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Letter from the Dean

Fall 2007

Dear Alumni and Friends of Boston College Law School:

I have found it hard to resist Constitutional metaphors in thinking about the work a dedicated group of people did this summer in reenvisioning our alumni affairs. The Philadelphia Convention that produced the United States Constitution met for four months in the Pennsylvania State House in the summer of 1787. Our new country was big and getting bigger, and it needed a unifying force. The Articles of Confederation, then ten years old, were not the right mechanism for resolving trade disputes, raising taxes, and providing executive energy. So the Founders, as we have come to call them—George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris—met in Philadelphia to propose a new arrangement. And the Constitution they produced was, in Gladstone’s words, “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” 

Our alumni now extend into all fifty states and many countries around the world. But the Law School has been serving them through a structure that is, in its own way, like the Articles of Confederation. Because of this, we engaged a consulting firm (eAdvancement) last year to survey alumni attitudes toward the Law School and our outreach programs. The survey returned some surprising results. Enlightened with this information, last spring I appointed a Task Force of prominent alumni from around the country, representing all our various constituencies, to suggest a better idea. The new constitution and by-laws the Task Force proposed were presented this fall to the Alumni Council, which formed a special committee to suggest revisions that were incorporated into the documents. Our Board of Overseers and the present Alumni Council have since endorsed them.

Some Empirical Data
The telephone survey of alumni (we called almost 4,000 numbers) sampled all age cohorts from across the country. The consultants also did face-to-face interviews with more than fifty alumni leaders, faculty, and staff. Some results were precisely what we expected.

•    98 percent of our alumni said they were satisfied with their academic experience in Law School.
•    85 percent have positive feelings toward the school.
•    86 percent would like to stay involved with the school in a variety of ways.

Though not surprising, these responses were nonetheless gratifying. Others were a dash of cold water:

•    70 percent of our alumni could not name anyone who has ever served on the Alumni Council.
•    81 percent of our Alumni Association members have no clear idea how their dues are spent.
•    Only 43 percent of our alumni feel they are still part of the BC Law community.

These results are not the fault of the Alumni Council, any more than our problems under the Articles of Confederation were the fault of the patriots who served in the Continental Congress. What has happened is that our alumni population has outgrown the staff and organization we created to serve it. Consider a few facts about our graduates:

•    Most students in the Class of 2006 took jobs outside New England.
•    They came from 114 colleges and universities. This year’s entering class (the Class of 2010) came from 135.
•    California is our third largest alumni population center (after Massachusetts and New York).

Putting all the data together, we get this result: an alumni population that is spread across the country, that loves the Law School and would like to be more involved, but feels basically neglected. This was a situation that called for reform.

The Constitutional Convention
We learned that we were not connecting with our alumni. What we didn’t know was how to engage them. The obvious solution was to ask the alumni themselves. After we gave the consultants’ survey and report to the Board of Overseers and the Alumni Council, the Task Force held its first meeting. It was led by Brian Falvey ’97 (President of the Alumni Council) and Marianne Lord (Associate Dean for Institutional Advancement). The members spanned four decades of our graduates and came from Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. They represented the full range of gender, ethnic, and religious diversity of our alumni population. I am particularly grateful to the members who traveled from far away to attend the monthly meetings, and to the firm of Hanify & King for serving as our equivalent of the Pennsylvania State House.

    The Task Force began by settling on a few principles to guide our renaissance. It was the Law School’s obligation, they said, to reach out, serve, and engage all its alumni. This meant better communication, and a structure for broader, more active, and more diverse participation in alumni affairs. The alumni themselves are vital stakeholders in the Law School’s success. Their participation should be directed to that end, and to the service of fellow alumni.

A New Structure
Like the Virginia and New Jersey plans at the Philadelphia Convention, the Task Force eventually concluded that changes in structure were necessary to achieve the desired substantive ends. The proposed constitution and bylaws suggest three such changes, all designed for more inclusive participation. The Alumni Association currently comprises all graduates of the school. But in the new scheme it will also include students from the beginning of their second year to ensure a smoother transition for them to alumni status.

The executive body of the association is a Board of Directors. One well founded complaint we have heard from the present Alumni Council is that (apart from its role in planning Law Day) it tended only to meet to hear reports from the Law School administration. The new constitution empowers the Board to play a much more active role in alumni programs and activities. Its job is to plan and manage the volunteer activity of the association. Successful organizations reach out to all the different groups in which alumni tend to cluster. These include groups of classmates, groups living in the same city, groups with common professional interests, and affinity groups. They also include groups of alumni interested in various aspects of the Law School’s business: admissions, career services, annual giving, student programs, etc. The proposed Board will have 10 to 20 members, each heading one of these groups and charged with managing volunteers and working in partnership with the Law School staff. A search committee, which will include members of the current Alumni Council, will propose the first Board slate. Future Board members will be elected by the Assembly.

The new association will also have an Assembly of approximately 150 people, made up of active alumni from all sectors, that will meet at least once each year. The Assembly membership will include the Law School’s Board of Overseers, the leaders of Law School classes, chapters, and shared interest groups, and the volunteers who work on Board committees. It will also include student leaders and various members of the administration of the Law School. The Task Force expressed the hope that the Assembly and the Board would prove to be more efficient and provide many more opportunities for those alumni identified in the survey to reconnect with the community and get involved again with the school they love so well.

For its part, the Law School administration has committed more resources to assist in this expanded alumni effort. We have added an Associate Director of Reunions to our institutional advancement staff, upgraded the alumni relations director’s job to assistant dean status, contracted to build a stronger and more powerful alumni online community, and allocated departmental staff resources (in communications, admissions, career services, etc.) to alumni affairs.

Look for more on the new constitution, and how it will enable unprecedented alumni involvement, in the upcoming BC Law Magazine. Thank you for your support of this ambitious and exciting new alumni venture. 

John Garvey