Today is the last day for University of Connecticut alumni who live in Connecticut to put their ballots in the mail so that they will be received at the post office box in Storrs by Monday.
In urging members of the Alumni Association to vote no to dissolution of the organization during the last few weeks, I have received hundreds of comments, emails and telephone calls from alumni and made a few new friends along the way.
I have also learned a lot. One of the things I learned is that many alumni did not understand the developments of the last several months and what they were being asked to decide.
The national board of directors had agreed with President Susan Herbst last year to transition to a new model which would make all alumni members of the Alumni Association with no dues, and they were prepared to send a ballot to members in December asking them to approve such a change in their by-laws.
Instead, President Herbst came to the board on Jan. 13 and told them in no uncertain terms that she was going to ask the UConn Foundation to assume responsibility for all alumni activities, regardless of any action or changes made by the association. Rather than consult with their members or member organizations (or major donors, legislators or the media) and inform them of the president’s pronouncement, the board members discussed the matter among themselves and five weeks later came to the conclusion that the organization could not operate without university support.
President Herbst’s recommendation was accepted by the UConn Board of Trustees and the Board of Directors of the UConn Foundation and alumni staff have worked to transition alumni responsibilities to the foundation.
Thus, the proposed dissolution of the association does not undo the decision made by President Herbst; it simply asks alumni whether they believe it is important to maintain a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that will continue to have an elected presence within the university that will be elected by all alumni and whether they will continue to maintain control of their assets — the Alumni House and a $6 million investment portfolio — rather than turning these assets over to the university and the foundation.
Those who support a no vote believe that alumni should continue to have elected representatives within the university power structure rather than have a few handpicked alumni serve on the board of the Foundation. A no vote would allow the current board of directors to maintain control of the Alumni House, entering into a lease with the university for a nominal amount for its use, ensuring that it will continue to be used for alumni purposes into the future.
Similarly, a no vote will keep the association’s assets in alumni hands, allowing the board to allocate around 5 per cent of its principal each year to be used for scholarships and programs and activities of alumni chapters and affinity groups across the country.
I have never believed that the university’s interests in seizing control of the Alumni Association was about its assets. But if this is not the case, why has the university worked so hard in recent days to ask alumni to vote yes when it already has assumed responsibilities for alumni activities?
Why in the proposed distribution of assets did they force the Alumni Association’s board of directors to include language that would allow the university to raze the existing house as long as they designate another location on campus as a “center for alumni?”
And why does language in that same agreement allow the $6 million in its portfolio to be used for other purposes? And finally, when these loopholes were pointed out, why was the proposed distribution plan of assets removed from the Alumni Association’s website for members to review before voting?
The bottom line is that members that vote yes to the dissolution of the Alumni Association will be eliminating any elected representation of alumni within the university, and will cede the control of alumni assets of the Alumni House and our investments to the university and its foundation.
That would be a sad end to an Alumni Association that has worked for 127 years to bring together alumni in support of its alma mater.
Steven R. Donen of Cromwell is a 198o graduate of the University of Connecticut and a 1983 graduate of its School of Law.