Robert Emmet Hayes: UMass Club worth investment
BOSTON — Seven years ago, the University of Massachusetts opened a club in downtown Boston that gave our friends and alumni a new way to connect with UMass and, in a larger sense, provided yet another indication that UMass was taking its rightful place alongside the most significant and prominent institutions in the state.
The guests at the opening events included business titan Jack Welch, a graduate of UMass Amherst, Mayor Thomas Menino, a UMass Boston alumnus, as well as leaders from business, government, the arts and other key sectors, many of whom were UMass graduates.
The opening of the UMass Club felt like another major step in our university’s journey. Seven years later, the UMass Club has become an important social and business meeting place for members of the University of Massachusetts community. Events held at the club have raised close to $500,000 for UMass scholarships. And the club’s membership has more than tripled.
The UMass Club has become a place where alumni recent and not so recent meet and help one another — and UMass — succeed. The seeds for lasting and valued relationships often are sown at UMass. They grow over time into more concrete networks, and those networks expand to the benefit of alumni, students, the business and civic community and the entire UMass community.
In short, the UMass Club is a vital resource for that process. And it has been a clear success, one that has been particularly important for UMass Amherst graduates, more than 120,000 of whom live in Massachusetts, and tens of thousands of whom live and work in the Boston area. The club has given those graduates a way to connect with each other, with the university and with political, business and education leaders from around the country and around the world. Nearly half of the club’s 1,000 members are UMass Amherst graduates, and the founders of the club include a long and distinguished list of UMass Amherst alumni.
The club is a place for alumni to reconnect, do business and network. With seven meeting rooms, office space, wi-fi, fax services and computer and phone ports, the club serves not simply as a meeting place, but as a workplace for alumni who are in Boston for business.
The UMass Club has also become a place where prominent visitors connect with members of the UMass community, a list that includes Barack Obama when he was seeking the presidency, congressional leader Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and an array of foreign dignitaries.
Recently, the Gazette questioned the financial strength of the UMass Club. As the chairman of the Board of Governors, I could certainly wish the club’s infancy did not coincide with the global economic meltdown — and might have preferred its march to financial solvency occurred at a more rapid pace.
But because of the hard work of many and because of the intrinsic power of the idea itself, the UMass Club has persevered and is operating on a break-even basis in 2012 and is projected to achieve a surplus in 2013.
As the Gazette has pointed out, a number of universities were forced to close their alumni clubs during the recession of the last five years. We have worked hard and creatively to remain viable, bringing in revenues by increasing membership, hosting private events and creating a partnership arrangement with the University of Maine to help serve its alumni.
At no time during the past seven years were taxpayer dollars used to subsidize the club’s operations and given that the club’s subsidy was used to make rental payments to the university, one could make the argument that the club’s financial impact on UMass was negligible at best.
UMass receives about $450 million annually from the Commonwealth. Every dollar of that appropriation is dedicated to personnel costs, which altogether will exceed $1.2 billion this year. UMass Club operations have been subsidized by other non-state sources of funds, such as contracts, fees, auxiliary enterprises and entrepreneurial activities like UMassOnline and Commonwealth Medicine, by way of example.
However one chooses to quantify the financial impact, my belief — and the widely shared view — is that the club’s long-term impact will be extremely positive for our friends, our graduates and for the University of Massachusetts as a whole. Like the university itself, the UMass Club is on the move and is making a real difference.
Robert Emmet Hayes is a graduate of UMass Boston, a former member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and is chairman of the Board of Governors of the UMass Club.