The often repeated phrase among the University of Michigan family is that a Michigan degree opens doors. That still holds true even in these difficult economic times, but a message to all current and future alumni: Your Alumni Association is failing you.
Hear me out. In the big city where I live, there are thousands of Michigan alumni. I see maize-and-blue shirts all the time. But do all of those people know about the existence of the rest of us and that we might need jobs? In my experiences, the answer is an overwhelming no. The local alumni chapters are ill equipped to handle the volume of new graduates that move to their cities each year. It’s almost a microcosm of the employment situation for all college graduates, not just the alumni coming out of Ann Arbor. Most studies about unemployed college graduate figures peg the number at 7 percent nationwide, which is a lot better than youth unemployment as a whole right now.
After speaking to a few of the officers of my city’s club, my fears that we are mostly on our own have been confirmed more than once. Yes, they use technology to connect alumni in a certain city, but when I question them why I can’t access the Facebook page, I get an electronic blank stare. When I suggest an e-mail listserv to easily identify open jobs at companies run by alumni, no one knows what that is. InCircle, the association’s main networking tool, is filled with outdated information and lists of irrelevant companies that are so thin you can see through them.
Recently, I contacted four different people at organizations I applied for a job at. All of them wrote back to say they hadn’t worked there for years (though one at least offered to still help in any way he could). The few networking events that are held each year have an entrance fee on top of other expenses incurred while doing the activity, which I get, but it’s not exactly easy for someone who can’t find a job to leak money just to get into the door when there’s no guarantee of the real payoff — a lead on a job.
This is not the same as feeling shut out or ignored because all alumni I have encountered are beyond helpful. It’s just unfortunate that there is no way for all of us to reach one another when we need help the most, and the University Alumni Association is at the forefront of the list of places that have become complacent. To borrow part of an overused phrase from our football coach, this is Michigan, and the Alumni Association can do better than this.
Even if we are a bit on our own, don’t give up. I haven’t. I carry business cards around with me for those times when I see a matching Michigan T-shirt in a bar or at an office. Our degrees may not open the same doors as they used to, but they open doors nonetheless — sometimes when we least expect it. Just be aware that those degrees entitle us to more than we may be receiving from the University itself.
Kevin Bunkley is an alum and former Daily opinion staffer.