Wisconsin system hire was fired in Arkansas

The offices of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents are in Van Hise Hall on the UW-Madison campus.
The offices of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents are in Van Hise Hall on the UW-Madison campus. (UW-Madison photo/Michael Forster Rothbart)

MADISON (AP) – A newly hired top-level communications director for the University of Wisconsin System was fired last year as University of Arkansas spokesman following a disagreement over that school’s handling of an open records request filed by a newspaper.

The UW System announced Friday that John Diamond had been selected as interim associate vice president for external relations and strategic communications. Diamond was fired in August 2013 by the University of Arkansas from a similar position for insubordination after a confrontation with his direct supervisor.

Diamond has said he was fired because of disagreements over the school’s openness and accountability to the public, specifically that a Freedom of Information Act request from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was being unjustifiably delayed by his supervisor.

Diamond also claimed that his supervisor at Arkansas, vice chancellor Chris Wyrick, made inappropriate remarks about religion and race and created a hostile and threatening work environment.

The issues became so public in Arkansas, the university’s president held a news conference to address the situation last year.

Diamond’s firing in Arkansas was discussed during his interview for the Wisconsin job, said UW System spokeswoman Heather LaRoi.

“John was very forthright about the circumstances of his departure from Arkansas,” she said in an email Monday.

Diamond’s hiring at Wisconsin was one of the first acts of Jim Villa, the vice president of for university relations who is a close ally of Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Both Villa and Diamond were finalists for the job Villa got and began last week.

Diamond, who will be paid $135,000 a year, will report directly to Villa. Diamond’s first day is Tuesday.

“John brings to the System over 20 years of experience in higher education communications,” Villa said in a statement announcing the hiring. “He also has a proven track record of managing strategic communications and stakeholder engagement.”

Diamond was hired on an interim basis because UW President Ray Cross “determined there is an immediate need for coordinating strategic communications,” LaRoi said. A formal search was expected to begin soon to fill the position on a permanent basis, she said.

“John’s background and drive make him a great addition to our new university relations team,” Cross in the statement. “His interim hire will allow us to immediately develop and begin implementing a communications plan while we consider our long-term options.”

At Wisconsin, Diamond will supervise a team of six employees broadly responsible for the system’s external and internal communications.

While Villa is a Republican who previously worked as chief of staff to Walker when he was Milwaukee County executive, Diamond served eight years as a Democrat in the Maine Statehouse. That included four years as House majority leader before he left in 1988.

Diamond went on to work 21 years as an administrator at the University of Maine System, including eight as its chief spokesman before he took the Arkansas job in 2010.

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