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United Progressive Alumni : UPA Features : Why An Alumni Movement?


Why An Alumni Movement?

by Kai Wu '96, Cornell

Welcome to the Ranks of "Educated Men and Women"

Remember that phrase from graduation? Was all that money and time spent just to add some letters to your name, get you into a "respectable" job, pay bills, buy stuff, worry about a mortgage, have kids, and repeat the cycle ad nauseam? If you're reading this, you probably don't think so. But what to do, and where to aim, and how to change the status quo? Hummmm... Wait a minute - aren't you being asked for money all the time from certain folks??

College and "The Real World"

Like everything else in our age, higher education is changing drastically in the face of a society hell-bent on making money and intoxicated with short-sighted self-interest. So the problems our universities face are intimately linked with the problems of our global society: the corporatization of academia, the inaccessibility of higher education, and the lack of social responsibility on campus are reflections of larger world problems such as structural poverty, economic globalization, and environmental destruction. Assuming you agree those are problems (hey, certain folks would see the above troubles as progress), as a graduate how do you at least get your own school on the right track? You can't do much isolated and alone...

Our Kind of People...

If you're of an independent or radical bent of mind, chances are you've got little in common with the folks who join and frequent your school's alumni association. Even after a few drinks, does the frat/sorority atmosphere of the typical alumni event interest you? ("Hi X, my name is Y." "Hi Y. Say, you graduated the same year as me - but I never saw you around." "Me neither...{drink drink, glub glub}...well, nice meeting you." "Yah, bye.")

So why not join an alternative alumni network, where all the interesting and progressive people you knew in college can socialize, network, and maybe do your alma mater and the world some good? Why not join a supportive, real community where you can meet people of all races and ages, instead of being constantly surrounded by people who all look alike and from whom you probably can't learn much? Building a vibrant community of progressive alumni from all schools, school by school, will not only give ourselves a meaningful Old Girls and Boys Network, but also empower us to effect change at our universities and beyond. So a bunch of us got together to form the United Progressive Alumni - and if you're of like mind you should join us!

Civic Responsibility

Suppose we've got our community of progressive alumni - we've got good parties, we know each other by name, we're making new friends - then what? Then let's effect change where perhaps we are most able - at our alma mater! What other institution is so dependent on the good will and cash of its constituents but the university? As alumni, the university's administration has to pay attention to us - we've already graduated, we're not going away after next Spring, and we pay their salaries. And despite humor to the contrary, the university is a microcosm of the larger society: Just as we want more accountability and justice from the government, so too should we press for the same from our schools which receive our donations.

Because far from being isolated ivory towers of pure intellectual pursuit, many universities are becoming ever more susceptible to the corrupting influences of corporations, and ever less accountable to the citizenry they ostensibly serve. Not to mention the ludicrous and escalating costs of higher education, paralleled by the excessive growth and costs of university administration. Thus not only do our alma maters provide the seed from which our community was planted and can grow, they also represent the arena in which progressives can wield their influence for the common good.


If you were a student activist, chances are you often could have used the experience and resources of all who came before you. Even within well-established student groups, it is rare to find solid lines of communication between current student activists and their predecessors. Thus besides a lack of outside support, students often find themselves forever reinventing the wheel on issues of organization, strategy, and tactics.

Clearly such a situation can be vastly improved if new generations of student activists have the accumulated experience and resources of a strong alumni network at the ready. In turn, we as alumni can keep current with campus issues, help our next generation of allies avoid our mistakes and re-use our best tools, and inspire one another to continue the struggle. Alumni can also work with students over the long-term on difficult and ambitious causes that shouldn't die when student activists graduate. It's a win-win combination - and, incidentally, one which the Right has been using for years.

The Long Haul

What can an extensive, concerned, and organized network of alumni ready to tackle issues at their university (and beyond) do? The potential is enormous: If a significant number of the privileged middle and upper class (and at least in the US, having a college degree makes you privileged) began advocating a progressive agenda at their universities, the ripple effect from heightened consciousness could be national or even international in scope. To the "establishment," it won't be a bunch of wild-eyed long-haired hippies calling for fundamental changes in how we live and think, but people like them - peers and colleagues who envision a more just, accountable, democratic, and peaceful world.

All for One, and One for All

If you've read this far there's a non-zero chance you're excited by the prospects and want to get active. So here's the plan:

Why the split? Because you probably know your school and friends better than we do, and to be effective, you should be a graduate of the school you want to change. Thus each school should organize its own alternative alumni network, and through UPA we share resources. If you're just starting out, what UPA offers are the tools you'll need to do what we did for our Cornell group: web space and publicity, email listservers, and an example community ready to help. Once your school's alternative alumni network is up and running as your members see fit, we can work together in new ways as we think of them, not to mention have fun and learn from one another.

The long-term goal is to have an international federation of alternative alumni groups, a coalition of communities with a shared vision, but being autonomous in how they'll implement that vision for their particular alma mater. That's how we'll think globally and act locally. So what are you waiting for?

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