YALE AYA KNOWS HOW TO RUN A MEETING

By Al Chambers
AYA Representative
Ann Arbor, MI

Among the myriad of things that Yale does well, planning meetings surely is one of them. This year’s Annual AYA Assembly November 11-13 again was interesting and relevant.

YALE MEDICAL SCHOOL CELEBRATES 200th ANNIVERSARY — That was the theme of day one — an opportunity to spend the entire day at the Med School only about half a dozen blocks south of Chapel Street and the main campus. We listened to the Med School’s quite significant history; were inspired by the enthusiasm of a group of its students and had the opportunity to hear stimulating lectures and breakout sessions from several of the school’s most renowned professors. The Medical School and Grace New Haven Hospital account for 42% of the University’s budget. Tuition and endowment cover only 11% – the rest comes from research grants and patient care at the hospital.

Associate Dean of Student Affairs Nancy Angoff charmed the audience of almost 400 with her story of graduating from Yale Medical School after several other jobs and having kids. Helping students at the Medical School became her calling. She introduced three of them who prior to starting Medical School had been a competitive figure skater, a ballroom dancing teacher and a jewelry maker (one female and two males). All three endorsed the power and success of the “Yale System of Medical Education.” It emphasizes respect for student initiative and maturity, close faculty mentoring and a required thesis. There no rankings and few grades, but Yale graduates fare extremely well in the competitive “matching” for residency, because the other schools understand that what makes Yale different from its competitors really works.

PRESIDENT LEVIN’S FOCUS – President Levin’s second-day luncheon session with the assembled gathering, which also included Yale Alumni Fund representatives who were meeting as usual simultaneously and separately, was different from earlier years. He said that instead of delivering a speech, he was going to go straight to the questions that had been collected and added that four subjects seemed highest on questioners’ minds. Those were:

  1. The endowment, which Levin maintained was okay even though it was not recovering as rapidly as stock markets because Yale was heavily invested in asset classes that were not as liquid and did not trade easily. He regretted that important projects, including the two new residential colleges and the West Campus at the former Bayer facility, still were delayed but said Yale remained committed to maintaining its extensive student aid and international outreach programs and of course the quality of its faculty and students.
  2. Levin was proud of the just-announced program for providing scholarship money to New Haven high school graduates, which could be used at any in-state college or university. He admitted that some of the questions about this program were skeptical or critical, but said it was the right thing to do.
  3. The President said there also were doubters about the new campus project with the National University of Singapore. He explained that Yale had considered numerous alternatives but that this model with Yale’s name and prestige fully involved was the best. Singapore was an ideal location to be involved in Asia’s dynamic growth and the costs for the project would be born entirely by the Singaporeans.
  4. At the same time, he said that despite Yale programs with China garnering more attention, he also was excited about Yale’s activities in India. Levin’s multi-year efforts to establish Yale as the world’s leading university in a more global world were moving forward in a number of directions with New Haven remaining the centerpiece and driving force of all that was being done.

In the interests of full disclosure as your reporter on the scene, I did pick up assorted rumors and speculation that President Levin might be leaving Yale for some sort of position in Government, although this was not expected until the middle of 2011 and the end of the present Development Campaign. I mention this because as this report was filed, rumors were swirling that such a move might happen sooner.

As for the Alumni Association, the energy is enormous. I would encourage you to look at the recently redesigned AYA web site to get a better idea of the scope of AYA programs and the number of alumni who have become involved. All of this has been done despite a 30% cut in both staff and program funds because of the endowment decline. The activities range from the annual Yale Day of Service to Yale-Gale Alumni trips to foreign countries and exchanges with major international universities to managing summer job programs all around the country to a start-up group for clearly younger Alumni called Yale In Hollywood, which had 1,800 alumni involved in the first year. Granted, it probably was a terrific job networking opportunity, but the leader said that neither he nor virtually any of the alumni members had previously been active under a Yale banner.

What I want to close with are some fascinating nuggets that came from a breakout group discussion among class delegates. AYA Director Mark Dollhopf keynoted the meeting and admitted that in his first three years his emphasis had been on other organizations such as the Shared Interest Groups and launching new Alumni activities, which now mostly manage and finance themselves. There is need for all types of groups, he said, but reminded us that “Reunions look back while SIGS look forward.”  Reunion attendance in 2010 was reported to be about even at 6,700 each between Class Reunions and Shared Interest Group events. I’ll attest to that because, as an example, the Yale Daily News Building Rededication, which I also attended this year along with about 175 other former Newsies, was a terrific program.

Turning to class dues as an example, Dollhopf shared interesting data about different class characteristics determined by age. Pre-baby boomer classes such as 1962, he said, believe that paying dues is a sign of loyalty to the University, yet it is true that participation does not reach 50%. In contrast, the vaunted baby boomers, Dollhopf said, “have to perceive value from the contribution or they won’t pay.” Moving younger, “‘Generation X’ alumni only will pay if they are actively engaged with Yale; only 8 % pay dues showing that loyalty is not to the institution. The still younger ‘Generation Y’ graduates do not pay dues at all, but show high interest in Yale. The 10th reunion had a larger percentage turnout this year than the 50th.

So ‘fogies’ like ‘62 are the heroes in what is an eroding Class dues collecting system. The dues shortfall hurts an organization such as the completely independent Yale Alumni Magazine, which depends on payments from classes for much of its budget. AYA makes up this debit for now in order for all alumni, including the younger classes, to receive the magazine In my view Yale Alumni Magazine provides interesting editorial material as well as Alumni Notes and other information about Yale.

The few days each November at the AYA Assembly, as your delegate, are truly worthwhile. Yale indeed does know how to run a meeting.

Al Chambers
December 14, 2010

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