I write in response to the 2/4/20 article in the Tripod entitled “What is ‘Alumni for a Better Trinity’?”. Gillian Reinhard ’20, the writer of the article, and I discussed several inaccuracies afterwards, and she kindly edited accordingly. Thank you to the Tripod for making those changes. There are several other key issues the article missed.
First and foremost, it’s important to see the Facebook group in the proper context. The Trinity community can be proud it has an alumni-led group on Facebook that is the largest and most active of its kind in the NESCAC. There’s a simple reason for this: Trinity is alone in the NESCAC for its free fall in ranking since 2006. By almost every measure, the school has reversed historic strengths in selectivity, graduation rate, and national ranking.
Keep in mind that Trinity has had the most engaged alumni in the peer group. As recently as 2009-2011, Trinity ranked #11 in the country for alumni giving, with 49% of all alumni participating, according to alumnifactor.com. That kind of zeal lasts a lifetime. Like all energy and matter, alumni enthusiasm never completely vanishes; it changes into other forms of engagement. College friends stay as close as ever, but the topic of conversation shifts from institutional pride to the unfortunate trajectory of our alma mater, or perhaps nostalgia, sports teams, or Higher Ed.
People want to understand the issues facing their embattled alma mater beyond public relations stories. They’re hungry for real information. “Alumni for a Better Trinity” is the only place where you can see and discuss unfiltered news. It is the antithesis of sugar-coated public relations. Moreover, it’s populated by people of significant standing not just in the Trinity community, but in the category of Higher Ed.
There have been many times when the “Alumni for a Better Trinity” group has delivered value to the community, but I offer these three recent examples:
1. On 11/14/19, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce released a study of the Return On Investment from the degrees at 4,500 colleges. The results read like a tournament at the Kellner Squash Center. Trinity was the highest ranked liberal arts college in the state of Connecticut and #10 overall among US liberal arts colleges. No other liberal arts schools in the state even broke into the top 20. Over 40 years, the value of the degree is estimated at over $1.3 million (compared to $1.09 million for Wesleyan). At 15, 20, 30, and 40-year intervals after graduation, a Trinity degree showed a return on investment that outpaced Williams, Swarthmore, Middlebury, Hamilton, and a legion of other behemoths. “Alumni for a Better Trinity” published this positive data (with charts) a full one week BEFORE college applications were due. By contrast, the Communications team at Trinity did not report this data until 1/16/20—that’s a full two months after the report was released, as well as the day AFTER applications were due. To make matters worse, it wasn’t even posted on the College’s official Twitter account; it was a vaguely positive posting on the personal Twitter account of the head of digital communications.
2. In the fall of 2019, “AFBT” uncovered the fact that Google News search results included every NESCAC school’s website except one—Trinity. This observation was posted on 9/25/19 complete with a side-by-side comparison of NESCAC peers. It wasn’t until 12/5/19 that the Communications Department at Trinity corrected the problem and got Google to address this glaring omission. The staff of 13 employees that make up the Communications team at Trinity was oblivious to the issue until it was brought to their attention. If the issue hadn’t been raised by “AFBT,” there can be no doubt that Trinity would still be the only NESCAC school excluded from Google News today.
3. On 5/25/18, Trinity receptionist Debbie Cook was abruptly terminated after serving the College for 32 years under nine different presidents. She was informed at breakfast and then immediately escorted off-campus. It was cruel to treat a long-term, low-level employee this way after so many years of loyal service, but it was particularly wrong considering she had cancer and was less than two years from retirement. Three days after her termination, “Alumni for a Better Trinity” set up a GoFundMe page for Debbie to help with medical expenses. Alumni knew Debbie, recognized her needs, and did the right thing. The page raised over $1,800 and was shared 281 times. As bad as the decision was to terminate Debbie in this manner at this time, the repercussions to the institution were even worse than anticipated—as a result of the layoffs of Debbie and other employees that year, Trinity plummeted 406 spots in the Time/Money annual college ranking later that year.
In each of these situations, Trinity fell short in some way. And even when the school had positive news in the ROI study from Georgetown, it still fell short when it came time to promote the news at a critical time.
“Alumni for a Better Trinity” has been controversial precisely because it shines a light on these shortcomings. To the administration, it can be embarrassing. It’s important to note, however, that “AFBT” is a Closed Group for this exact reason. In other words, only people who are part of the group can read and participate directly on the page.
Many things are right at Trinity today, but many are wrong. Communities like “Alumni for a Better Trinity” exist to shine a light on both. And in a connected world, institutions can either ignore or learn from what stakeholders have to say.
Should the administration embrace the new model of open dialogue and transparency, they’ll find an audience at “Alumni for a Better Trinity” that’s eager to listen—and just as eager to be heard.
-Douglas Kim ’87
Co-Moderator, “Alumni for a Better Trinity”