Battle tested

Yale’s new VP for communications is a former war correspondent.

Yale University

Yale University

Eileen O'Connor brings experience in journalism, law, and diplomacy to her job at Yale. View full image

Anything that happens at Yale, it seems, is news. Especially when it’s bad news. So what kind of experience can prepare someone for the job of managing the university’s public image in times of crisis? “Being a war-zone correspondent, maybe?” suggests Eileen O’Connor with a smile.

O’Connor, who be- came Yale’s vice president for communications in January, has done that and more. She has been a journalist at ABC and CNN, a lawyer, and, most recently, a deputy assistant secretary of state overseeing communications in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It’s an action-packed résumé that has left the 56-year-old O’Connor with a lot of stories to tell. Like about how she covered the war in Chechnya and the fall of Communism while working as Moscow bureau chief for CNN. “It was an amazing time to be there,” she says, “being a witness to history and to humanity’s power in making change.” Later, she would report on the Clinton White House, and then lead CNN’s investigation into the 9/11 attacks.

She left journalism for law school at Georgetown, her undergraduate alma mater. As a lawyer, she specialized in crisis management; she also did pro bono work on behalf of death row inmates and victims of torture in Somalia.

While with the State Department, O’Connor was involved with US efforts to improve education in Afghanistan: increasing educational opportunities for women and introducing critical thinking into public education. “Throughout my career I have seen the power of education for improving communities and societies,” she says. “That’s why I decided to work in higher education.”

The first director of Yale’s Office of Public Affairs and Communications to hold the rank of vice president, O’Connor says she will work to tell Yale’s story proactively while dealing with the media storms that are inevitable in the twenty-first century. “You have to keep your eye on the prize while you’re taking incoming fire on a daily basis,” she says.

Apart from the rest of her curriculum vitae, O’Connor mentions another qualification for the job: she is the mother of five daughters, ages 19 to 26, so she knows the mindset of college students. “It also means I’m a great negotiator,” she adds.

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