Thursday, April 26, 2012

UMass Alumni Association chaos

A confidential "for internal audiences only" consultants report commissioned by Vice Chancellor of development and alumni relations Mike Leto using $24,500 of taxpayer funds discovered "Significant issues with respect to the UMass Amherst Alumni Association Board of Directors." The critique goes on to conclude "an in depth inquiry of volunteer issues and relationships would be strongly recommended in the near future."

UMass Amherst contributes $1 million annually to the finances of the Alumni Association which is independent of the University via a 501-(c) (3) non profit classification.  The report found: "UMAAA's $2.3 million in revenues are significantly lower than all aspirational peers, who also have nearly twice the number of alumni."

UMass Amherst has 226,046 living alumni with almost half--110,562--residing in Massachusetts (with 46,000 of them in Boston).

In 2010 the alumni association switched from a $40 annual dues paying model to a "let them all in" model making virtually all UMass/Amherst grads members.  At the time there were only 5,000 dues paying members or 2.2%, significantly below industry standard of 20% (+/-3)and well below the high water mark of 8,000 subscribing grads in 2001.

The report also sites 26,114 donating members but that figure represents anyone who ever donated to UMass for any reason most of them independent of the Alumni Association.  That number (12.3%) comes closer to industry standard, thus demonstrating that, on average, UMass alumni do have affection for their alma mater.

The report also reveals a bloated bureaucracy with  "more full time employee than either current peer."

Like the venerable Amherst K-12 public schools, it's not like all that extra money buys above average results:  "Campus partners rated Alumni programs/events and campus partnerships as fair-to-average," even though "a higher percentage of expenditures is spent on programs and activities."

In an overview the report discloses the problems have been ongoing "for over a decade", and reaches the level of "dysfunctional," which creates an atmosphere where "there are no winners."

Bentz, Whaley, Flessner go on to recommend "visionary, respected, and energetic staff leadership" and to accomplish this the "executive director should flatten the management structure so that she has more operational oversight of the association and more knowledge of the staff operations."

The volunteer board of directors "must cease the in-fighting and hostility that has been described as its mode of operation of over a decade."  Surprisingly the report does NOT recommend throwing money at the problem:  "The UMAAA has sufficient revenue for an organization of its size and alumni population.  Funding should be reallocated to support signature programming opportunities and reduce or eliminate funding for other programs."
The report was dated March 7, 2011.

According to a Daily Hampshire Gazette article dated March 23, 2011 the report was being kept "under wraps":

"Ed Blaguszewski, a spokesman for UMass Amherst, declined to comment on reports of conflict within the Alumni Association."

"Anna Symington, the association's executive director did not respond to Gazette written requests for comments on the report."

"Mike Leto, the vice chancellor for development and alumni affairs, did not respond to a message left with his office seeking comment on why the report was commissioned and what it found."

"Sean LeBlanc, president of the Alumni Association, said in an email message that he took part in a conference call in January with the consultant, but declined to say what was discussed. He added that he hadn't seen the report and did not know what it contained."

"Representatives with Bentz Whaley Flessner did not return phone calls from the Gazette seeking comment on the report."

A sanitized report was released on May 12, 2011 with very limited distribution


Fast forward to today:

Shorty after the consultants report was completed Executive Director Anna Symington suddenly retired.  Sean LeBlanc was replaced by Ronald Grasso as president of the Alumni Association in an election with no other contestants, garnering about 20 votes out of 33 board members eligible to vote.

A former "disgusted" member of that upper echelon with "nothing good to say about the Alumni Association" reports wanting "to quit half way thru my term, and I refused to run for another."


Anonymous said...

Draw a huge target on the map with Amherst in the bulls eye.

What it leads to my friends, is one giant narcissistic rats' nest.


Dr. Ed said...

Speaking as an alumnus, as far as I am concerned, UMass can go f*ck itself. I want nothing to do with the Alumni Association and am trying to forget the fact that I ever was associated with that purgatorial cesspool.

The problem is that they have a university where 99% of the students leave truly HATING the place and no form of slick marketing campaign will ever change that.

When the vast majority of your recent graduates have an attitude of "F*ck UMass", it is only a matter of time until you don't have an alumni association at all.

And the real leverage that Alumni Associations used to have was the clearinghouse for new addresses and phone numbers -- but now that everyone keeps their cell and email addresses that they had as students, now that there are the social networking sites, that is becoming moot.

So they are going to the Boston employers in attempts to leverage participation from alumni -- "gunpoint participation" -- the kind of support that is a mile wide and an inch deep.

The problem is that most of the Post-1990 (and particularly post-2005) alumni think that UMass SUCKS and nothing is going to change that.

Anonymous said...

"trying to forget the fact that I ever was associated with that purgatorial cesspool"

Yup, that's the way to forget something -- by talking about it endlessly.

Anonymous said...

I must only talk to the 1% Ed, as I know nobody that left UMass hating the school.

With al that hatred you spew, I assume that UMass must be responsible for killing a close member of your family...

Anonymous said...

Ed is sick.

Anonymous said...

They are trying to forget you went there too, Ed.

Anonymous said...

99% Ed? Wow that is a startling statistic. Did you do the survey yourself? Could you please site your source because, as we all know you say, "Facts matter."

Anonymous said...

Ed, as someone who often agrees with your observations here and sometimes criticizes them, I must ask, why the raging bitterness? If it was all so bad why did you stick it out to the (literally) bitter end? Wherever you wind up I hope you find the surroundings more agreeable.

As for recent grads having a 'F=== UMass' attitude, I very much doubt that it is as widespread as you claim. They can't all be Little Eds.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

If the staff-to-total-expenditures ratio was lower than that of peer associations, that indicates a lean bureaucracy, not a bloated one. Either that or the report's author doesn't understand ratios. A bloated bureaucracy would be indicated by a high staff-to-total-expenditures ratio, i.e. more staff required to spend the same amount of money.

Ed said...

why the raging bitterness?

The details will be in my book, The Ivory Gulag, and while it will be about some fictional university set in some fictitious venue, you will clearly see that it is Planet UMass in the Brave New People's Republic of Amherst.

Forget the lawsuit folks, worry about the book -- this is about my reputation and not money, and in a book I get to tell my side of the story without getting drowned out by polished hacks and schmuckette flacks.

But the briefest answer is in why I am not going to graduation, why my name won't even appear on the program -- I could, people say I should, I have decided that I won't.

What I would really like to do is have them award me the Ed.D. and then refuse to accept it.

If it was all so bad why did you stick it out to the (literally) bitter end?

With all the attacks on my abilities, work ethic and then moral character and mental health, I did not want to validate them by walking away. I wanted to prove something more to myself than anything else, I needed to convince myself that the things being said about me weren't true.

UMass threw incredible roadblocks at me -- I wrote most of a 200+ page dissertation in 5 months because I had to and I think that speaks for itself.

Yes, I am bitter. I should be able to celebrate this accomplishment and the institution has stolen that from me. They have taken my pride -- that is how UM controls students -- and the diploma is going into the trash. To so devalue the merit of something I worked so hard for is grounds for bitterness, is it not?

Ed said...

As for recent grads having a 'F=== UMass' attitude, I very much doubt that it is as widespread as you claim.

I will concede that I know people who will support specific programs and specific portions of UMass, such as the band. I know one individual who follows UM athletics now (although he never did as a student.) But I do not know one single graduating or recently graduated individual who is leaving this place without some sour taste in his/her/its mouth, I do not know a single person who is proud of UMass as an entity.

I think it is best explained in the way that members of the WW-II generation felt about their military service. It was a formative experience which they survived, and they cherish the lifelong friendships they developed with peers concurrently enduring the experience, but they neither particularly enjoyed what my uncle referred to as "four years in the g** d*** army", nor did they have any particularly fond memories of the institution itself.

So too here. Where students of other institutions and colleges think fondly of their collegiate days, UMass graduates think of hassles which we endured and survived.

UMass graduates of the 1950s and 1960s feel that they owe a lifelong debt to UMass because of what the institution gave them. My generation looks like it as a bill paid in full for services that we really didn't get. Talk to a grad of the early '70s and then a grad of the early '00s and you will notice a completely different perspective toward the institution -- there is a completely different perspective in all the memories.

Anonymous said...

"UMass threw incredible roadblocks at me -- I wrote most of a 200+ page dissertation in 5 months because I had to and I think that speaks for itself." <-- You didn't know for two years that you had to write a dissertation? Good going! When is your defense of your dissertation? We would be happy to be as supportive for that as you have been here.