This fall’s Alumni and Family Weekend drew around 500 alumni and parents to campus last week to see old friends, children and sometimes the children of old friends.
The questions always surrounding the event were there too, though. Did enough alumni come back to the university? And how can the University of Dallas strengthen its crucial base of alumni support?
Alumni involvement has been at the center of the debate over UD’s financial difficulties over the past year, from much of the alumni community’s vocal opposition to the “New College” proposed in the spring of 2016, to subsequent accounts that UD suffers from a lack of alumni giving.
As the debate swirled last spring semester, alumni like David Whitworth, who started his own Facebook campaign to raise money for the school, pointed to a lack of communication as the central cause for the university’s low alumni participation rate.
The alumni who came back to campus for AFW had similar stories of self-initiated participation and connection with the university.
Jen Blader Hajigeorgiou, class of ‘97, arrived back on campus for AFW from Milwaukee. This year marks her class’s 20th anniversary. She bought her plane ticket to Dallas weeks in advance, before she heard of any news that there would be activities commemorating their class reunion. She spent time with classmates Friday and Saturday but had to return home prior to the main reunion event Saturday evening.
“As much as it sounds like, ‘Oh, shoot, they should have had the schedule together,’ if they had I may not have come because I would have been like ‘oh I’m going to miss that,’” Blader said, referencing the fact that she would not have been able to stay Saturday evening.
However others, like classmate Teresa Keuhler, were also unaware of a reunion until she bought her ticket. Keuhler flew out from Virginia to take part in the weekend and to see three of her children who currently attend UD.
“I know they planned the weekend early, but our individual class reunions, I wish they’d planned it earlier because we’d bought our tickets,” Keuhler said. “I think they didn’t have anything until like three weeks ahead.”
Larisa Thelen, assistant director of Alumni Events, confirmed on behalf of the Advancement Office that it was Mandy Lockridge Flood and her husband Raphael Flood, class of ‘97, who approached them with ideas for her class reunion.
The alumni website has a reunions 2017 page with information for all class reunions ending with “2” or “7” since 1967. Most classes had off-campus events listed on the page, but two, the classes of ‘72 and ‘77, had nothing.
Alumni interested in organizing a reunion are responsible for contacting the alumni office, according to Thelen.
Many alumni used social media and word of mouth to spread word about the weekend and the reunions, as well as promoting it via email, Thelan said.
“I’m so impressed by the leadership in the alumni community,” she said. “It’s been an incredible year to see alumni on the ground and asking ‘what can we do to help?’”
Kathryn Fanning, class of ‘67, for instance, contacted Executive Director of Alumni Giving Erin Dougherty with the idea to sell rings on the Mall during AFW.
From this suggestion was born the idea to have the “Market on the Mall” throughout Saturday.
Students and alumni set up tables under tents selling their hand made items, from paintings to pottery.
Fanning donated the proceeds from her rings to the university’s scholarship fund, though other vendors were welcome to keep their own proceeds.
However, Fanning complained of a lack of foot traffic where she was located. She was also only able to accept cash, which few students and alumni had on hand.
Meanwhile, other alumni like Annie Muller and her husband Dr. Adam Muller, had not received any communication about AFW.
Annie attended UD as an undergraduate while Adam attended as a graduate student. They live near campus and have seven children, one of whom is a former UD student.
They brought their children out to the rugby game on Saturday to cheer on a student they knew.
“She didn’t even know it was alumni weekend … she feels like she never gets any emails from UD, not even update emails,” Adam said of Annie.
“The only thing I get in the mail is capital campaign stuff, asking for money,” Annie said. “I feel like the first couple years that I graduated I got a magazine or something, but I don’t get that anymore. But if I weren’t on Facebook I wouldn’t know what anybody I graduated with is doing.”
The family did not attend any other AFW events.
Annie is a member of several UD alumni groups that aren’t officially associated with the university.
“I think it’s more groups that people have created in an attempt to figure out what’s going on. You do have to have somebody that you can pay to do that, and whether or not the university has the resources to have a full functioning alumni office, I don’t know. But I think it would benefit them if they did.” Annie said. “This is the hope of the future right here: all these people, all these families, all these pregnant mommas. We all need to stick together.”
Adam Muller served on the Alumni Board for several years until 2015. He spoke of the challenges of creating an effective way to reach alumni.
“This was always a challenge, how to engage the alumni. The events are great, I think the alumni enjoy them, but maybe communication is the big bottleneck,” Adam said.
While he was on the Alumni Board, Adam said that they had the idea to create an alumni website where they could go update their contact information. However, it was difficult to spread the word about this site without updated contact information.
“It’s a complex problem, but it might just be a matter of putting some manpower on it,” Adam said.