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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Telling UC Santa Cruz's Story: An Oral History with Public Affairs Director Jim Burns, 1984-2014


Public Affairs Director Jim Burns retired in June 2014 after serving UC Santa Cruz for over three decades. For many of those years, as writer Kara Guzman wrote in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Burns was known as “the voice of the university.” This oral history, conducted over four sessions in July 2015, gives a sense of the person behind that voice, as well as the technological, economic, political, and cultural changes that transformed the fields of media and university public relations over the past thirty years.

Burns arrived at UC Santa Cruz in 1984, hired by the Public Information Office as Publications Editor. There he edited print publications such as On Campus and the UCSC Review, and he and his close colleague Jim MacKenzie became early adopters of desktop publishing technology. His office promoted much of UCSC’s most groundbreaking research, including the campus’s national role in developing and spreading organic farming and sustainable agriculture; sequencing the human genome; saving the peregrine falcon from extinction; and offering a home for the Grateful Dead Archive. In the 1990s, Burns became a key leader in developing and building UCSC’s first web site. And for the past twenty-plus years Burns served as a campus spokesperson during tumultuous demonstrations, budget cuts, the Loma Prieta Earthquake and other challenging events, a steady voice through the tenures of seven chancellors and dramatic shifts in campus culture and organization.

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