Alumni Board Votes To Amend Constitution

Goal is to overhaul structure and streamline procedures, but some alumni oppose the changes and are calling for a referendum.

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | June 19, 2018

Capping years of discussion, Reed’s alumni board voted 20-5 to amend the constitution and bylaws of the alumni association on Friday during Reunions, setting the stage for a more streamlined structure to help it focus on its mission and strengthen support for local chapters.

Highlights of the amendments:

  • Key committees are now open to all alumni, not just board members.
  • All board members will henceforth serve terms of specified duration, spelled out in the constitution.
  • New board members will be selected through a nominating process.
  • The 11 recognized chapters will no longer automatically each have a reserved seat on the board; instead the chapters will nominate representatives to serve on three reserved seats as board members with full voting privileges.
  • A new chapter steering organization, to be governed by the chapters with financial and staff support from the college, will support the needs of chapters and will take over recognizing and decommissioning chapters.
  • The board will now officially be allowed to use email, the internet, and other forms of technology for communication and voting (the old constitution specified “print.”)

“The goal at the outset was to align the alumni board with the needs of the college and the needs of alumni,” says Rich Roher ’79, past president of the alumni board and a member of the current executive committee. (Here's a sneak peek at the changes.)

The vote was not taken without contention, however. Some chapter reps opposed the proposal. Hours after the vote, a petition was circulated at Reunions demanding that the amendments be ratified by a referendum of the entire alumni body. (The constitution allows for this kind of referendum; to qualify, the college must receive at least 50 written objections.)

The impetus for the proposal stretches back to 2015, when at the request of the college, a group of former presidents of the alumni association began examining ways to make the board more effective. Reed hired a consultant who surveyed members about their ideas and suggestions. After extensive discussion, members of the board circulated several proposals for revamping the structure during the run-up to last week’s vote.

Several board members point out that the constitution and by-laws have not kept pace with the needs of alumni. In past years, for example, the alumni board was heavily focused on reunions. Since then, the college has stepped up its support for reunions, and the needs of alumni have evolved. The amendments allow the board to create working committees to focus on identified areas. “We need to support young alumni, we need to strengthen diversity and inclusion, and we need more focus on careers,” says Roher. “I think it’s a positive step. It’s been a very careful process and we have worked hard to create a structure that allows us to be productive. All organizations need to adapt to new circumstances. But we’re not coming down from Mt Sinai with tablets. If it doesn’t work, we’ll fix it.”

“The school has grown. The number of alumni has grown. The chapters are growing,” says Darlene Pasieczny ’01, outgoing at-large director and incoming alumni trustee. The structure that may have worked in the past doesn’t necessarily work for the future.”

The old structure, for example, provided automatic and perpetual membership for chapter reps. It became increasingly difficult for the board to accommodate the growing number of alumni who want to serve on the board with the need to keep the board to a manageable size. Several board members felt that the board meetings got bogged down in chapter business. And some chapter reps didn’t want to serve on board committees, preferring instead to focus their time on their chapters.

The old structure also restricted membership of key committees—such as the Reed Career Alliance and the Diversity and Inclusion Committee—to board members, who rotated from one committee to another every year. In practice, this meant that board members often had little time to familiarize themselves with the issues before they were shuffled off to a new committee. Under the new structure, service on the committees is open to all alumni.

But not everyone is happy with the proposal. One chapter chair has resigned from their post since the vote. Other alumni have circulated a petition to submit the vote to a referendum of the entire alumni body. Opponents are concerned that the changes will marginalize the work of the chapters and the volunteers who organize them. They also contend that the changes will supplant the organic, grass-roots structure of the chapters with a top-down hierarchy imposed by a select few.

“I voted against it,” says board member Paul Levy ’72, who is campaigning to hold a referendum on the changes. “The argument for this seems to be that the board has been dysfunctional and the blame is being placed on the fact that all the chapters have representatives on the board. But most of the board members are selected by a small group of insiders, the nominations committee, who are accountable to no one. My view is that it makes sense for chapters to be represented on the board, because they account for most of the alumni membership.”

Levy thinks the proposed new mechanism for allowing chapter reps on the board is flawed, in part because chapter reps are limited to three consecutive terms, whereas regular board members may in theory serve consecutive terms in perpetuity. Overall he thinks the amendments are disrespectful to the volunteers who keep the chapters going.

But speaking as the chair of the Portland chapter, Amanda Waldroupe ’07 welcomes the new structure. “As the Alumni Association grows, the alumni board and its work is going to change,” she says. “I think the changes will enable the AB and the chapter heads to work more effectively and efficiently, with a lot of opportunity for cross-pollination and sharing information.”

Washington DC chapter chair Dave Baxter ’87 agrees. “I think the new structure has advantages for the chapters, which is why I supported it,” he says.

Board vice-president Jinyoung Park ’11, who has served on the board since 2015, says the proposal will help the board make better use of its time. “It makes sense to me,” she says. “This will give us more time to strategize and focus on our broader goals.”

The alumni board is not to be confused with the board of trustees. The alumni board exists to foster the welfare of both the college and alumni by “promoting mutually beneficial interaction, sustaining a sense of community among the college and between the college and its alumni, and by contributing to the long-term financial health of the college.”  (Also contrary to what many alumni think, the alumni board has no role in fund-raising.)

The official publication of the amendments will appear in the September issue of Reed Magazine, along with instructions on submitting objections. But here's a sneak peek at the changes.

In accordance with the existing constitution, if the college receives 50 or more written objections to the amendments, the board will conduct a referendum of the entire alumni body, which numbers roughly 18,000. Otherwise, the amendments will take effect 30 days after publication.

Tags: Alumni, Institutional