GW undermined alumni feedback in Alumni Association decision, but their voices must be heard

Updated: Oct. 23, 2018 at 4:39 p.m.

Most alumni have a limited relationship with GW, and administrators say they want to change that – but their actions show otherwise.

University President Thomas LeBlanc has prioritized patching alumni relations and boosting alumni giving. But after a monthslong back and forth between the GW Alumni Association and the University, GW canceled plans to merge with GWAA last month and decided to part ways from the formerly independent organization to create a fully-integrated group in its place. Alumni in the group, who are among the most dedicated to GW, were “blindsided” by the move but have vowed to continue serving the University even as officials push them aside.

GW’s relationship with its alumni, which is demonstrated in one example through its interactions with GWAA, is one-sided and transactional. GW has discredited a body that exists solely to serve the University, which is both frustrating and confounding. To have a healthier relationship with alumni, GW must recognize alumni viewpoints and prioritize improving the lives of students currently on campus.

GW has lost one of its greatest assets by shutting off GWAA. By creating its own organization instead of working alongside the pre-existing group of dedicated alumni, the University has made its priorities clear. Administrators do not want alumni feedback – they want donations and contributions with no strings attached. As the merger was unfolding, alumni said they felt “sidelined” and “marginalized” by the lack of transparency from the former president of the organization and officials in GW’s Office of Alumni Relations. This lack of transparency during the integration process shows that GWAA’s leadership at the time and GW were not willing to work with the group and hear their point of view regarding their ties to the University.

But alumni, especially those who have devoted extensive time and energy to improve GW, are voices that the University should be listening to. Despite the fact that the University is going through with its plans to make its own alumni group, the group of dedicated alumni that make up the Independent Alumni Association of George Washington aren’t going to stop serving as representatives of the alumni community. While these former students are showing dedication even as GW disregards their support and goes over them to create its own organization, not all alumni will react this way.

GW should respect the opinions of its alumni and seek out their feedback, but it can also create satisfied alumni by improving the experience of students who are already enrolled. Officials have struggled to engage alumni volunteers and secure donations and they can’t expect those numbers to change if graduates don’t enjoy their time at GW.

Due to the current transactional relationship, alumni and even graduating seniors, often feel as if they are being exclusively seen as a way to finance the University rather than anything else.

One of the toughest things graduating students face is transitioning to a career, and the University doesn’t make it easier by asking for money on their way out the door. If GW instead established resources for alumni or promoted preexisting career services, students would feel more inclined to donate to GW and be in a better financial situation to do so.

Alumni and students are often turned off from donating to GW because the University lacks community. Many students find their home at GW within their majors and student organizations, so they opt to support those groups rather than the University as a whole. While some of GW’s peer schools, like the universities of Miami and Southern California, can rely on athletics to foster community, the culture on campus does not support that, but GW could remedy that by boosting the focus on athletics or find other ways to foster a deeper connection between GW and its student body.

If students feel more connected to GW, they’ll be more likely to stay involved when they become alumni – plain and simple.

When the University mishandled its negotiations with GWAA, it undermined a number of its biggest supporters. It is misguided that the University would show such disregard for alumni while saying they want to revitalize alumni engagement and increase giving. If GW wants donations from students and alumni, then it needs to earn it. The University needs to listen to alumni.

It may be too late to repair relationships with some of GW’s alumni after the University ignored their input, but GW can draw support from the next generation of alumni by improving the student experience now to create a more cohesive community.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, design editor Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi, sports editor Barbara Alberts and culture editor Margot Dynes.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
A previous version of this editorial stated that GW parted ways with its alumni association last week. GW announced it would create its own alumni association last month. We regret this error.

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