UConn, unsatisfied with its alumni association, engineers a change

The Facebook page of the organization

The Facebook page of the organization

Updated at 7:30 p.m. Monday

Under pressure from University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst, the school’s alumni association board has voted to dissolve its relationship with UConn and is considering how to pass on its functions and distribute its $9.2 million in assets.

Herbst and university leaders informed the association’s board on Jan. 13 that the school’s relationship with the alumni group would end April 1.

The group organizes networking events across the U.S. for the school’s alumni, lobbies for the university and provides student scholarships.

UConn spokesman Stephanie Reitz said in a press release Monday that the move would not impact communications and events provided for alumni. She said the university was “committed to substantially expanding outreach” and would no longer charge alumni membership dues.

Herbst made clear she was unsatisfied with aspects of the alumni association’s performance, writing in a letter last week that it has shown a “failure to engage a meaningful population of the university’s more than 230,000 alumni.”

Herbst has asked the University of Connecticut Foundation, which raises funds for the university, to take on alumni relations.

“The success of the UConn Alumni Association in engaging with alumni has stagnated,” Herbst wrote the leader of the foundation last week. “The University believes this is the result of the UConn Alumni Association’s requirement that alumni pay dues to be members of the association. Currently, 95% of alumni have opted to decline membership in the UConn Alumni Association, a trend that has been relatively consistent over the years.”

With the end of its 126-year relationship with the university, the association will no longer be able to use the UConn and husky logos and will not be guaranteed access to the names of alumni if it continues to operate independently.

“The board was disappointed by this decision,” Lori Riiska the president of the association wrote to members of the board’s advisory council two weeks ago.

“After extensive deliberation, the board is of the opinion that the association is not viable without the university’s support, and is currently developing a proposal for an orderly winding-up process to address this situation.”

Herbst’s request that the UConn Foundation take on alumni relations must be approved by both the foundation board and the UConn Board of Trustees, Reitz said.

Integrating fund-raising and alumni engagement activities “mirrors the model increasingly employed by many of the nation’s top colleges and universities,” the university statement said. It said operations could be streamlined and some duplication eliminated.

Three members of  the association’s governing board, who declined to speak on the record, said in interviews that they opposed the change and believe UConn’s decision to sever ties was financial.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is proposing cutting support to UConn by $10 million next year, a move that Herbst has said will leave the university $40 million short of what it needs to maintain current services and hire faculty to expand enrollment, as planned.

“The University concluded that it no longer was fiscally prudent, or responsive to our need to strengthen the connection between the University and our alumni, to continue to support the UConn Alumni Association,” Herbst wrote. “Specifically, in this time of shrinking state support, we do not believe it is prudent for the University to support two separate external relations organizations.”

Members of the alumni group pay on average $40 a year or $800 for a lifetime membership. In 2012, those membership fees raised $491,000. The university said it has paid the association about $13 million over the past two decades through fees for services,

UConn promised that the change in alumni relations would be “seamless” for alumni who are members of the association or UConn clubs around the country.

The association was first informed of the university’s intention to divorce itself from the group last fall.

UConn President Susan Herbst

UConn President Susan Herbst

The association’s tax filings show the alumni group spent $2.7 million, earned $200,000 from its investments and had $9.2 million in assets in 2012, the most recent year available.

Those assets include the Alumni House, which the university said it wants to continue as a home on the Storrs campus for all alumni.

The alumni association board is scheduled to meet Wednesday.

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