Effective advocacy is as vital to a public university as a great medical staff is to a hospital. It enables speaking with one voice, a critical element in working with elected officials and delivering advocacy messages. UT’s advocacy network is built on a strong core of passionate alumni and friends who insist on more opportunities to advocate for the university in political circles.

For some university presidents, vocal supporters can be a concern. There’s concern about the prospect of an out-of-control, off-message, disorganized group hindering your work with government entities.

I consider passionate, energetic alumni a gift. Effective engagement enables them to help achieve good outcomes. That engagement involves a few vital ingredients UT is fortunate to have:

  • University leadership support.
  • Strong government relations team.
  • Strong alumni relations.
  • Training and regular communication with advocates.

At UT, we embrace the energy and passion of our alumni and friends. Advocacy is addressed in one of five broad, strategic goals — making it intentional, measurable and a priority for our entire statewide system. This focus led to creation of our UT Advocacy network, run out of our government relations office in strong partnership with our alumni association.

Our government relations team is empowered and encouraged to speak frankly with advocates. When they do, their expertise is clear and establishes credibility with alumni and friends. If a call to action on key political issues is necessary, our advocates understand it’s an urgent matter for the university.

It’s uncommon for higher ed to engage supporters so visibly and actively, but I believe we must be willing to do so. It’s necessary to put public higher ed on even footing with special interests or competing government priorities. While this risks getting caught in a political battle, sometimes that’s where the biggest impact is made. That doesn’t mean we join the fight on every issue, but on the ones that matter we shouldn’t shy away.

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Joe DiPietro