ARLINGTON William & Mary alumni are shareholders and their diplomas are their de facto "shares." In other words, they have the strongest vested interest in maintaining the college's academic quality in order to protect the value of their diplomas. Colleges and universities with truly independent alumni associations recognize this (e.g., Dartmouth, Rice, U-Michigan, UT-Austin, UVA, etc.) and it is reflected in the U.S. News & World Report rankings (UVA's Alumni Association calls its alumni "caretakers").
W&M has been stuck in the second tier (26-50) of the USN&WR rankings for the past 20+ years, and the reason is simple: Poor alumni engagement has harmed the development of a substantive endowment. W&M insiders know the truth. Potential mega-donors such as James McGlothlin ('62), Perry Ellis ('61), Lewis Glucksman ('49) and others were ignored by former members of the administration, so these donors took their money elsewhere (McGlothlin gave $25 million to VCU in 2011; this could have been the largest single donation to W&M in its history).
Unfortunately, W&M has succumbed to the latest trend to merge independent alumni associations with the university's fundraising department (aka "development") to form a new, captive hybrid called "Office of Advancement." This entity is primarily created and designed to mine the alumni for money through data collection and outreach. In the process, alumni lose whatever voice they may have previously had and "communication" is unilateral (critical alumni feedback is considered "radioactive").
Technically founded in 1842, the WMAA really didn't come into its own until 1973 with the purchase of Bright House. The WMAA may have bought the house, but staff salaries and other core costs were assumed and underwritten by the university. President Graves, perhaps the greatest W&M president of the modern era, had to do this to rescue the WMAA from oblivion. The WMAA got its own home but its mandate was limited and never expanded. For the past 40 years, it has essentially been a booster squad for the university and mouthpiece for the administration. What remains since the recent merger is a hierarchy headed up by the vice president for University Advancement to which the new executive director will report instead of to the WMAA president.
The future role of the 16-member WMAA Board is unclear. Theoretically, it is supposed to represent the interests of alumni, but it stood by in silence during the Nichol "Affair" (2005-08) and new curriculum debate (2012-13). In fact, there was almost nothing printed in the Alumni Magazine on these two critical issues, which alienated more alumni than it pacified. By comparison, the UVA Alumni Association dedicated an entire issue of their periodical to their presidential crisis. William & Mary gets very little major media coverage so this information was critical to alumni who cared about protecting the value of their diplomas.
Because of the failure of the WMAA, three alumni organizations arose (Save The Wren Cross, Should Nichol Be Renewed, and Society For The College) to safeguard the academic and historical assets of the school. These activists prevailed in the Nichol Affair and put up a strong fight in the new curriculum debate. More alumni involvement is needed going forward to stop some of these nutty and wacky "experiments" in Williamsburg. Hopefully, the Board of Visitors will listen.
Lance B. Kyle, W&M '89.