Alumni Affiliations and Conflict of Interest

As chair of the 2016 AIGAC Governance Committee, I am writing this article to discuss the potential for conflict of interest that may arise for AIGAC members or applicants who wish to participate in the activities of their undergraduate or graduate alumni organizations. Given that one of AIGAC’s Principles of Good Practice is, “In growing their businesses, members agree to avoid any relationship that creates or appears to create a conflict of interest,” can AIGAC applicants or members take an active role in their undergraduate or graduate alumni without fear of conflict of interest?

To answer this question, we’ll look at three factors:

  • The specific function and responsibilities that the applicant or member has within the alumni organization.
  • The specific business services that the applicant or member offers in their professional practice.
  • The potential for the applicant or member’s alumni activities to redound to the benefit of the applicant or member’s business.

There are many different ways that alums may engage with their alumni organizations, including, for example, fundraising, job search, skills sharing, content sharing, reunions, career-related engagements, and admissions. In many cases, there will clearly be no conflict of interest. In other cases, however, especially those closely related to admission, the potential for a conflict, or even the appearance of a potential conflict, can become problematic.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • An admissions consulting firm offers graduate admissions consulting services and its consultants are directly involved in an alumni organization’s graduate admissions activities.  This is a direct conflict of interest, since the alumni activities could result in a direct business benefit to the firm. There is also the potential that client identities would be disclosed to admissions officers, either directly or indirectly, and that would also violate our ethical principal protecting client confidentiality. For example, serving as an alumni admissions interviewer for a graduate program is prohibited.
  • An admissions consulting firm only offers graduate admission consulting services and its consultants are directly involved in an alumni organizations’ undergraduate admission activities.  Here there is no conflict of interest because there is no possibility that these alumni activities would result in a conflict of interest.
  • An admissions consulting firm offers either graduate or undergraduate admissions consulting services and its consultants are involved in fundraising, event planning or career training events unrelated to the admissions process. Since there is no involvement in admissions, there is no possibility of a conflict of interest.

Note that in addition to the fact of conflict of interest there exists the potential for the appearance of conflict of interest as, for example, when an AIGAC member’s participation in alumni activities are generally stated or vaguely defined, and may or may not encompass direct participation in the admissions process.

Naturally the Governance Committee welcomes and encourages member involvement in alumni activities, such involvement helps AIGAC members, their alma maters, and new students alike. If you restrict yourself to activities such as fund-raising or career-oriented events, where the absence of conflict of interest is clear, you will deliver benefit to the alumni organization with no risk of violating AIGAC’s relevant Principle of Good Practice.

If you have any questions regarding specific situations, please feel free to reach out to me or Anna Ivey. We are here to help people resolve potential problems before they escalate.

Maxx Duffy, AIGAC Board of Directors 2014 – 2017
Governance Chair


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