UConn’s 126-year-old Alumni Association recently voted to dissolve itself. The decision is a response to UConn’s decision to stop funding the Association, as well as revoke permission for the Association to use the UConn logo and brand. Next week, pending approval from the Board of Trustees, the UConn Foundation will formally take control of alumni relations on behalf of the University. Concerns over the Alumni Association’s membership fee as well as its relatively low rate of membership, led the University to withdraw funding. The annual membership fee was $50, far from excessive. $50 is equivalent to six months of Netflix or Amazon Prime. When it comes to membership rates, perhaps the University has a point. It is clear that the Association was only able to capture a small amount of UConn’s alumni. Only 10,000 alumni, about 4 percent of all living UConn alumni, were members of the Alumni Association. Whatever the reason for the withdrawal of support, the University now believes that the UConn Foundation can do a better job of networking with UConn’s 230,000 alumni.
However, the way that the University engineered the Association’s dissolution and then the subsequent handing of the Association’s duties to the UConn Foundation prompts additional questions of transparency. Some suggest that the University, worried about a $40 million dollar shortfall in the State budget, sought to dissolve the Association so that it could take control of the $9 million in assets it possessed. Others similarly suggest that the Associations dissolution was motivated purely by financial strain; and the University simply did not want to spend about $500,000 a year supporting an organization that it, in the past, had tensions with. Yet, alumni relations may suffer because of the University’s decision. The loss of the Alumni Association as an organization independent of the school means that alumni relations could become more corporate and less grassroots. The choice of UConn Foundation as the new custodians of alumni relation seems like a particularly poor choice. Only a short time ago, the UConn Foundation found itself under increasing scrutiny due to concerns over their own transparency. The Foundation was the target of at least one bill in the state legislature that would have increased the organization’s accountability and made the organization subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.
Finances are an important consideration when it comes to decision-making, but it should be the end all be all. A strong network of alumni is imperative to all UConn students seeking careers once they graduate. Transparency should also be a priority, especially for a public university that is connected to the state.