An Open Letter to Stuyvesant Alumni
Today is Giving Tuesday, and in recognition I am making annual donations to many of the non-profit organizations that I support. The Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association (SHSAA) has long been one of these organizations, but in 2017, for the first time in more than a quarter century, it is not. This year I am withholding all monetary support from SHSAA and instead supporting Stuyvesant by donating to the Stuyvesant High School Parents’ Association. I’m also encouraging my fellow Stuyvesant Alumni to do likewise.
I consider myself beyond fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend Stuyvesant High School. I grew up in a middle-class Brooklyn home, the child of a public school teacher and a salesman. Thanks to Stuyvesant, I was able to avail myself of one of the best possible high school educations. Of the many things I learned in my three years there, perhaps the most meaningful is that I should seize any opportunity to surround myself with the brightest, most passionate people I can find. Nearly every great thing that has happened to me since is due to a combination of good luck and the application of this lesson.
I’ve long looked for ways to repay my debt of gratitude to Stuyvesant, and because I’ve lived far from New York for most of my adult life, charitable giving has been the most effective way for me to do this. Twenty years ago, this led to me to get involved with an effort to establish an endowment for Stuyvesant, called the Campaign for Stuyvesant (CFS). I pledged a contribution that was the largest I had ever given to a charitable organization, and arranged for an even larger charitable bequest. Significantly, as it turns out, I did little due diligence.
Several years later, when I learned of the acrimony between CFS and Stuyvesant’s administration, I started asking questions. Unhappy with the answers I received, I pulled out of CFS before completely fulfilling my pledge. At the time, I made it clear that while I was departing that effort, I would happily jump back in when all of the organizations representing Stuyvesant and its alumni were working together.
So I was thrilled when, a few years ago and more than a decade after I withdrew from CFS, I started hearing talk that the multiple charitable organizations purporting to represent the Stuyvesant community would be coming together under the auspices of the long-standing Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association. I hoped that this unified organization would both serve the alumni community and provide a means for alumni to give back to Stuyvesant, including a renewed endowment effort.
This time, however, I asked questions first, and what I learned troubled and angered me. Lack of transparency about the terms of the merger and the governance model of the unified organization. Lack of clarity about the organization’s finances, both fundraising and expenses. And when other alumni, some of whom had decades-long track records of working on behalf of the Stuyvesant community, including serving on the SHSAA board, pressed SHSAA leadership for more disclosure and accountability, they were treated with hostility and contempt.
The most frustrating part is that this could all have been resolved easily if SHSAA leadership had answered some relatively simple questions, been more transparent regarding its changes and financial operations, made some modest, reasonable improvements to its governance model, and committed to meaningful, ongoing communication with the alumni community regarding these efforts. Instead, they chose to stonewall, and to attack the motives and integrity of anyone who attempted to challenge them. This shabby treatment of alumni continues to this day, as recently more than a few Stuyvesant alumni have been banned from SHSAA’s Facebook group for attempting to raise these issues and hold SHSAA leadership accountable among the community regarding its policies and practices.
You might hear from the current leadership of SHSAA that it is within their rights to run the organization as they see fit, and that they are following the best practices of other (mostly university-level) school alumni organizations. This is both questionable and beside the point. From what I’ve observed, SHSAA is an unresponsive organization that is not effectively serving the interests of Stuyvesant High School and its alumni community. In its present form, it is not an organization with which I want to be affiliated.
This is why I’ve joined a group of alumni, gathering virtually under the name Concerned Stuyvesant Alumni, that is calling for all Stuyvesant alumni to withdraw their support from SHSAA and find ways of supporting the school and the alumni community that do not involve SHSAA. This is a painful and regrettable step, but until SHSAA implements meaningful reforms, it is a necessary one.
I remain hopeful that one day SHSAA will live up to its promise and become an organization we can support enthusiastically and without reservations. As proud Stuyvesant alumni, we deserve nothing less.
Stuyvesant High School Class of 1981