This past Saturday, November 10, the Alumni Board agreed to proceed with a referendum regarding changes to the Alumni Constitution, previously enacted in September after a vote in June 2018.
Back in June, the Alumni Board voted 20–5 to amend the constitution and bylaws of the Alumni Association. While many of the changes concerned administrative and bureaucratic tweaks and were thus relatively noncontroversial, some alumni expressed vociferous opposition to the amendments. In particular, one of the changes which sought to eliminate ex-officio seats on the Alumni Board for chapter representatives was met with opposition.
According to the Alumni Constitution, if the college receives 50 or more written objections to the amendments within 30 days of their publication in Reed Magazine, the board must conduct a referendum of the entire alumni body. Director of Alumni Programs Katie Ramsey ‘04 said that the college ultimately received 53 objections to the proposed constitutional changes, both written and over the phone.
Paul Levy ‘72, Vice Chair of the Washington D.C. Alumni Chapter, was one of the several board members who was opposed to the changes. He circulated a petition opposing the changes during the 2018 Reunions, and collected close to 80 signatures. Levy submitted the petition to the college, hoping it would be sufficient to trigger the referendum.
However, days after the college received the petition, Director Ramsey heard from several alumni whose names were listed on the petition. According to Ramsey, these alumni asked for their names to be taken off the petition, claiming that they either did not remember signing the document or that they were not aware of what they were signing.
Such messages raised red flags for Ramsey and the Alumni Office. Thus, to ensure the validity of the referendum and the petition, the Alumni Office sent out an email to all petition signers to confirm whether or not they truly objected to the changes to the constitution. While they did not hear back from all of the petition signers, the college ultimately received over 50 written objections to the changes, triggering a referendum on these amendments.
For Levy, who believed that his original petition was sufficient to trigger a referendum, the verification procedure undertaken by the college appeared superfluous and “incredibly frustrating.” “I thought the college was not transparent with the petition at all,” Levy said. “It seemed like [the college] didn’t want the referendum to happen.”
Ramsey, however, believed that the Alumni Office had done their best to take the petition seriously while ensuring its validity. “We just wanted to make sure that those who [signed the petition] really objected to [the changes],” Ramsey said.
The 53 final objections submitted to the college means that, over the next several months, the college will have to work alongside the Alumni Association to contact as many living alumni as possible — of which there are roughly 17,000 — to allow them to vote on the proposed changes to the constitution. This is the first such referendum in recent Reed history.
Reaching all 17,000 alumni, however, may be a nigh on impossible task. According to Ramsey, the Alumni Office has 12,000 alumni on their email list, which leaves close to 5,000 alum unaccounted for. And while the Alumni Office will attempt to track down alumni via social media and Reed Magazine subscriptions, Ramsey believes it is unlikely that all living alumni will be able to be contacted.
The vote is to be held in January 2019. It will be conducted over email and social media, as the college lacks the sufficient funds to send out snail mail to the entire alumni body. In preparation for the vote, a webpage will be created on alumni.reed.edu, which will present 500-word-long arguments both for and against the changes. Furthermore, alumni who feel strongly about the changes will be able to write 200 word blurbs expressing their support and opposition to the changes, which will be displayed on a separate webpage.
According to Ramsey, the main webpage will resemble a voter’s pamphlet, and she hopes that alumni who may be confused about the Constitution changes will be able to reference the information on the web page to make an informed decision when the vote is conducted in January.
One of Levy’s concerns is that, if the vote is only conducted online, it will potentially be unable to account for a substantial portion of the alumni. He would prefer it if the college used a combination of both online methods and snail mail to conduct the vote.
But Ramsey emphasizes that the college will try its best to reach out to as many alum as possible with the resources available. “We want to have a voting system that will make sure you are who you say you are, but will also [reach] everybody,” Ramsey said.