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
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.