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TWU, alumni association part ways, ending 116-year tradition

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Texas Woman’s University

In mid-September, the Texas Woman’s University Alumni Association ended its relationship with the university, severing a relationship of 116 years.

The former association can no longer use the university’s brand, logo or refer to itself as the TWU Alumni Association.

TWU officials said the university took over the association under the office of University Advancement to improve alumni engagement and forge deeper and more durable connections between students and TWU graduates.

Barbara Rogers, the president of the nonprofit that once operated as the TWU Alumni Association, said the association long used a simple model to run the association. Rogers agreed to answer questions submitted to the group, which plans to continue without using the name or branding of the TWU Alumni Association, in writing.

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Barbara Rogers

“The association does not have membership dues. Every graduate of TWU is automatically a member of the association,” Rogers said. “The association is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and has been since 1970.”

The nonprofit was and is made up of and run by alumni who are volunteers, and Rogers said the association used a memorandum of understanding to govern the group’s previous relationship. The association’s budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year was $100,000. The memorandum of understanding included two interdependent agreements: one that established how the nonprofit and the university would work together to engage alumni, and the other to establish that the TWU Foundation would receive and administer financial donations for the association.

The termination of either agreement would terminate the other.

“The association did no fundraising while under the memorandum of understanding,” Rogers said. “If donors chose to give us money, we accepted it gratefully.”

The group saw that TWU appeared to plan for more oversight of the volunteer-run group in 2019, when Rogers said the university’s Office of Advancement published an organizational chart showing the group as one of its direct reports.

A Memorandum of Understanding established how the university and the independent, 116-year-old alumni association would cooperate in serving and cultivating alumni.

The Denton Record-Chronicle obtained a letter from the association’s past president, Juanita Duenez-Lazo, sent to the alumni association and TWU leadership. The letter, which also was addressed to the Board of Regents, said relations between the volunteers and the university had soured.

“Recent developments and lack of support in the last two years have completely breached and negated the agreement and trust between the TWU Alumni Association and the TWU Foundation,” the letter said. “The association has encountered barriers from the VP for Development (with oversight for TWU Foundation) at every turn to access financial statements, membership information, staff support, and general communications. The total lack of cooperation is appalling.”

Rogers said the association didn’t want to end its partnership with TWU. Duenez-Lazo’s letter said the association had found a private source to take over the “banking” relationship the foundation had with it. The request ended the memorandum of understanding between the foundation, the association and the university.

“The Association terminated the MOU with the Foundation, which, with the way the documents were written, also ended the MOU with the Office of Alumni Engagement. The Association never wished to sever ties with the University,” Rogers said.

The university’s advancement office is charged with developing gifts and large donations to TWU, a mission that Kimberly A. Russell, the vice president of University Advancement, said has grown more important as public funding for higher education has diminished.

Russell said universities have increasingly looked to alumni to cultivate donations, bequests and estate planning. But as more universities have folded alumni associations into university operations across the country, the purpose isn’t just financial.

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Kimberly A. Russell

“For many years, TWU advancement has focused on engaging with our alumni,” Russell said. “We have about 108,000 living alumni, and we’re ranked among the top universities in the nation for diversity.”

Minorities make up 57.9% of TWU’s entire student body across its campuses in Denton, Dallas and Houston — up from 57.3% in 2020. TWU is a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, which recognizes schools with undergraduate populations that are 25% Hispanic or higher.

For the current first-year class of students, Hispanic students comprised 40%, Black students accounted for 21.4%, and students of Asian descent made up 10.4%. More than 16,000 students are enrolled at the three campuses.

“When our students experience one another on campus, they are more likely to encounter someone of a different race,” Russell said. “This is something that is reflected on all three campuses. Our alumni is a very diverse population now, and we very consciously have to provide communications to those diverse populations.”

Rogers said the prior association was equipped to serve an alumni that has grown more diverse, and that it structured its leadership to look more like the alumni.

“The association has always embraced the diversity of the alumni,” she said. “Our officers and board of directors mirror the diversity of our 150,000-plus alumni base. We serve all with inclusivity, sensitivity, and respect.”

Rogers said the university benefited from the dedication of the volunteers leading the association.

“The association helped establish and sustain support of the Houston chapter, the Dallas chapter, and the Parkland/TWU Nursing Alumni chapter, also in Dallas, for over 75 years,” Rogers said.

Russell said there are a number of models for managing alumni associations, and that more schools are taking over the management of associations. Some colleges, TWU included, intend to develop more association programs to serve current student bodies.

“Like a lot of other universities, TWU wants to offer more career services, and career-based affinity groups that bring alumni back to the university,” Russell said. “Take nursing, for example. We want alumni nurses who can engage with nursing students to make those connections for professional development.”

Alumni can also engage with TWU according to their own passions.

“Consider volunteer opportunities,” Russell said. “There are a lot of opportunities for alumni to get involved that way. Maybe they will choose a charity and all of their alums will work on that in their community.”

Russell said the former association and the advancement office aren’t communicating.

“I hope that they’ll continue to be involved,” she said. “Whether they’re from the Denton campus, the Dallas campus or the Houston campus, if they’re involved in a affinity group or in some other capacity, we want them to engage. We’re working on a new strategic plan for alumni engagement. Alumni are our greatest asset.”

Russell said the strategic plan will reach beyond the alumni who settled in Texas after graduation. TWU has a lot of alumni living and working in Denver, Colorado, Washington, D.C., and in California.

Rogers said the former association isn’t going away.

“Some things never change,” she said. “Our shared experience of attending Texas Woman’s University remains intact. Nothing can change what is in our hearts. For decades, the association has built strong relationships on campus and a reputation of service to TWU, both of which endure. We continue to work collaboratively to fulfill our mission. … We remain an independent organization with a mission that has withstood the test of time and change, as evidenced by our four different names over the years. The Association’s commitment to her mission continues long into the future.”

LUCINDA BREEDING-GONZALES can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.