What is Going On With These HBCU Alumni Associations?

Last month, Oakwood University made a private beef with its national alumni association public, publishing in the Adventist Review a lengthy treatment on how the Oakwood University Alumni Association has lost its 501(c)3 nonprofit designation, and that due to an inability to negotiate terms of partnership with the group, that graduates should not donate money to the organization.

OUAA’s decisions to ignore the Board of Trustees’ counsel has placed the University in a difficult position. OUAA through its website continues to solicit funds without regard to the institution’s wishes/instructions and during a time in which their tax-exempt status has been revoked. The University had hoped to avoid commenting on this situation until after Alumni Weekend but has decided that the current circumstances warrant this statement and other appropriate actions.

OAKWOOD UNIVERSITY has determined that, for as long as OUAA’s tax-exempt status remains revoked, it cannot have OAKWOOD UNIVERSITY’s permission to raise funds in the University’s name, and OAKWOOD UNIVERSITY cannot accept funds raised by OUAA after February 12, 2018, including funds raised during Alumni Weekend, unless such fundraising conforms to the receipting request made by the University.

This week, news is breaking among Morehouse College graduates about alleged improprieties in its elections for national alumni association officers. Concerns over balloting methods, potential bias for candidates and eligibility of voters in regions versus national vote counts are among the issues the Morehouse Men are debating, and quietly for now.

These are just the recent issues to surface about HBCU alumni shenanigans, which like most problems, aren’t exclusive to black folks or black institutions. Regents at the University of Minnesota are fighting each other for, among other things, the way members are selected to the board. But like most HBCU problems, they are exacerbated by the proximity of big egos to small resources and even smaller margins of error when one influential graduate or donor can get pissed and cost an institution hundreds of thousands of dollars for years.

Tuskegee alumni have tried for years to get presidents removed and trustees removed from the university’s board of trustees.

Florida A&M University alumni have lobbied against presidents, athletic directors, trustees and everybody who has or could get between them, their money, or their influence over the university. Jackson State alumni hacked their own presidential search.

These kinds of stories are all over the HBCU community. And in many ways, our schools are far better off with alumni fighting administrators than not caring what about what is happening to a school, like Elizabeth City State or Morgan State. If alumni are engaged, there is a sense that mutual goals could lead to a campus finding a great president, recruiting students and growing its profile for financial gain.

But it’s when alumni are jockeying for opportunity to secure a place on the governing board, or to curry perks in travel and exposure, or to leverage alumni following as a bargaining chip to get family members jobs, or to secure contracts, or to do other things which can really harm an institution; because when people who don’t know anything about the business of higher education have their hands all in it, it’s when things can really get jacked up – for years.

The lesson here is not convincing alumni against being at odds with campus leaders; discontent from stakeholders can be a healthy element of campus governance. But there are two considerations every graduate who has something to say about administration should ask themselves before pen hits paper, fingers hit Twitter or petitions get sent.

Is what I’m looking for best for me or best for the institution? And if it is truly best for the institution, how do I know with all certainty that this is in fact what the university needs now considering that I’m not on campus, not in meetings, not privy to budgets and not privy to the internal politics?

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