The Future of the HAA

The Alumni Association staffs up

Founded in response to alumni enthusiasm for Harvard's bicentennial anniversary in 1836, the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) was originally a small group of men led by former U.S. president John Quincy Adams, A.B. 1787. Among their stated goals was "The promotion of good fellowship and the renewal of that interest in Harvard's welfare and glory which separation and absence have hitherto caused too long and lamentably to slumber." That task was less difficult when alumni were few, the group was fairly homogenous, and most settled in and around New England.

Much has changed. The alumni population is now nearly 300,000, reflecting a rise in professional-school enrollments during the last 50 years. Alumni are a more diverse group, and they live, work, and travel globally. Technological advances and economic pressures have changed the way business is done. All this means that changes at the HAA are inevitable, and will necessarily include a wider University focus. "It's an exciting time," says HAA executive director Jack Reardon. "I think the changes will make a difference in how we communicate with, involve, and serve our alumni on a University-wide level."

For 18 months, a strategic planning group chaired by Daniel A. Phillips '60, M.B.A. '63, met to assess how a modernized HAA can better unite the mutual interests of alumni and the University. The group's recommendations, publicized at the HAA's annual fall meeting in November, include increasing financial and human resources at the HAA; expanding office space (the charming Wadsworth House is too small and labyrinthine); widening technological communication and programming for alumni; and restructuring the massive volunteer network over time.

New managerial positions--a director of operations and a director of University-wide affairs--have already been funded, and a new office--alumni relations and board services--has been added.

Regarding space, the HAA not only needs more room to operate, but hopes to create a lounge where visiting alumni can meet, rest, or have a cup of coffee. Plans are to locate some HAA staffers temporarily in 6,000 square feet of rented space on nearby Dunster Street. Long-term solutions are still being discussed.

Expanded use of information technology is also in store. Class officers gathered on December 1 for an HAA technology workshop that highlighted new modes of electronic communication among alumni, and other on-line initiatives. The HAA's Harvard Gateways (at www.haa.harvard.edu) recently began hosting websites for clubs and has developed a new on-line alumni directory. Gateways is also offering websites for Harvard College classes, and could eventually become a portal for access to a variety of lifelong-learning and intellectual offerings University-wide. Discussions are underway about the creation of an on-line library of archival information, possibly including clips from notable speeches, seminars, and events on campus.

The HAA has always relied heavily on volunteer support to staff its board and committees, help with reunions, and run the clubs, among other things. Dan Phillips now chairs a new committee set up to evaluate the present board organization and its effectiveness, with a focus on committee structures, the number of HAA directors, and terms of office. Any changes will be gradual and nobody will be asked to step down, he says. "This kind of an organization is always a work in progress," Phillips explains. "We want to seize on what we perceive as a unique opportunity to capitalize on the enormous reservoir of alumni goodwill and build on the future."

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