Long-standing dissension between Mississippi University for Women administrators and an estranged alumni group reached a peaceable accord Saturday, and the next two months involve a flurry of paperwork as Mississippi”s First Alumnae Association and the MUW Alumni Association prepare for their July 1 merger.
The decision has been well-received by both MUW staff and alumni, with many saying the reconciliation is a step in the right direction and signifies a new day for the W.
“It”s very important — essential even — for the future of MUW,” said Tom Richardson, dean of Arts and Sciences. “Higher education all over the country has suffered during the difficult financial times, and it”s important to have the strong support of the alumni. MUW has always had that, and as it (the college) continues to try to build enrollment and a solid financial base, it needs all the help it can get from a strong alumni base.”
Tensions had been high since 2007, when MUW”s then-president Claudia Limbert disaffiliated the MUW Alumnae Association and replaced it with the MUW Alumni Association. After a Supreme Court ruling forced the ousted group to change its name, it began operating as Mississippi”s First Alumnae Association.
Richardson, who has taught at MUW for 23 years but is not an MUW alumnus, said it was frustrating for him — and others — to watch.
“Both alumni groups were certainly loyal to the institution,” he said. “But what happens if you”re the previous president, basically cutting out a strong support base for the institution, not including them in the processes? Then the university loses the opportunity to maximize its pool of support services. While the alumni on both sides were very willing to help, the (previous) administration was not necessarily willing to accept the help that was out there.”
“We got a lot of bad publicity out of it,” he continued. “It looked bad for the institution. People wanted to see this resolved and were very excited when President Brigham made this a high priority for her leadership.”
Since Limbert”s retirement last year, Interim President Allegra Brigham has worked to reunite the two organizations, which will operate as the MUW Alumni Association and retain board leadership from both groups during the first year of transition.
Each group will choose 15 board members from their current organization. Emily Myers Garner, representing MFAA, and Andrea Overby, representing MAA, will serve together as co-presidents of the newly unified group. At the conclusion of a three-year transition, there will be only one president and 18 board members.
A lot of ”give and take”
Along with Brigham, many have praised members of both alumni groups, saying their love for the W helped bring about a positive change.
“I know there had to be a lot of give and take,” said Dr. Sheila Adams, Dean of the College of Nursing. “It”s an indication of how loyal the alums are that they”re willing to come together and work out problems. It”s a positive day for the university, the alumni, the community and future students.”
Juna”uh Allgood, 23, graduated from the W last year and joined MFAA, saying she felt more kinship with the historic organization. She said she”s “thrilled” about the upcoming merger.
“With the merger, we”ll again be able to focus on the future of the W,” Allgood said. “I know it”s not going to be an instant fix, but as the merger goes forward, I think the bonds are going to be stronger than they”ve ever been.”
The main step now will be submitting the new affiliation agreement — approved by both MFAA and MUW administrators — to the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning. The new agreement establishes and sets parameters for the relationship between MUW and any affiliated groups, said Perry Sansing, MUW assistant to the president and university counsel.
Afterwards, staff members of the Council For Advancement and Support of Education will speak to the new alumni board about how to move forward together as a unified group for future success.
MUW is a member of CASE, which — according to its website — is a professional association which helps educational institutions “build stronger relationships with their alumni and donors, raise funds for campus projects, produce recruitment materials, market their institutions to prospective students, diversify the profession, and foster public support of education.”
In an emailed statement to The Dispatch, Brigham said as they move through the merger process, everyone should ask “”What”s best for MUW?” and let that be the guiding force moving the association forward.
“We need to build bridges for improved communications and a strong team, realizing at every step, that working together everyone achieves more,” Brigham wrote. “In this case, MUW will certainly benefit.”
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.