculty work, such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Defense Department, the Energy Department, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Support individual professors whose research is affected by congressional committees and executive agencies. Grodsky and her staff will “provide on-the-ground support to those faculty members who need to find resources or officials for their work,” Burgay says.

Make sure BU has a seat at the academic research table in Washington. “We have not had a consistent presence in D.C. in circles in which academic research institutions come together to talk about common concerns and work collaboratively,” says Burgay. “With the Washington office and Jennifer in place, we will have that.”

In her new role, Grodsky will work closely with Provost Jean Morrison. She will have a seat in the Provost’s Cabinet and will have office space in the Provost’s suite, in addition to the D.C. office.

Grodsky is on the board of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and has been a member of the Association of American Universities and president of the Science Coalition, a nonprofit advocating for government funding of university research. She graduated from USC, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and worked for two members of Congress before becoming USC’s executive director of federal relations.

Donahue’s promotion follows “significant leadership in areas critical to both BU campuses,” Burgay says, starting with his role in assuaging the high-profile community concerns about safety at BU’s new National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL). Before the inaugural round of research started earlier this year, Donahue’s office guided more than 400 people, residents, business leaders, politicians, public health and safety officials, and journalists, on 30-plus tours to “demystify the research and the facility,” Donahue says.

He also is among the officials who lead the University in securing public input, working with historical commissions and community task forces, and meeting state and city regulatory reviews for every new campus building project. Recent projects include the Center for Student Services, the School of Law renovations, the New Balance sports field, and the relocation to 233 Bay State Road of the Admissions Reception Center.

Donahue’s office is working with city officials on renewing BU’s 10-year Institutional Master Plan (IMP), required by Boston of all nonprofits. A yearlong effort to secure renewal likely will culminate in October, says Donahue.

His promotion to vice president, Burgay says, reflects that in all these activities, “Bob has done a superb job in expanding the role and the impact that the community relations office is playing locally.”

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Rich Barlow, Senior Writer, BU Today, Bostonia, Boston University
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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