Friday, January 4, 2013

Under Reported Story Of The Year

 UMass Amherst Alumni Association, Memorial Hall

UMass football ascension to F.B.S. becoming a financial black hole -- not to mention the embarrassing 1-11 competitive result -- has received plenty of coverage lately, with major long-form stories in the Boston Globe and most recently their BIG sister publication, the New York Times.

And with losses of $8 million (if you count capital improvements, which the town of Amherst never does with its municipal golf course), deservedly so.

But another annual multi-million dollar expenditure of tax money -- $949,789 in cash, plus another $1 million of "in kind" overhead support -- on the UMass/Amherst campus stays under the radar when it comes to media scrutiny.  Probably because the story is a complicated one.

Last April, after filing a public documents request, I first published the Bentz, Whaley, Flessner report analyzing the current state of the UMass Amherst Alumni Association, a report costing taxpayers $24,5000. According to that report, "The situation is viewed as complex and dysfunctional."

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."

The board of directors consists of 18 elected members, 12 appointed by the President, 2 student representatives, 3 ex officio directors and one alumni networks representative.  Although if you go to their webpage, only 16 elected members are listed.

Yes, as I said, complicated.  Or perhaps "confusing" is a better word.

The alumni membership, of which I am one, now consists of all 235,000 living Umass Amherst graduates, but only those who donate a minimum of $50 can vote (talk about "pay to play") in the Board of Directors election, usually held in the spring. Last year about 2,000 were eligible or only 1% of the total membership, down from 5,000 in 2010.

Their most recent minutes June 4th, approved at the October 27, 2012 meeting, had only one item on the agenda (not that there was a published agenda), which sounds like a change in direction:  phasing out "volunteers" and turning over more responsibility to the paid staff of 19 UMass employees.

One has to wonder if that paradigm shift goes all the way to the top to including staff oversight by the Board of Directors -- all of whom are "volunteers"? 

Not that they seem concerned, however, as the motion was passed unanimously by the 19 (out of 34) voting members "present". 

Interestingly, they unanimously support  "becoming more professionally driven and less reliant on the use of volunteers to address operational matters" but do so in a "Conference Call" meeting that clearly violates Mass Open Meeting Law.

The Attorney General has only recently allowed "remote participation," but one major caveat is that those who participate remotely do not count towards a quorum.  In other words, a majority of bodies must be physically present in the room in order to have a legitimate committee meeting or vote on any item.

The definition of a "public body" subject to Open Meeting Law includes any "multiple-member board, commission, committee or subcommittee within the executive or legislative branch or within any county, district, city, region or town, however created, elected, appointed or otherwise constituted, established to serve a public purpose." 

The  Bentz, Whaley, Flessner report cites the UMAAA "as both a University department as well as a 501-(c) (3) organization."

In journalism the expression "phoned in a story" means the resulting article is the byproduct of less than optimal efforts of the reporter and newspaper to "cover" an event.

The same sentiment certainly applies for phoned in, closed, bureaucratic committee meetings -- except in this case, "cover" has a completely different meaning.


Dr. Ed said...

The real untold story is -- essentially -- that only 1% of the alumni are members of the alumni association!

Circa 2007 it came out that only 5% of the living alumni had paid to join the alumni association - so they made all alumni members automatically and then apparently have brought in the $50 here in leu of dues. Distinction without a difference.

These are shockingly low numbers, even for a state school, and they are dropping because the alumni from the '40s, '50s, & 60's are dying while the recent graduates leave campus with such a visceral distaste that they want nothing to do with UMass ever again.

The alumni folk can dance naked in the parking lot -- it isn't going to make a scintilla of difference, we have no debt of gratitude to UMass -- we were given nothing and paid quite dearly for the little we did get -- and I'll donate to Exxon/Mobil before I donate to UMass.

Walter Graff said...

So what are you trying to do here? Make a story where there is not one. I saw your complaining about the football team too. Do you know anything about college sports programs?

According to the NCAA only 14 of the 120 athletic programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision made money (PAC 10, SEC, Big 10, Big 12, etc). So 12% make money. Specifically, only 57% of football programs are profitable. What does that tell you? Sports programs serve another purpose on campus other than making money just as ROTC programs do. It's about building individuals. Sports does it differently than academics and allows those that are inclined to be good in sports but less in academics to have a chance to have a quality education among other things.

As for Alumni associations, again they serve a purpose. No not a huge overall purpose but like sports have specific needs. One they help students pay for school. They organize extracurricular activities and continue the schools mission of connecting graduates and teachers with the school after the fact. And related to football, they put money into the football programs in most all schools.

If you itemized many programs at a University you'd probably be able to question many of them. But some of them are more then about simply how much money they generate or how many people belong. For the less than perfect programs, it's how they connect to the University, just as ROTC students and the Spanish clubs do.

Like most charities the ROI is never great. Only about 25% of the money you give to the American Cancer society actually goes into research. The rest pays for literature asking for money and buying as much real estate as they can, oh and paying big money to those that do this. And the Susan B Komen charity wastes much of the money it gets with very little going to actual research (20%).

But these and other charities like alumni associations make some people happy and make them feel connected. And that is good enough for those that dole out the money. Your rants about alumni associations are not going to create some sort of awareness to a 'conspiracy' and change programs that represent small but important parts of schools. Like football Alumni associations are small parts of the bigger picture at universities and always will where they have support as little as it might be.

Look at Penn State (nearly a 100,000 student population), what one would think was a huge Alumni association considering how many students it has and how many graduates there are. Plus it's known as one of the largest in the country. Yet it's only a measly 169,200.

Important to Penn State University? You bet. Football program? Before the fine and suspension Penn State was one of the few that made money. And they made over 160 million. A far cry from UMASS but UMASS football is no less important to those students, parents, Alumni and all those involved even though it losses as much as the team seems to.

Disclaimer: I have no association with the two University Alumni Associations at the two schools I attended. And while I did take a football class which ended up being with the football team of the University of Arizona, I never attended a game, even though my dorm was in the shadow of the 40,000 person stadium.
Total revenue for male football program at that school $7+ million. Alumni membership 7000+.

Larry Kelley said...

The Council of Alumni Association Executives (CAAE) and the Counsel for Advancement and Support of Eduction (CASE), both professionals when it comes to the Alumni business, consider 5% participation rate to be the lowest of the LOW.

We are at 1%.

Do the math.

Anonymous said...

And you care about this story why?

Anonymous said...

A more interesting story would be why has Hayes departed from ARMS? The moment of his 'request for leave' should have been the time for starting to ask questions...It seems however that Dinger is a great replacement.

Anonymous said...

I think mike hayes was just burned out.

Anonymous said...

Hayes burned out? He didn't do anything? Why would he leave? He had it made there. Just show up...get paid. Where do I sign up!

Anonymous said...

He didn't do anything? What planet do you live on? More knee jerk hate filled comments about the schools. In a way I feel sorry for people like you.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen this story?

In 2002, an Amherst principal is accused of making sexual comments to a student, and loses custody of his adopted son. Nine years later, a man is killed on a Beverly playground. Are the events connected by an awful secret?

Larry Kelley said...

No I had not seen that story. Thanks. A friend of mine who is a high ranking state social worker told me about the murder a few months back.

Yes, that event was connected to an awful secret.

Chimps blame the victims said...

"He didn't do anything? What planet do you live on? More knee jerk hate filled comments about the schools. In a way I feel sorry for people like you."

What's knee jerk about it?

The hate is completely justifiable.

And you know it.

That's the ~real~ reason why you feel so, um, bad.

It's called guilt.

Anonymous said...

Guilt? What are you talking about?

Dr.Ed said...

I still say that "UMass Sucks" and that those of us who aren't from the HopHead Valley increasingly wish to have absolutely NOTHING to do with UMass upon graduation.

Anonymous said...

Then why don"t you leave, Ed? Or at least stop whining about UMass? I know my son is very happy at UMass.

Anonymous said...

Larry, why is it that having a loud party gains one a criminal record for "noise" while Steve Myers allegedly has been molesting children since 1974 if the Boston Magazine story is accurate, and 38 years later he still has his teaching credentials?

Why doesn't he have a criminal record? Weren't any of these prosecuted?

Crafty chimps do no evil said...

"Guilt? What are you talking about?"

Ever wonder why ~not a single~ school administrator has EVER responded here using their name?

Put the vaporizer down and let me know when your head clears.

I'll be happy to explain it to you.