HBCU DIGEST: Alumni Associations must seek better alignment with their HBCUs

Several Historically Black Colleges and Universities have decided to retire their official alumni associations or remove affiliate representation from their governance structure through policy or (in)voluntary employment separation.  

These schools, all different institutions with different missions in different parts of the country, are now making a crowd of HBCUs that seems to be committed to best practices and in moving the best administrative interests of the business side of their work.  

It is not easy for HBCUs to do a thing that is unpopular among alumni, their biggest supporter base. In separation, these moves have created legal issues, lost support of some institutions’ strategic plans through unrestricted giving to boost the institution beyond athletics, and gave the public impression too that too much alumni autonomy was a bad thing.

Several things can be true at the same time.  In those instances, these decisions positively impacted the business of the Historically Black College or University. Alumni have to know that it is less about the power of what they can independently do for schools and more about correcting the issues that they have created or will create for the schools through their activity.  

It’s not personal; it’s business. And at the heart of this discussion is a deeply personal connection for graduates and their nearly complete lack of business perspective and acumen.

The reality is that the business of the HBCU has to persist without regard for alumni feelings and sometimes without understanding. The decision to migrate from alumni associations and affiliate representation is one that highlights which HBCU trustees and presidents are enforcing boundaries with supporters to create a base of people who will be in strategic alignment with institutional goals.  

At Lincoln University of Missouri, their previous foundation consistently raised millions of dollars and disbursed scholarships. Since separating and taking on a new name that is detached from Lincoln University, scholarship granting lessened because students and donors didn’t recognize the new (but disconnected) organization.  

The cause of the disconnect can be simple; sometimes it’s not enough funds being raised that can be directed towards institutional needs and not enough institutional presence on association boards to influence decisions to that effect.  

For those who continue to take this decision personally: your time isn’t up, you aren’t being dismissed, you aren’t valued less, and you’re still invited to the Yard―your HBCU is simply realigning in the interest of growth.

It isn’t good to have an alumni association that can raise millions of dollars in restricted scholarship funds but fails to recognize the institution’s strategic plan and course of action towards meeting that plan.  Funding student education should not come at the expense of HBCU infrastructure improvements, reducing deferred maintenance, or supporting faculty.

Alumni associations are partnerships, not outlying benefactor groups. Even MacKenzie Scott, with all of her money and all of her capacity to dictate exactly what an institution could do with gifts from her, chose to do the opposite and give unconditional gifts without restriction. But some HBCU alumni associations should be above it?

For too long, it’s been a safe bet to hide behind t-shirt wearing, paying dues and social media shout outs as power to hold against an HBCU conforming to the well-intentioned but uninformed will of alumni.

We all have to be about business.