Alumni

After expansion, Drew University plans nonacademic cuts

Under pressure to close funding and enrollment gaps, a small, private liberal arts institution in New Jersey expands academic offerings, then proposes cutting noninstructional budgets. Will Drew's strategy work?

Report examines college graduates' employment experiences in years after graduation, recession

Eighty percent of 2008 graduates found employment in the four years after their graduation, despite entering the work force as the recession tightened its grip on the country, a report shows.

Gallup surveys graduates to gauge whether and why college is good for well-being

Gallup rolls out the results of an attempt to measure what in college makes for a great life and a great job -- and finds small numbers of graduates hitting both marks.

University presidents work to increase recognizability with alumni

Despite social media and alumni magazine profiles, most college alumni don’t know the president of their alma mater. Does that matter?

Penn State report says board didn't ask tough questions of administrators

Penn State report blames board members for not asking tough questions of administrators, raising the question: Does a successful president get too much deference?

Columbia U Revised Statement in Response to Tree of Life Shooting

Columbia University revised its statement in response to the Saturday shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people after an alumnus pointed out the absence of “Jews” or “anti-Semitism” in the university's statement.

The original statement, published in the Jewish Journal, included mentions of faith and identity but did not mention Jews, Judaism or anti-Semitism specifically.

“We are deeply saddened by the senseless violence at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday morning. Violence in our nation’s houses of worship is an affront to the freedoms our community holds dear. We stand strongly against these efforts to create fear and terror,” the original statement read. “For some in our community, this is a particularly frightening time as we have seen a growing number of highly visible attacks directed at faith and identity -- on worshippers and people of faith as they go through their daily lives, on groups gathered to celebrate an LGBT Latin night at Pulse Nightclub, on civil rights and anti-racist protesters in the streets of Charlottesville, and in so many other places, as occurred in last Wednesday’s shooting of two African-American shoppers in Kentucky.”

Zachary Neugut, a Columbia University alumnus, criticized the statement on Twitter on Sunday evening.

“Classic @Columbia to send an email about the #TreeOfLifeSynagogue shooting and mention anti-LGBT and anti-black hatred but not anti-Semitism,” he tweeted. “The world has gone mad, I'm embarrassed today to call myself an alumnus & regret having donated to @CC_Columbia this year. #Columbia”

Neugut tweeted on Monday that the university had reached out to apologize to him and revised their statement.

Below is the university’s revised statement.

“We are deeply saddened by the horrific antisemitic attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday morning. Violence in our nation’s houses of worship is an affront to the freedoms our community holds dear. We stand strongly against yesterday’s violent attack on the Jewish community and against other efforts to create fear and terror.

“For some in our community, this is a particularly frightening time as we have seen a growing number of highly visible attacks directed at faith and identity -- on worshippers and people of faith as they go through their daily lives, on groups gathered to celebrate an LGBT Latin night at Pulse Nightclub, on civil rights and anti-racist protesters in the streets of Charlottesville, and in so many other places, as occurred in last Wednesday's shooting of two African-American shoppers in Kentucky. Please know that you are not alone, and that you are a part of this community founded on the fundamental dignity and worth of all.”

Columbia University declined to comment on the record about the change.

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Alumni should support students working against institutional injustices (opinion)

They should use their voices on behalf of students working toward equity and against institutional injustices, argues Karina Santellano.

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Diversity Newsletter publication date: 
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
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Alumni Should Be Activists for Institutional Change

Southern Illinois proposal that alumni volunteers do faculty work doesn't go over well

Southern Illinois Carbondale's proposal that alumni volunteers do faculty work (without pay) doesn't go over well.

The growing challenge of engaging alums in a crowded content market (essay)

Anyone looking at aerial photos of Donald Trump’s inauguration next to those of Barack Obama’s drew some quick conclusions in January. For those of us who produce large-scale events, however, there was an eerie similarity to the decline of inaugural attendance in those eight years and the decline of event attendance everywhere.

The Rio Olympic Games last summer prompted several versions of this headline: Why so many empty seats? The question has become a familiar one since the rise of on-demand everything. Why trek to a stadium, inauguration or lecture hall when I can watch it on my own schedule in my own couch groove?

I’m not too concerned about attendance at the Olympics or inaugurations. Even the rows upon rows of empty seats and skyboxes at major-league playoffs don’t concern me all too much. But an empty seat at a college alumni event, that troubles me. And not just because it’s my job at stake.

Who’s the culprit? No one and everyone. The culprit is the content bubble itself.

Colleges and universities should have built-in audiences for their events. Even if they charge admission for TED-like alumni symposia -- the kind I curate as director of alumni education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- attendance has always been robust in the past. What better way to pass an evening than by watching former classmates one-up each other in battles of oratory?

That said, a half century ago, before I could summon a meet-up in Muncie on a Monday on a smartphone, alumni gatherings made a lot more sense than they do today. MIT’s records show 3 percent to 5 percent of the entire alumni body attended class reunions a half century ago; now we’re getting a little more accustomed to 1 percent. At regional events, staff in 1967 could expect to meet 20 percent of alumni at a faculty talk in New York or San Francisco; currently, that number is 4 percent on a good day.

Having a built-in audience for events is not the only assumption with which alumni offices must now cope. According to a 2013 Council for the Advancement and Support of Education report, less than half of all alumni read an institution’s magazine once in a year. About 35 percent glance at its email; 25 percent visit its website. From its birth, social media was never a given for universities. At MIT, LinkedIn is highest, but we’ve only verified 23 percent of our alumni on it.

To a university, an empty seat at an event does not just mean lower concession sales. Event attendance for colleges and nonprofits is easily correlated with volunteerism, engagement with mission and giving. A 2016 report from the Education Advisory Board notes that 36 percent of event attendees become donors, while only 3 percent of disengaged alumni give.

While I can’t do anything about the growth of the content bubble, I offer these coping tactics.

  • Know the market -- although knowledge can increase sorrow. Last April, we hosted an alumni panel event in Denver, a midsize city where one might expect less crowded calendars. But scanning the likes of Meetup, Eventbrite, Yelp, TEDx (Colorado somehow has eight TEDx chapters) and local event aggregators, the competition was daunting as we prepared to publicize. Even after applying all my snooty filters, at least three other nerdy events I wanted to attend myself on the night of our event were occurring in the city. In the end, we got 80 alumni in the door, 4.9 percent of the state’s living alumni.
  • Content is king, but even kings need ad budgets now. Investing more on marketing than catering for an event might become the new normal. We didn’t spend more than $1,000 to advertise any single event last year, and we only bought promoted space alongside aggressive email and peer-to-peer campaigns. My friends in the for-profit sector marvel at our click and conversion rates on Facebook. But something still doesn’t sit right in paying $5 for each alum to further consider attending an event.
  • Segmentation is nice, but so is inundation. Our competition for real estate in inboxes is Facebook and LiveNation, which do drip marketing with gusto, and our alumni’s favorite local businesses and nonprofits, which are learning. I’m not certain unsubscribes matter anymore. If your staff is arguing over whether they should send students or alumni a second email this week, they’re picking the wrong battle.

In the past year, some 31,000 MIT alumni -- 23 percent -- attended campus or regional events, with 9,000 connecting intellectually back to the university in some way. Those numbers still have a comfortable amount of zeros at the end of them, but we and our colleagues at other universities would be wise to think creatively about how we are re-engaging our former students. How will we compete with Facebook, which now has event curators, and CitiBank, which now has alumni relations officers?

More broadly, declining event attendance across nearly all sectors (as reported by LiveAnalytics) is cause for concern for any mission-driven organizations, particularly ones less resourced than elite universities.

We might go one step farther and track the parallel declines in event attendance with the abysmal voter turnout of recent years.

Which brings me back to politics. In the same month that the Democratic Party took a long look at itself in the mirror, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index demoted the United States to a “flawed democracy” due to its “low levels of political participation.” If the very basics of democracy -- like bringing like minds together to speak openly -- are at stake, colleges and universities can’t afford to ignore this worrying trend.

Joe McGonegal is director of alumni education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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WPI's Top Donor Embroiled in Controversy

This item has been updated to correct errors in the original version.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s single largest donor is causing a commotion for the Massachusetts university, according to The Boston Globe.

Robert Foisie, 82, has been accused of hiring a hit man to kill his adult son and making charitable gifts to the university from secret overseas accounts, among other things.

Foisie graduated from WPI in 1956 and has since donated $63 million to the institution, making him its No. 1 benefactor. The business school bears his name, as does a scholarship program, and the college is currently constructing a $49 million building called the Foisie Innovation Studio.

After being contacted by the Globe, WPI responded to the allegations against its top donor in a statement, saying that it was “concerning.”

On Friday, President Laurie Leshin sent a campuswide letter about Foisie.

“Upcoming news reports may focus on personal disputes involving the Foisie family …. We don’t know whether any of the allegations are true or false, but I want to assure you that we are taking the situation seriously,” Leshin wrote. “While other universities and nonprofits have faced issues related to donors or major gifts, this is new territory for WPI. We are following this closely and will take action, if necessary, to ensure that we are aligned with best practices.”

Regardless of the outcome of the multiple court cases Foisie is named in (spanning three U.S. states), Leshin said, the innovation studio “is on track and will remain so” as “full funding to complete construction is in place.”

According to the lawsuit his ex-wife, Janet Foisie, is filing against WPI, about $4.5 million in donations to the university may have come from secret accounts set up outside the United States that Robert Foisie illegally kept private during their divorce negotiations.

Janet Foisie also said she suspects that her ex-husband continues to donate secret money to the university and has requested that WPI not spend any more of the family's donations until her court case is closed.

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