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Volume 2, Number 4, July 2002

Alumnae Association Uses Mediation

The following news story is based on a series of three articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education dated May 25, 2001, August 16, 2001 and June 20, 2002. These articles are referenced in this issue's 'Recently Found in the Periodicals' section.

Mediation proved to be a successful method of dispute resolution in higher education when it was used to end a three-year dispute between Mount Holyoke College and its alumnae association. Although the organizations had a strong, peaceful relationship for many years, ties began to fall apart when each group claimed rightful control over the College's $8.2 million annual fund. While the ten-year agreement is not permanent, Mount Holyoke College and the alumnae association are pleased with the results.

Background

Mount Holyoke College is a residential, liberal arts college for women located in South Hadkey, Massachusetts. Approximately 2,000 students attend the university and the majority of graduates donate to the annual fund.

The dispute over which organization controlled the Holyoke College annual fund began when accountants for each group decided to clarify ownership of the fund. The alumnae association argued that it controlled the money and decided how much to give to the college. The college, on the other hand, argues that the alumnae association does not give money to the college, but that Mount Holyoke finances the association's budget. According to Chronicle of Higher Education writer Kit Lively,

The association wanted Mount Holyoke's Board of Trustees to affirm, in writing, that the alumnae group owned the fund, and the college refused. After months of negotiations, the association and the college agreed to work with a mediator. Those talks broke off, however, and [the college president], along with the trustees' chairwoman...sent a letter...to the 'Mount Holyoke community' stating that the talks were 'at an impasse' and that beginning in July, the college would start a new annual fund.

Both Mount Holyoke College and the alumnae association were fighting about a place and issue they cared deeply about. Neither group intended for the dispute to become public knowledge. However, letters and documents posted on the college and association websites added to the public nature of the controversy. After the mediation that resulted in impasse, the disputing groups decided to hold off on further negotiations until after commencement.

A Tentative Agreement is Reached

Mount Holyoke College and its alumnae association reached a tentative agreement in August 2001, two years after the two groups began fighting about control of the annual fund.

According to Chronicle writer Martin Van Der Werf,

The agreement...states that the college controls all fundraising activity, and that all gifts are given to the college, not the alumnae association. In exchange, the Massachusetts college has agreed to pay the budget of the alumnae association for at least the next two years.

Although the tentative agreement was a big step toward reconciliation, the dispute did take its toll on the annual fund. Giving for the 2001 fiscal year was down $1 million, as 48 percent instead of 51 percent of graduates donated money.

A 10-Year Agreement is Reached

The 10-year agreement signed by Mount Holyoke College and its alumnae association in June 2002 marked the end of the three-year dispute. The agreement grants the college control over the money in the annual fund. The college, however, must provide an annual budget to the alumnae group. The annual budget represents 5 percent of the stock-market value of a portion of the college's endowment, according to Chronicle writer Farrell. The agreements suits both parties, as the alumnae group has reliable funding and the college is aware of how much money it has to work with.

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