This past week I received a card in the mail from the BYU Alumni Association, asking for my help in “editing” my biographical information in an “Alumni Directory” in preparation. While I’ve certainly given the Alumni Association biographical information in the past, for some reason this time I started asking myself “is this worth my time?” and, in the Mormon context, “is this worth anyone’s time?”
My responses in the past have, to be honest, not seemed particularly beneficial to me or to anyone else, as far as I can see. No one using the information has ever contacted me. I’ve also never sought information from the Alumni Association about anyone else (don’t even know if I can get it). I don’t even know if the directory is something that I have to pay for or not. I don’t even know if the Church uses the information at all.
The only thing I’m certain that has happened when I give this information, is that the Alumni Association has asked me to donate to BYU. [FWIW, I decided before leaving BYU that I would not make any donations to BYU's general fund. In my final years there BYU made significant changes to student-run programs I cared about and felt were of high value. These were killed without student input and, IMO, in an effort to increase University control, part of a pattern I've yet to see change and that still bothers me about BYU. So, they don't get my money.]
In recent years I’ve noticed that the Alumni Association is just one of several BYU organizations that collect information from alumni and friends, if not also donations. In addition to the Alumnis Association, I’m also familiar with the BYU Management Society, the J. Reuben Clark Law Society and the BYU International Society, all of which purport to have local chapters around the world. I’m sure that the alumni from other LDS-owned and LDS-oriented student bodies also have chapters for multiple organizations.
Here in New York City, over a decade or more, I tried to help the BYU Management Society get off the ground. Recently, its seen some success, as the New York LDS Professional Association — which includes both the BYU Management Society and the J. Reuben Clark Law Society chapters here. I hoped (and in some ways I still hope) that this organization would meet a need I perceived — that of helping LDS Church members meet and communicate across stake boundaries — something that doesn’t happen much out here. Without such communication, members have struggled creating any kind of regional community of Mormons. Arts and cultural activities in particular suffer, as does our local New York City LDS History Committee.
Despite my own and others attempts to make these associations work locally, I sense a general apathy among LDS Church members about these programs. While being a BYU alumni isn’t always required (as I understand it, both the BYU Management Society and the BYU International Society don’t require an affiliation with BYU — anyone can join), members don’t seem very interested in participating to any significant degree.
If I take a step back away from the problem, and try to look at it objectively, I’m not even sure what benefit these organizations are supposed to provide to members. Are they any different than other fraternal and service clubs like the Elks, Lions or Knights of Columbus?
In a way, I think the Church itself provides most of the functions that fraternal and social clubs would otherwise provide for members. While Church is certainly more than just a social club, we certainly have a lot of social activities and there are many social aspects to Church. I think most members find the Church their principal charitable outlet as well.
I’m not saying that Church members don’t need additional fraternal, social and charitable outlets. Nor am I suggesting necessarily that Church members shouldn’t join these organizations. I’m just wondering what is the value of these BYU-related associations and does it make sense to have so many of them?
Where’s the value in these associations?