Leslie Cedar

Almost a century after a falling out with the administration spurred the University’s alumni association to become independent, its leadership says its autonomy is critical in allowing the organization to meet its goals and give millions of dollars to the University and its students.

A group of alumni formed the Texas Ex-Students’ Association, known as the Texas Exes, in 1885 as an extension of the University. In 1917 the association broke away from the University when former UT System Regent William Hogg led alumni against former Gov. Jim Ferguson after Ferguson vetoed state appropriations to the University. As a separate organization, the association could hold an official position on proposed legislation and administrative decisions — something state law prohibits the University from doing.

The legacy of that independence lives on in the organization, Texas Exes executive director Leslie Cedar said.

“Our purpose is truly to be an independent and formidable network of supporters to champion the University,” Cedar said. “… Any time there is friction with the System and the University or the University and any governing bodies — that’s the exact reason an independent association should exist. Because we’re independent, we can report on the situation and we can provide an open forum for commentary
for alums.”

The Texas Exes have openly supported UT President William Powers Jr. in his recent battle between the UT System Board of Regents. Cedar testified before the state Senate Committee on Higher Education on March 26 that a regent she chose not to name left her emails and phone calls expressing displeasure with the association’s support of Powers.

Regent involvement in the Texas Exes’ policy decisions is unusual, said Gordon Appleman, former president of the Texas Exes’ board of directors.

“The regents have no role in the governance of the Ex-Students’ Association,” Appleman said.

Regent interest in the relationship between the University and external nonprofits peaked in late 2011 when Larry Sager, dean of the UT School of Law, was asked to step down after receiving a forgivable loan from the UT Law School Foundation — presumably without University oversight. Joseph Moldenhauer, professor emeritus of the English department, said there was no University involvement at all when he took a $14,000 loan to finance his home through a program run by the Exes in 1965.  

“[The Exes] had money and they wanted to put the money to use,” Moldenhauer said. “I don’t remember having to get permission from anybody in the department or the University. I went there and said ‘I want to talk to somebody about the mortgage.’”

The Exes no longer provide loans to professors, Cedar said. Despite disagreement with the regents and the organization’s legal independence from the University, the Exes often work closely with administrators on campus to identify areas in need of support. 

“Our goal is almost entirely related to scholarships at this point,” Cedar said. 

In the 2011-2012 academic year, the organization gave $1.9 million in scholarships to almost 700 students, including gender and ethnicity-specific scholarships the University cannot legally administer and full-ride Forty Acres Scholars Program scholarships.

When the University identified the need for full-ride scholarships to lure top students to campus, the Exes set out to raise funds to create a scholarship program. After raising $50 million, the organization set up a separate scholarship foundation for the Forty Acres Scholars Program in 2009. The Exes have raised an additional $5 million since then to fund the program and hope to raise an additional $95 million in the next decade, Cedar said.

In addition to monetary support, the Exes also help organize its more than 97,000 members to advocate for legislation that could benefit the University, said John Beckworth, president of the organization’s board of directors.

“We organized alumni to participate in the advocating for establishing the medical school at UT-Austin through Central Health Prop 1 earlier this year,” Beckworth said.

The University has also at times made agreements that helped the association raise funds. For several decades, the Exes ran a company called Campus Services, a taxable entity that provided vending services on campus to generate revenue, Cedar said. Although Campus Services ceased operating vending services on campus in the ‘90s, in 2011, the Ex-Students’ Association reported the organization held $27,270 in deferred compensation for former director Jim Boon. 

“That was part of a deferred compensation plan set up for Jim some years ago,” Cedar said.

Jim Nicar, former Texas Exes director of history and traditions, was fired Monday after 20 years of service as a part of a strategic planning process the organization is undertaking.

The Texas Exes dismissed Nicar and two other employees Monday as part of the organization’s efforts to increase advocacy, student development, alumni relations and strategic partnering with UT. Leslie Cedar, Texas Exes executive director, said Nicar was involuntarily terminated because the organization is repurposing some staff positions to better deliver Texas Exes’ priorities in new and innovative ways.

Cedar said the organization began its reorganizing efforts after she joined the Texas Exes as executive director in 2011. She said the group has since evaluated its core purpose and decided Texas Exes will lead the charge to help UT be a first class, leading research and teaching public university in the country.

“The new strategy is more updated and focuses on making alumni very active in becoming a formidable force [at UT],” Cedar said.

Cedar said since July 2011, four people including Nicar have been involuntarily dismissed and five roles within the organization have been eliminated. Texas Exes now has a total of 49 employees. In addition to serving as director of history and traditions, Nicar also served as the Texas Exes liaison and advisor to the Spirit and Traditions Council, an umbrella group for many different spirit groups on campus. She said the organization wishes Nicar the best.

Admissions counselor Lisa Lockhart said she heard about Nicar’s firing via email from a student who is a member of a club Nicar mentored. Lockhart said Nicar has spent several decades serving UT working, researching, writing articles and giving presentations on UT history and traditions. She said students who worked for her were always thrilled when Nicar taught them something new about UT’s history. Lockhart said discharging an individual with Nicar’s longevity, knowledge and integrity is outrageous and damaging. She said she spoke to Nicar after he had been fired about what he would do next.

“We spoke of his future plans,” she said. “[Whether] to return to school or finish working on a book about UT’s history and traditions. I do not know what reason was given to him but he did mention poor morale and high turnover at Texas Exes.”

With regard to rumors of canceling and disbanding Texas Exes programs, Lockhart said to follow the money.

“Are new, middle management positions being created?” she said. “Did these jobs exist before? Are programs being sacrificed to provide salaries?”

Cedar said 11 new positions have been added and eight people have been promoted since July 2011 in efforts to align resources and talents and deliver on strategic priorities.

Matt Portillo, Spirit and Traditions Council co-chair, said his organization was shocked when they learned of Nicar’s termination. Portillo said he found out from Nicar himself and confirmed the news with an email from Tim Taliaferro, Texas Exes vice president of communications and digital strategy. Portillo said Taliaferro told him to direct any questions and concerns about the Spirit and Traditions Council to him from now on. He said Taliaferro also told him Texas Exes is currently assessing the council’s future within the organization and the council should hold no meetings or activities without a Texas Exes staff member present. Portillo said he was told the council could not meet until after they met with Texas Exes leadership in a meeting after spring break due to legal and liability considerations.

Portillo said he thinks the Texas Exes’ restructuring and Nicar’s firing is due to a budget shortfall within the organization. He said the council may be rolled into the Texas Exes Student Chapter organization. Portillo said the council is open to change, but he is concerned that Texas Exes has not involved the group in any discussions about the proposed changes.

“There’s been some miscommunication and I think everybody is in a somewhat turbulent state,” Portillo said. “But what’s important right now is for students and the Texas Exes leadership to come together and work towards solutions that will benefit everyone.”

Although the Spirit and Traditions Council receives approximately $6,000 in funding from the Texas Exes, Portillo said it is a registered student organization and he believes it is free to act according to the will of its student membership.

Cedar said despite rumors Texas Exes was cutting programs and clubs, no such entities have been eliminated.

“We will continue on with all of our traditions,” Cedar said. “We have the opportunity to build on top of these. How do we continue on? That’s the task we were charged with when I came in.”

Additional reporting by Nick Hadjigeorge.

Printed on Friday, March 9, 2012 as: Texas Exes' restructuring results in loss of jobs

[Corrected Sept. 30: Changed headline]

Customer usage of a Longhorn silhouette credit card generates $875,000 per year for the Texas Exes alumni association.

The almost 20-year-old corporate agreement with Bank of America includes an undisclosed third party that uses the names and addresses of UT alumni to mail out credit card offers. Texas Exes CEO and executive director Leslie Cedar said the contact name and address is kept confidential by the third party, and Bank of America pays the association based on transaction volume.

“We provide an offer to members, and if they use that offer, we benefit,” Cedar said.

Cedar said as a nonprofit organization, it is important for the Texas Exes to have agreements like this to continue to provide alumni services. She said these types of agreements help the association continue to run.

She said the offer is sent out every couple of months to 380,000 addressable contacts. Cedar said 95,000 of the addressable contacts are dues-paying Texas Exes members and the rest are UT alumni who are not members. She said the Texas Exes association manages the University alumni database, so the most direct way to get out of the offers is to call the Texas Exes.

“This is standard practice for alumni associations,” Cedar said. “In order to run the operations, we look for revenue streams.”

Jessica Ramsour, a 2004 alumna, said she does not think the association should collect revenue streams that would come in from credit card usage on top of its membership fees and does not like the extra mail that comes with the offer.
“I personally am not a fan of that because I get enough credit card offers as it is,” Ramsour said.

She said she does not mind the transfer of alumni names and addresses to a third party as long as they are kept confidential.

Bank of America spokesperson Betty Riess said the corporation has this type of agreement with other alumni associations and sports teams.

“It basically gives the card issuer the opportunity to market a card with a particular brand,” Riess said.

She said Bank of America stopped on-campus marketing of credit cards to students in 2008. Riess said for the past few years, Bank of America has excluded student names from marketing lists.

Brad Miller, 2011 alumnus and Texas Exes member, said he is fine with the agreement.

“If they can make a dollar here or there, it’s not a huge deal,” Miller said. “As a member, it will give me some perks so that will be nice.” 

Printed on Thursday, September 29, 2011 as: Alumni information used to distribute credit card offers

The Texas Exes appointed its first female CEO and executive director. Leslie Cedar will begin working to expand the organization’s alumni outreach July 1.

Cedar said having a woman serve as executive director was an important step toward furthering the alumni association’s goal of representing the demographics of the University’s graduates.

“As half our students and future alumni are female, I do believe a female in the role is a significant move towards furthering that goal,” Cedar said.

Cedar graduated from the University of Texas with a bachelor’s in architectural studies in 1989 and earned an MBA in 1998 from the McCombs School of Business. She was chosen by a search committee of former presidents of the Texas Exes and current president Richard Leshin.

“[Cedar] will serve as the voice of the alumni with the University and the Board of Regents,” Leshin said. “She’s aware of social media today and can use it to help us communicate with our younger alumni, and hopefully we can get our older alumni to do the same thing.”

Jim Boon, who served as executive director for 16 years, left the position to head the Texas Exes Scholarship Foundation. He said the executive director must manage several key programs, including scholarship organizations, and communicate with alumni from Texas Exes chapters throughout the country.

“Whoever is sitting in that chair has got to be responsive to alumni as well as faculty, students and the administration at the University of Texas,” Boon said. “We have multiple constituents, and being able to deal with all of those at the same time is a really important criteria.”

Boon said because the University has more students graduating today than in the past, the Texas Exes must use modern forms of outreach, such as social media, in order to be responsive to the rising percentage of young alumni. He said he feels Cedar’s background in marketing and technology will make her a good fit for the job.

“The students are future alumni, so the better job the alumni association can do as far as communicating with them while they’re still at the University and make them aware of programs that will be available to them, those are ways to enhance the student experience,” he said.

Cedar said her prior work experience expanded her skills of how to develop networks which are meaningful and useful to the community they serve, and she looks forward to applying that experience in working with the Texas Exes.

“My degrees from UT are as important of variables as my work experience in the equation,” she said. “I got connected to a great professional network of friends and peers that have helped me immensely in my career, which goes to show it’s all about the relationships.”

Leshin said he hopes the new leadership will provide increased communication between current students and alumni, and get more students involved in the Texas Exes Student Chapter.

“It always helps when the Legislature is in session and we have alumni that are pushing to give the University more visibility on a positive level,” Leshin said. “[The new leadership] will help get more people involved, spread our word, and help the University in different areas.”