Monday, November 07, 2005

Not exactly the best way to raise money from alums

From the Boston Globe

'Dead' alumni walking

UNH report of their demise greatly exaggerated

On Wednesday, 63-year-old Sandra Keans was preparing for her City Council race, folding fliers, licking stamps, and stuffing envelopes.

Yesterday, the New Hampshire Republican was dead -- at least according to her alma mater's 2005 alumni directory.

The directory for the University of New Hampshire mistakenly declared Keans and 500 other graduates deceased in a foible of fatal proportions school officials are attributing to a technician's error at the publishing company.

'There are several people who would like to see me dead, but unfortunately, I'm still quite alive," said Keans yesterday in an interview.

Last month, about 2,000 copies of the glossy, hard-cover book went out to graduates, with the names of 100,000 alumni. On Oct. 18, the first ''dead" alum called to report the mistake. Soon, alumni officials learned the publishing company, PCI in Dallas, had identified hundreds of living, breathing graduates as deceased. Among the living dead are county commissioners, a former mayor, auto dealership owners, and Keans, a state representative seeking reelection to a seat on the Rochester City Council on Tuesday.

The goof has had its perks, Keans said. She has received more attention from local newspapers about the mistake than she might have for a fairly quiet city council race. ''I couldn't have bought an ad this great," she joked.

Brian A. Desfosses, 28, who graduated in 2003, saw an opportunity. ''I was just notified . . . that I am apparently dead," wrote Desfosses in a tongue-in-cheek e-mail to his insurance company. ''I was notified because the University of New Hampshire put me on a list of deceased alumni in their new directory. I was wondering if this would be enough evidence to collect on those insurance policies I purchased two years ago."

University officials, however, are not laughing. They say they are embarrassed and have issued a public apology. PCI has promised to contact each alum and apologize directly.

''We have been in business for 23 years and take great pride in collecting accurate data," company spokesman Tim Waddill said in a prepared statement. ''An error like this has never happened before, and we have reviewed our processes to ensure it doesn't happen again."

Waddill did not describe how the error occurred.

But Gregg Sanborn, executive director of the alumni association, said a technician at the company accidentally coded a file with the 501 names as deceased and then included it in the directory. The 2,000-page book, featuring a picture of the university's Thompson Hall on the cover, was then mailed, Sanborn said. Soon calls began trickling in that the dead were really alive, and officials began scrambling to rectify the error.

The association placed a notice on its website explaining the error and included a link to a list of the 501 graduates.

Those who purchased the directory -- $69 for association members and $79 for nonmembers -- will receive a refund from PCI, a corrected CD version of the book, and an addendum to the printed directory with the correct information, Sanborn said.

Since the error was noticed, the association has learned that two of the graduates have actually died.

Now the association is reconsidering whether to send out a published directory in the future or use a CD-ROM version that can be easily corrected, Sanborn said.

''We just can't have this sort of thing happen again," he said.

Some alumni were forgiving, even Bernard W. ''Buck" Corson, 85, from the class of 1947, who was listed as dead even though he donates annually to the university and set up a scholarship fund with his wife for local high school students.

''It sounds like the university isn't keeping track of some of us who are rather active," he quipped. ''Honest mistake, I guess."

Others on the list are trying to recover from their surreal brush with mortality.

''I hope it's not predicting the future," said 81-year-old Roberta Window, class of 1947. ''I know I'll die sometime of course. I just didn't realize it was going to be right away."

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