RMAIR 2015 In Review

By Jeff Johnson, Assistant Director of Institutional Effectiveness & Planning, Utah Valley University

“Dear God, please don’t let me screw up.”
—Test Pilot’s Prayer, attr. to astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr.

I am quite pleased to say that, thanks to some combination of divine grace and an outstanding team of institutional research professionals, I’ve managed to not screw up RMAIR during my year as president. It has been a very successful year for the association, with many accomplishments to celebrate.

Our annual conference is the focus of RMAIR’s efforts, and this year’s was outstanding. Nearly 100 paid attendees met in Las Vegas earlier this month, the most in recent memory. A fascinating keynote from Stephen R. Porter on the validity and future of student surveys led off a program of 34 presentations organized by program chair Serge Herzog. Local arrangements chair Theresa Farmer’s stellar work on the venue and logistics gave RMAIR members plenty of opportunities to rekindle old relationships and make new connections, and kept costs much lower than we expected. Thanks to the wonderful work of sponsorship chair Tondra De, we raised $16,900 from sponsors. While the final bills aren’t in, we expect to make at least $5,000 on the conference in spite of not charging membership fees this year. I can’t thank enough Theresa, Tondra, and Serge, along with Christina Drum, Mya Starling, Andrea Esguerra, and Mike Ellison for what they did to produce a successful conference.

We have had great financial success as well. We expect the conference to make between $5,000 and $8,000 for the association after all is finalized. That will leave us with approximately $30,000, consistent with our goal of having a reserve of between 1.5 and 2 times the typical conference costs. Working with treasurer Quinn Koller, we have also put in place streamlined processes for financial management of the conference that should allow our success to continue while easing the administrative challenges.

Our previous financial success allowed us to offer free membership this year. That has brought in several entirely new members as well as maintaining membership of many previous members who would not have joined this year because they were not attending the conference; historically very few people have paid membership dues when they weren’t attending. The board has thus decided to continue to offer free membership for 2015-16.

I am pleased especially to have been able to honor several members this year. Thanks to a partnership with AIR, we were able to match our grants with AIR Travel Grants. Serge represented RMAIR at the AIR Forum as the best paper. We also awarded the best presentation grant to Stephanie Kane and Fran Hermanson. We didn’t award any Train the Trainer grants, however, so I encourage you to consider applying for 2016.

The board continued its work to implement the strategic plan while also rethinking its place in the organization. Vice President Joe Curtin implemented the outreach elements, targeting especially institutions with graduate programs in higher education. Incoming Vice President Dianna Renz will be reaching out to IR offices that are not currently involved in RMAIR, building on work done last year by Mya Starling. This coming year we are due for a new plan. This will be informed by our experience with the existing one and will aim to be more realistic about our capabilities and commitments.

Our future will also need to recognize, however, that RMAIR is in a changed environment in which our history of informality is challenged by increasing regulation and a transfer of much of the legal and financial responsibility for the association from AIR to us. Banking regulations designed to prevent terrorist financing and laundering of drug money require us to demonstrate that any change in the account holders is consistent with the bylaws; hence the importance of bylaws that clearly define election rules in ways that will be accepted by courts and lawyers, not just our members. Non-profit status and incorporation are necessary to protect the organization and its officers—it would have been quite easily for officers to have accidentally committed tax fraud before we gained 501(c)(3) status.

The bylaw review has identified several areas in which we will, of necessity, have to change in ways that we aren’t all comfortable with. The contemporary world leaves us with only the alternative of not existing. The board will be working on this in the coming year, and will seek input from and will communicate fully with the members as we do. It is the greatest challenge that RMAIR faces right now. I ask your patience and understanding as we continue this process.

These are only a few of our accomplishments. I can claim little credit for them; they happened on my watch but they happened because we have exceptional people in RMAIR. I am humbled to have worked with such an effective board over the last year: Joe, Quinn, Secretary Tammy Scott, and Past President Ann Murray. I also relied heavily on the generous advice of two former RMAIR Presidents, Nick Valcik and Dawn Kenney. I am pleased to welcome Dianna to the board as Vice President and President Elect. I have great confidence in the coming year’s leadership, and wish all of us continued success.