Feature

One River, Not Two Streams

A governance expert talks about improving relations with your board of trustees.

It's no exaggeration to say that college and university governing boards suffer from an identity problem. Administrators have increasingly gravitated toward leadership roles, reducing the board's relevance to essentially being a rubber stamp for strategies and projects that have been determined without their counsel.

Engaging Alumni Online

Today's alumni want increasing control over content and delivery of information. Higher ed institutions are delivering what they need-electronically.

In 2001, administrators at Plymouth State University began pondering the notion of giving alumni access to their own web portal, just as undergraduates at the New Hampshire institution had since 2000. The idea was for the portal to provide alumni with a simple way to connect with the university and with each other.

Then, in 2003, a little thing called Facebook arrived on the college scene.

"We had gone through our entire design process, and then Facebook and MySpace explode," says Joe Long, director of alumni relations for Plymouth State. "It didn't change what we were building," says Long, referring to the popularity of social networking sites, "but it made us change our expectations for the product. It gave us a good chance to narrow who we wanted to be engaged with and how we would provide it for them. What is our competition out there? How has it changed?"

Good questions-and ones that are being asked by alumni affairs administrators everywhere. How can alumni offices stay on top of technology offerings without getting too trendy? How can administrators know what online tools next year's students (and therefore soon-to-be alumni) will want?

These questions are popping up fast with the rise of Web 2.0, the second burst of innovation and adoption in the online world. Knowing how to answer them will place administrators in greater positions of power.

"This is really the second big online wave for schools, the first being putting up online alumni directories," says Fred Waugh, director of marketing for Convio, the internet software and services company that serves institutions of higher education and nonprofits. It's time for IHEs "to revisit their strategy and decide what they need to be over the next five years," says Waugh.

Seamless web portals, targeted e-marketing, and partnerships with professional networking sites are just some of the options available to alumni relations offices looking to connect with graduates. Here's how a few institutions, as well as technology vendors knee-deep in product development, are utilizing today's online tools.

Facebook and MySpace, as well as other online networking communities such as LinkedIn, are the 800-pound gorillas in alumni relations offices these days. How to handle them-some people see them as competition, others as complementary sources of information-is a question still being answered.

"What we're seeing now as part of Web 2.0 is alumni out there creating their own communities," says Waugh. "Those things are really out of the control of the alumni relations group, and there's some fear and uncertainty about how to deal with them."

For Convio and its client schools, Facebook, MySpace, Classmates.com, and other sites are being treated as sources of opportunity, not obstacles. "Schools have to embrace those communities wherever they exist," notes Waugh. "How can we tap into the independent communities that are out there and get them to support us?"

Convio, for one, is working to introduce tools that will make it easier for schools to connect with social networking sites. Options under consideration include:

Giving institutions the ability to post banner ads on social networking sites.

Establishing relationships so that institutions can gather alumni data from networking sites.

Exploring sponsorship possibilities.

These types of strategies can help college and university leaders acknowledge and take advantage of popular online tools, as opposed to ignoring them out of fear or close-mindedness. If alumni want networking sites to be a part of their lives, why shouldn't alumni offices help make that happen?

One institution, the California Institute of Technology, is taking a particularly aggressive approach to online networking as a benefit for alumni. The Caltech Alumni Association works directly with the business networking site LinkedIn to boost connections and build awareness.

Andrew Shaindlin, executive director of the alumni association, thought to formalize a relationship between Caltech and LinkedIn, which has more than 7.5 million users, after seeing how much he used and trusted LinkedIn himself. Facebook and MySpace appeal to young alumni who have gone through college with e-mail, Instant Messenger, and social networking sites, but LinkedIn focuses more on professional networking (and therefore appeals to a broader audience, agewise).

Shaindlin says he launched the Caltech Alumni group in LinkedIn for two reasons. "We didn't want someone who was not officially a representative of the institution to create an alumni group that, even with good intentions, we might be responsible for," he says. "So in a way it was kind of preemptive to make sure that we had first dibs on the Caltech Alumni Association group within LinkedIn."

"But more than that," he adds, "I thought it was a good direction to move in anyway. The indicators that we saw were the growth of online networking in general, and the relevance of online business networking in particular, to our goals for the alumni organization."

The Caltech alumni group is one of many on LinkedIn overseen by institutions of higher education. Here's how it has worked for Caltech: The alumni association pushed the launch by featuring it in the quarterly alumni publication, Caltech News; noting it on the association home page; and mentioning it in a bimonthly e-mail newsletter to alumni. The group was free for the alumni association (although since that time, LinkedIn has begun offering more advanced group options that cost either $5,000 or $25,000 a year).

Staffers from Caltech were given the ability to verify a user's status as a Caltech alum before the user could join the LinkedIn group. "If LinkedIn wanted, they could let anyone join the group, but we don't want that," says Shaindlin. "This is a privilege you earn by attending Caltech."

Once the group got off the ground, alumni association leaders decided to step up to premium level, which costs $5,000 a year and provides greater back-end administrative functions, according to Wen-Wen Lam, marketing manager for LinkedIn. Rather than have someone approve each user, now the alumni association can provide a link to alumni; if individuals register through the link, they are automatically confirmed as group members.

To boost membership, LinkedIn and the alumni association partnered to send a joint marketing e-mail to LinkedIn members who were Caltech grads but had not joined the group. Within a week, the strategy swelled the ranks of the group from 630 members to 1,000 (more than 5 percent of the alumni association's addressable base). The open rate for the marketing e-mail was 49 percent, with an estimated conversion rate of 81 percent.

Today, the Caltech Alumni LinkedIn group has approximately 1,300 members out of 20,000 total institutional alumni. The alumni association has found Caltech graduates who were on LinkedIn but, for whatever reason, did not have an e-mail address registered with the association.

"The value to alumni is creating a way to bridge the gap between that private, internal, authentic alumni community and all of the external connections that many alumni have based on career, etc.," says Shaindlin. "If you stick with the old model-this is a private club and no one else is allowed to interact with my people-you miss the opportunity that you get with LinkedIn, where you get the best of both worlds."

Shaindlin hopes to organize alumni administrators from various colleges to work together with sites such as LinkedIn. Doing so, he notes, could help drive the content and format of networking sites while giving higher ed a strengthened presence.

Networking websites undoubtedly have their upsides, but they can also be volatile (some people feel the popularity of the sites echoes the first internet boom of the 1990s, when dot-coms became popular but did not show profits). A higher ed institution's site, on the other hand, can be a reliable and consistent source for alumni.

That tenet underlies a key strategy for Plymouth State, a school of 6,500 students that implemented its alumni web portal in February 2005. "You hear how quickly something goes from hot to not," says Joe Long, director of alumni relations. "So you really want to look at capturing those long-term avenues, not necessarily spending money keeping up with the hottest item. There's always going to be something newer and better coming up. We want to make sure that we are a constant for (alumni)."

Plymouth State's portal is an extension of the one used for the university's undergraduates, providing a seamless experience for students as they graduate and go out into the professional world. The portal, called myPlymouth, is built on the Luminis Platform and Banner administrative system from SunGard Higher Education. Since data from Banner is integrated into the portal, the university is able to keep track of an individual even as his or her status changes from student to alum.


A web portal for alumni can help streamline the crucial turning point between college and the working world.

The Plymouth State portal also changes with users' enrollment status; alumni see such things as "Alumni News" and have the ability to print out unofficial transcripts. Graduates receive lifetime e-mail accounts through the portal (and so far, 25,000 alumni have signed up).

Administrators hope to smooth the student-to-alumni transition even further by creating a portal for students in their senior year, to be rolled out in fall 2007. Users will be presented with such senior-specific content as tips about graduation, careers, and activities.

These strategies do not require deep pockets. Since Plymouth State already had an undergraduate portal in place, adding the alumni portal and the senior portal to myPlymouth only cost the university in-house personnel hours for development. Plymouth State's Alumni Relations office pushes use of the portal through an online magazine and an e-mail newsletter. After each mention, a 20 to 25 percent surge of activity on the portal is common, Long says.

The benefits of the portal are already clear. "It has increased our level of volunteers," notes Long. With the alumni portal in place, the number of online gifts has also increased fourfold since the university launched online giving in late 2004. The portal helps Plymouth State capture that crucial turning point between college and the working world. "This is our way of making sure that alumni think of themselves as alumni at 21," says Kenneth Kochien, director of management information systems and instructional technology. "They probably want to graduate and get on with their lives, and so this is our one chance beyond a post-graduation letter or e-mail to say, 'Think of yourselves as alumni. There are benefits for you to be engaged.' "

Alumni portals are not new. But rather than separate sites where alumni can go to update their listings in an online directory, alumni relations officers now seek more online services for their constituents and the ability to host it all within the institution's official .edu site, notes Karli Grant, a product manager at Datatel, which offers the ActiveAlumni solution.

While alumni may want to be engaged, they are also inundated by cell phone messages and e-mails from countless sources. Administrators should tread carefully in how, and how often, they use online tools to connect with graduates. Targeted e-mails-such as to members of the Class of 2000 who support athletic programs-help prevent e-mail inboxes from overflowing with news and donation requests.

RSS feeds, podcasts, and rich media presentations can also provide high-impact means of attracting attention in an overstimulated world. For example, the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles has used Sonic Foundry's Mediasite to offer online access to alumni-only events. The business school invited former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden to campus, then made his speech available to alumni via a rich media presentation on Mediasite.

RSS is another promising area. When alumni relations first went electronic, many schools put their class notes online. Now, says Waugh of Convio, many alumni want class notes supplied to them through webfeeds. "Ultimately," says Waugh, "they'll be able to go in and say 'I want you to push notes to me for this year, or this major for this year.'"

That's the type of user preference that administrators will want to follow into the future. Doing so may not be easy, but will pay back in strengthened alumni involvement and even giving levels. "You have to realize that it's very early days here," Waugh observes, "so everybody's trying to figure out how this works."

Technology Spending Survey 2007

Institutions are putting their money where their network is.

Technology is so omnipresent in the modern world that people don't notice it all around them, until something goes wrong. At the same time, there is a constant bombardment of technology information, ranging from product details for a new gadget to security breaches at all types of institutions.

Educause 2006 Highlights

This year's conference focused on the theme "Spurring Innovation and Marshalling Resources."

The annual Educause conference is the premier teaching and technology showcase for higher education, and this year's expo, held in Dallas in October, was no exception. Attendees got sneak peaks at new products planned for early '07 rollout and saw the first fruits of some much discussed mergers from last year's conference.

TECH Central

Despite all the talk about wireless, Temple University leaders found it made sense to centralize its technology equipment on campus.

If we build it, will they come? That was the $16 million question Temple University (Pa.) executives, administrators, and trustees pondered before they gave the go-ahead to construct the largest student computer center in the country.

"It wasn't a slam dunk," recalls Timothy O'Rourke, vice president of Computer and Information Services at Temple, a public research university. "Nobody was going in this direction. The trend has been to equip students with laptops and wireless connections. I would get questions from faculty and the trustees on the order of 'Why would you do this?'"

However, after rounds of discussions and presentations to the Board of Trustees, the consensus moved to, "Why not do it?"

Construction started in March 2005. "We didn't go into this blind," O'Rourke says. "We did student surveys and found that only about 5 percent of students carried laptops to school, so we did believe there was a need for such a facility."


Students-both campus residents and commuters-did not want to bring their laptops to class.

Still, O'Rourke remembers his angst up until the day the TECH (Teaching, Education, Collaboration, Help) Center opened its doors on January 6. "I feared no one would come," he recalls.

But they did come-in droves. During the 2006 spring semester, the center recorded more than 432,000 visits from 20,000 individuals. The busiest day occurred on April 26 when 8,000 people entered the center. This fall semester, the daily attendance is expected to average 6,000 visits per day.

"The numbers have blown us away," O'Rourke remarks. "The traffic has far exceeded anything we could have imagined. It has been a tremendous success."

The 75,000-square-foot TECH Center sits in the heart of Temple's main campus in North Philadelphia, which serves 25,000 students. The building, which once served as a mainframe center for Bell Atlantic, met the needs for conversion because of its footprint and location.

The two-story facility also houses Temple's new 4,200-square-foot Welcome Center on the first floor, which tacked on another $1 million to the project (see "The Wow Factor," p. 46). The first floor also consists of various breakout rooms where students can collaborate on projects. Equipment includes flat-panel wall displays and desks with computers set up for group interaction. In addition, the campus Help Desk is located here, offering 24-hour support for the entire campus community. A Teaching and Learning Center offers training and technology support for faculty and teaching assistants, coupled with a faculty breakout room and lounge. Finally, the first floor houses the WHIP internet radio station (staffed by students) and, of course, a Starbucks cafe that's open 24 hours a day Monday through Thursday, with limited hours on weekends.

The second floor consists of an information desk staffed by a librarian to assist students, an internet lounge, and a service desk where students can go for support, reserve breakout rooms, and rent loaner laptops. There is a section solely for print operations consisting of high-speed laser printers, color printers, and plotters.

General computer areas are subdivided by different color schemes, each housing PCs and Macs, print stations, and popular software programs. In addition, the center offers free music and cable TV feeds. Various specialty labs house computers, special applications, and ancillary equipment. A video editing lab, a music lab with keyboards, a graphics/CAD lab, and a language lab round out the second floor's technology offerings. Moreover, there are two quiet rooms, as well as various breakout rooms reserved for collaborative work. Each room contains a flat-panel wall display and desks set up for group/computer interaction. Some labs are equipped for multimedia presentations, with surround sound and large screens.

Finally, various couches, coffee tables, and cozy chairs are scattered throughout the floor, so students can read, use a laptop (the building is wireless), or even nap between classes.

Even the sole vending machine is unique. Rather than containing the basic student food staples-snacks, candy, and gum-this machine dispenses memory sticks, ear buds, pens, paper clips, batteries, and, of course, Excedrin and NoDoz for those late-night term paper deadlines.

A side note: Food and beverages are allowed in the Internet Zone area, and beverages (with lids) are allowed in the computer areas. "We haven't had any problems with spillage on keyboards, and no stains on the carpet," says David Matthews, a lab manager. He attributes the success of the beverage policy to the large work stations and adequate spacing between stations that give students more room for the business at hand and less opportunity to knock over drinks.

According to Clarence Armbrister, senior vice president of the university, the idea of a large computer facility was born from various discussions throughout the university examining what the university needed to do to equip students for the 21st century.

"The TECH Center is the outgrowth of forward thinking from Tim O'Rourke,"Armbrister says. "When we initially went to the trustees with the idea, we were questioned if the university really needed the facility-considering the investment and the changing pace of technology. We went back and I got together with the academic side of the house and Tim examined the technology side, and we finally came back with a plan that encompassed what we thought would be a facility for 21st-century teaching, collaboration, and technology. And that's how the TECH-Teaching, Education, Collaboration, and Help-acronym came about."

Armbrister notes that other factors contributed to the idea of the center, including the knowledge that students-both campus residents and commuters-did not want to bring their laptops to class. Also, because students can't afford specialty software, the university wanted to give them access to high-end applications. And since previous computer labs were dispersed throughout the campus, consolidating the labs into one facility opened up those labs for additional classroom space.

Armbrister adds, "We also realized that students change majors all the time, and technology and applications cross over various disciplines, so now all students have access to all applications."

Tom Halligan is the former editor in chief of University Business and an alumnus of Temple University.

Rising Stars: A Southern GENTLEMAN

G. David Pollick, Birmingham-Southern College

Rising Stars: Leading a College with a conscience

Laura Skandera Trombley, Pitzer College

What does it mean to be recognized as a "college with a conscience"?

The phrase denotes an institution with "an administration committed to social responsibility and a student body actively engaged in serving society," says Robert Franek of The Princeton Review. "Education at these schools isn't only about private gain; it's about the public good."

At Pitzer College (Calif.), one of The Claremont Colleges, the label is a validation of the ideals and principles followed by President Laura Skandera Trombley, her staff, and her students. "Our students really try and practice what it means to be socially responsible on a daily basis," she says. "But the faculty, in their curriculum and in our various centers, really use that as an important academic component in what they do."

Pitzer prides itself on linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility, and community connectivity, a trait that even carries over to the school's alumni.


"Are we there yet? No, there are always things that you want to strive for that will make the institution stronger."

Skandera Trombley says the school received a generous monetary gift from alumni and parents last year, with a condition that most presidents could only hope for. "The funds came with the expectation that the college would know how to use this money in the appropriate way," she recalls.

A week after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast region, a first-year student told Skandera Trombley he wanted to assemble a group of Pitzer students to spend their fall break helping people in the affected areas, but he needed financial support. Because of the gift, the school was able to provide financial support to send the students to help with rebuilding efforts.

"This is why our community is so strong," Skandera Trombley says. "I have funding that's come from people who have a great deal of trust in our institutional integrity."

Skandera Trombley is known for her close connection to students and faculty at Pitzer, sharing regular meals with them in the cafeteria. "I consider myself at heart always a faculty member. I just have enormous respect for faculty, and I find our students to be incredibly inspiring, and really interesting, intelligent young people."

It's no secret that college presidents lead demanding lives, and it's certainly not uncommon for a president to get home at 10 or 11 p.m., after a day of meetings and events that began at 5:30 a.m. Skandera Trombley tries to make the most of her day, whether it is at Pitzer or on the road on a fundraising trip or speaking engagement.

"I absolutely pack in as much as I can, so what for most people might be a three- or four-day trip, I do in two," she says. "I don't want one minute where I'm not meeting somebody or engaged in business. I try and maximize my efficiency away from home, so I can maximize the time that I'm at home."

For her it's not a question of balance but of priorities-first of which is her family. She and her husband, artist Nelson Trombley, have a 10-year-old son, named for his father but known to all as Sparkey.

"Fortunately, Pitzer is an institution that appreciates working mothers, so I don't have to try and fit into an environment that would not be as accepting. My family is very much integrated into the life of the college, so in some ways there's a kind of seamlessness that exists at present."

With more college and university presidents assuming the role at a younger age, Skandera Trombley says the work-family issue is one that they need to be very vocal about. "You need to remain a human being and a family person," she says. "I've worked for two presidents and I've seen the toll that the position can take on them. I've seen how families can sometimes be pushed to the margin, but that's not something that I want in my life."

Between official duties and family life, most people would have a full day, but Skandera Trombley says she has a lot of energy, and "between the hours of 5 and 6 in the morning, and 10 and 11 at night" she can usually be found working on her other passion: the life of Mark Twain. She's nearly completed her third book on the author, and says the information she has uncovered is so compelling that it keeps her trudging back to the desk at 5 a.m. "I wouldn't recommend writing a biography this way, but it's the only way I can squeeze it in," she says.

Over the years, Skandera Trombley has become a leading Twain scholar, even appearing as a commentator in Ken Burns' 2002 documentary on the author. "I had all the sad parts," she jokes. "Whenever somebody died, I was on screen talking about it."

Her fascination with Twain began while she was at the University of Southern California, working toward her Ph.D. "I had fully intended to do my dissertation on the neo-platonic progression of William Wordsworth's The Prelude," she says, but a chance discovery set her on a very different path.

A professor asked her to check out a report that someone had a hundred letters supposedly written by Samuel Clemens. She traveled to Sacramento to meet with a philatelist who purchased the letters from a dealer for $50, hoping the stamps would be of value.

"The stamps were worthless and he was going to throw the letters away," Skandera Trombley says. "But his wife started to read them and said, 'I don't know who this guy is but he's funny. He tells a good story.'"

It wasn't long before they connected "S.L. Clemens" the letter writer to Mark Twain. What Skandera Trombley saw was a perspective on Clemens's life largely ignored by other biographers.

"These letters were written primarily to his daughters," she says. "I didn't even know he had daughters. I had this kind of classic American, solitary man image-for no particular reason other than that is what popular culture had given me. And here is Twain writing to his daughters saying, 'This is my best anecdote and I'm sending it to you because I know you won't lose it.' He was really treating them as intellectual equals." To date, Skandera Trombley is the only person to have read the entire collection of letters.

Intrigued by the find, she read through existing Twain biographies, and found them lacking in what she believes was a key ingredient in what shaped him as a writer and person.

"The daughters weren't really mentioned, they were just seen as totally extraneous. And when his wife was mentioned, it was either as a nullity or as someone who actually had a detrimental effect on his career," she says. "That seemed kind of odd considering that at the time Twain was the most famous man in the world. I thought this popular view doesn't really reconcile with the primary documents."

Her research showed that his wife, Olivia, who came from a well-educated, independent, and iconoclastic family, shaped many of Twain's political beliefs. "My argument is you wouldn't have The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without his association with this very social reform-minded family."

Dropping Wordsworth, Skandera Trombley wrote her dissertation instead on Twain and the women in his life, culminating in the 1994 book Mark Twain in the Company of Women.

Her latest book focuses on Isabel Lyon, the controversial secretary that worked for Clemens in the last years of his life, and kept copious notes on everything he did. "A lot of questions about Twain's supposed melancholy and bitterness near the end of his life can be answered as a result of what this woman reveals."

That Skandera Trombley had recognized the influence of women in Twain's life isn't surprising, considering her own upbringing.

"In many ways, my principle guide was the example set by my parents," she says. "My mother was an elementary school principal in Los Angeles at a time when there was just one other woman in her district. My father elected to stay in the classroom; he spent 30 years as a second-grade teacher. So seeing a woman in a position of leadership was normal, and I thought the rest of the world worked that way. It wasn't until I grew up that I learned differently."

Today, she seeks counsel and guidance from fellow presidents and administrators she has known for many years. "I'm very fortunate to have people that I can trust to be honest with me and tell me when I'm doing something wrong," she says. "I also work with a top group of administrators here at Pitzer who have been in place since I arrived. We work together in a very cooperative fashion and we trust each other and seek each other's advice."

One piece of advice they shared with her was about handling the stresses of the job.

"The one thing you learn when you become a college president is how much you worry about everything: What's the stock market going to do? What are my students going to do Friday night?" she says. "You have to learn how to manage that stress and be more comfortable with it; otherwise you can have real difficulties working in this environment. My worries are not atypical, but when I walk in the door at the end of the day, I'm home and I try to leave work where it needs to be."

Skandera Trombley initiated Pitzer's first strategic planning process when she took office in 2002, and is pleased with the progress that has been made. Applications to the school have increased by 50 percent and annual giving has increased by 20 percent. The school also achieved a record 18 Fulbright Fellowships for the 2006-07 academic year.

Several building projects are under way, designed to enhance the community and reinforce Pitzer culture and identity. One of those projects, to be completed by the spring, is the Residential Life Project being constructed in the northeast part of the campus. The RLP will include student living space, visiting faculty apartments, art and music galleries, a writing center, and the school's admissions office. It will also be the first building of its kind to achieve Gold LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

"We are going to demonstrate to the world of higher education that you can build socially responsible, LEED-certified residence halls for students, and they will be beautiful, they will be affordable, and they will be educational," Skandera Trombley says. "For our institution, which really tries to practice sustainability, it is a huge deal. And it has not proven to be of huge additional cost. There are ways that you can build green that are quite affordable."

She notes with pride that effecting positive change is not easy, and often takes much longer. "Are we there yet? No, there are always things that you want to strive for that will make the institution stronger and allow us to afford an even better educational environment institution for our students," Skandera Trombley says. "I think we've done a great amount of work in a very short period of time. But that success only comes when everyone is working together and wants to move ahead."

Rising Stars: Right Person, Right Time

Shirley Reed, South Texas College

Twelve years ago, Shirley Reed traveled deep into the heart of Texas. Arriving in a region of the Rio Grande Valley beset by poverty, unemployment, and some of the lowest education rates in the country, she set about building a community college.

Rising Stars: Reclaiming a Community

John Fry, Franklin & Marshall College

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