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Negotiations Continue Over Control in Areas of AAMC

Jana Rogers

The battle over control of aspects of the alumnae association continues, with negotiations continuing between the AAMC’s Core Committee and a sub-committee of the Board of Trustees appointed to represent the College.

Last Thursday, the AAMC sent out an e-mail to alumnae which said the College administration “has proposed that the College take over the [AAMC], taking control of AAMC’s functions and taking ownership of AAMC’s assets and endowment.”

President Janet Holmgren and numerous trustees responded the next day in a letter calling the e-mail “full of misinformation” and a “false alarm,” and wrote that the College’s proposal “contemplated an independent [AAMC] Board of Governors whose activities would be supported by funds from the College.”

Since a report was issued in the fall stating that the AAMC either needed significant restructuring to improve fundraising or allow it to become a part of the College’s administration, the two sides have been negotiating over the best way to improve the AAMC. The Core Committee was created by the AAMC’s Board of Governors in October.

Negotiations started after separate reports last fall by both the College and AAMC found alumnae fundraising was not equal to that of the College, and that improvements needed to be made. The question since then has been how to best improve fundraising.

Core Committee member Lucia Savage, ’84, said that while she couldn’t provide details on the AAMC’s latest proposal to the College on Feb. 8, independence from the College remained top priority.

Working independently, the AAMC is a much stronger voice for students and alumnae, she said, compared to becoming another department of the College and thus controlled by the College’s plans and goals.

Holmgren said that the current proposal from the College is that the AAMC continue functioning as it does now, with the exception of the Alumnae Annual Fund. The College would take control of that fundraising, an aspect Holmgren said they are “firm” about. They would contractually agree to provide the AAMC with a supporting budget for its programs and activities, which it currently derives from donations.

Holmgren said, “The concept of independence has been conflated with financial independence. There’s a belief that you can’t be a force without fundraising.”

But in the Winter 2005 Mills Quarterly, AAMC Executive Director Anne Gillespie-Brown wrote, “If the Annual Fund were administered by the College, the AAMC’s independence would effectively end since we would no longer control our own financial interests.”

Savage said the concern is that the two sides may have differing priorities for the spending of funds raised. Currently, the funds raised finance the AAMC’s operating budget, with the remainder divided between faculty salaries and student scholarships. Last year, donations to the College were over $800,000. Holmgren said funds would continue to support salaries and scholarships, as well as the College’s strategic plan.

Emphasizing the College’s position is “not a negative about [AAMC] volunteers or staff,” Holmgren said alumnae fundraising has become “an underperforming asset” that needs to be corrected.

In a letter dated Jan. 3 to the Board of Trustees, Barbara Wolfe, chair of the trustees’ sub-committee, wrote, “[G]ifts to the Association have fallen considerably, with the result that the Alumnae Annual Fund continues to be out of step with the momentum generated by the success of the College’s capital campaign and is not on track to meet the budget expectations for this fiscal year.” Citing a need for decisive action, Wolfe said the trustees’ sub-committee has “directed the College to begin preparing to inaugurate its own annual giving program — the Mills College Fund — effective [July 1, 2005].”

The proposal that the AAMC referred to in their e-mail was made back in November. “A New Model for Alumnae Relations and Annual Giving” recommended that the AAMC dissolve its current non-profit status and merge all alumnae relations and fundraising with the College. This would include having the Alumnae Annual Fund placed under the direction of the Office of Institutional Advancement, which would thereby gain control of how funds are dispersed, and the AAMC’s executive director to report to the president, rather than to the AAMC’s Board of Governors. AAMC employees would be guaranteed their jobs for six months from the date of the merger.

Other key issues in the dispute involve maintenance fees on Reinhardt Alumnae House and health insurance benefits. When Reinhardt was originally built with funds from alumnae, the College agreed to pay maintenance fees, an agreement now being reconsidered.

AAMC employees had also been covered under the College’s health insurance, but benefits were cut on Jan. 1, and employees are now under a COBRA plan, which is temporary, short-term coverage offered when employees leave a job. The College said they could no longer extend benefits to AAMC employees if it is to be an independent and separate organization because of recent changes in insurance policies. However, in a letter sent to the AAMC, an insurance consultant said she was “unclear” as to why AAMC participation in Mills’ employee benefit plans would be prohibited even with the AAMC comtinuing as an affiliated non-profit.

A Yahoo! discussion group, set up last fall for alumnae to voice their opinion on the situation, has once again been active after the recent statements issued from AAMC and the president. Response has been varied, with most fully supporting the AAMC’s position, but others happy to let the College take over fundraising.

Savage said the Core Committee is scheduled to make another presentation to the Board of Trustees at their meeting today.

“The College and Association are going to keep talking,” she said. “We have a very strong mutual interest in keeping graduates connected to the College and each other.”