Alma Matters?

Changes to Alumni Constitution Spark Controversy

They say that sharks can smell a drop of blood in the ocean from a quarter of a mile away. And while sharks may pride themselves in this seemingly unique faculty, those who’ve spent more than a couple minutes browsing a Reed Facebook group knows that Reedies possess a similar skill: their ability to detect a whiff of campus drama while scrolling through their News Feed could make even the most capable hammerhead jealous.

So here’s a little tidbit for those who, for whatever reason, aren’t fully satiated by comeback memes and passive-aggressive Facebook likes: back in June, the Alumni Board voted to amend the constitution and bylaws of the Alumni Association. Some alumni are not happy with these changes. And they’re planning on doing something about it.

At this point, as you lean over an overpriced and tasteless mug of Commons coffee, a perfectly legitimate question may pass through your mind: who cares? The Alumni Association? Constitutions and bylaws? In case you weren’t aware, dear Quest reporter, there’s a very good reason why I was up until the crack of dawn yesterday bashing my head against the cover of Homer’s Odyssey in a desperate attempt to formulate a thesis for my upcoming Hum 110 essay — I’m currently a student at Reed. Not an alumnus.

Fair enough. Unless you’re the Nate Silver of Alumni Association policymaking, you probably don’t have a dog in this fight. Even so, there are a couple of reasons why the recent changes to the Alumni Constitutions are salient to current students.

The Alumni Association serves as an important resource both for current students and recent alumni. Anyone who isn’t a current Reed student, has completed at least one year of class at Reed, and who wasn’t expelled from the college receives automatic membership to the Alumni Association. This membership comes with a laundry list of benefits, including library and JSTOR access, access to the Center for Life Beyond Reed, and, perhaps most importantly, invitations to alumni events which, more often than not, involve copious amounts of free food. The Alumni Association also helps to provide networking and career opportunities to both alumnus and current students.

The goals, services, and programs of the Alumni Association are decided by the Alumni Board, a group of volunteers who, according to Reed’s website, “represent the alumni in the broader Reed College community.” The board, in turn, operates according to the rules and guidelines set forth in the Alumni Constitution. Thus, changes to the Alumni Constitution have large implications for the majority of students who, with the help of caring thesis advisors, inventive procrastination methods, and more than a couple cans of PBR, eventually set their theses aflame in triumph and graduate from Reed.  

At this point, a precocious undergraduate trained in the ways of Socratic inquiry such as yourself may interject — look, bud, I appreciate your somewhat long-winded explanation about the Alumni Association. But I slogged through your stale jokes to hear about some honest-to-God realpolitik. Where’s the drama?

Every good drama, though, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The impetus of the recent changes to the Alumni Constitution, officially announced in the September 2018 issue of Reed Magazine, stretches back to 2015, when a group of former Alumni Association presidents began to examine ways to make the board more streamlined and effective. With the help of a third-party consultant, members of the Alumni Board discussed and debated potential changes to the Alumni Constitution over the next several years. And in June 2018, Reed’s Alumni Board voted 20-5 to amend the constitution and Bylaws of the Alumni Association.

The purpose of the changes, former At-Large Director of the Alumni Board Darlene Pascienczsy ’01 explained, was to streamline and “modernize” the constitution. Because of this, many of the changes are directed at improving bureaucratic inefficiencies and flaws. For example, among other tweaks, the updated constitution corrects the names of college offices which don’t exist any more and expressly allows the Alumni Board to vote on matters via email.

While such changes may be relatively uncontroversial even to a committed Luddite, several members of the board have pushed back against the changes. Much of the disagreement revolves around a change to the status of chapter representatives. Chapters are geographic regions where, traditionally, many Reedies tend to live and work. There are currently eleven active chapters; these include Chicago and Portland, among others. Each chapter elects its own representative, and under the old structure, all chapter representatives received an automatic seat on the Alumni Board. Under the new constitution, however, chapters will no longer automatically have a reserved seat on the board. Instead, there will be three reserved chapter seats on the board, and chapters will nominate their own representatives to fill those seats.

Current Alumni Board President Lisa Saldana ’94 thinks that the changes to the chapters reflect the changing nature of the alumni community. “The alumni community has grown, and its changed pretty dramatically. Folks are now a lot more mobile,” Saldana explained. “If you were living in Chicago, three years from now, you may not be living there any longer. We don’t want the fact you moved away means that there isn’t a way for you to connect with Reed because you no longer live in a chapter city.”

Saldana also argues that ultimately, the changes are beneficial to the chapters, and points out that the majority of chapter representatives supported the changes. In her view, chapters are allowed to operate more independently under the new changes. “The chapters aren’t losing a voice,” Saldana said. “The new system allows chapters to come up with their own strategic plan so they aren’t constrained by the parameters of the Alumni Board.”  

Paul Levy ’72, Vice Chair of the Washington D.C. chapter, disagrees and was one of the board members to vote against the decision. “Much of the activity takes place in the chapters, so it just makes sense that they are each represented on the [Alumni Board],” Levy told the Quest. “It’s incredibly valuable to have representation from all of the chapters.”

Levy explained that several chapter chairs felt as though they were being shunted aside in the new board structure, which allows for only three, instead of eleven, chapter representatives.

“A whole generation of chapter leaders has quit in disgust,” Levy said. “Some [chapter representatives] volunteered their time for many years. People felt devalued and swept aside.”

Despite the opposition of Levy and others, as stated earlier, the Alumni Board already voted in favor of the changes in June. That doesn’t mean, however, that Levy, and others opposed to the changes, have to take the decision lying down.

Under the existing constitution, if the college receives 50 or more written objections to the amendments within 30 days of the changes being published in Reed Magazine — which occurred on September 7 — the Alumni Board must conduct a referendum of the entire alumni body. This would be unprecedented in Reed’s history, and the resources of the college would presumably have to be directed towards conducting a vote, whether that be through email, snail mail, or perhaps carrier pigeon, that includes all 17,000+ living alumni.

And Levy, who was aware of this caveat, circulated a petition in opposition to the changes during Reunions 2018 which, according to him, received more than 90 signatures. Levy plans to send the petition to Reed’s administration to trigger a referendum.

“No one knows what will happen if we go to [a referendum],” Levy said. “I don’t think anyone knows how long that would take, or [what] it would look like.”

When asked about the petition and the potential for referendum, however, Saldana pointed out that Levy may have overlooked the constitution’s fine print.

“The constitution specifically says that 50 individuals have to write in, independently, to the college, not to just sign a petition,” Saldana said. “A petition isn’t attached to anything.”

In Saldana’s view, then, it doesn’t matter how many people sign Levy’s petition — it is simply an illegitimate way to trigger a referendum according to the guidelines of the current Alumni Constitution. Levy, however, disagrees with Saldana’s interpretation of the constitution’s rules, and mentioned that he may be willing to pursue “litigation, if it comes to that.”

If Levy is serious about triggering a referendum, he will have to send in his petition within the next couple of weeks. Even if the petition arrives at Reed’s doorstep in time, however, Saldana, along with the Reed administration, may consider such a petition illegitimate according to the Alumni Constitution. Levy would, no doubt, protest such an interpretation.

Hum 110 professors should be happy. Like many conference discussions at Reed, the potential referendum may come down to close readings, and potential disagreements, over the fine print.


%d bloggers like this: