Alumni Association leaves Kings Point campus

aaf staff signalMAY 15, 2013 — U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Superintendent James Helis has succeeded in his quest to evict the USMMA Alumni Association & Foundation (AAF) from its offices at Babson Center on the Academy's Kings Point, NY, campus.

AAF staffers outside Babson Center

The AAF is now up and running in temporary premises adjacent to the campus.

Today, the AAF Board of Directors posted the following letter on its website:

Dear Fellow Kings Pointers, Parents, Friends, and Supporters,

The Board of the USMMA Alumni Association & Foundation (AAF) regrets to inform you that we were unsuccessful in court in our attempt to remain on board the Academy.

The new Superintendent James Helis, backed by outgoing Maritime Administrator David Matsuda and outgoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, has been successful in forcing our Alumni organization off the campus where we have been at the invitation of the Academy for almost 60 years.

This is a very sad day for our Academy, her alumni and her midshipmen, but Kings Pointers have been through the eye of the storm before, and we have always emerged stronger, more aligned, and more unified than ever. We are reminded that "the most adverse winds and currents are used to good advantage by the ablest navigators."

While the AAF has to move off the campus, an outcome we all worked very hard to change, we can all be very proud of the example we have set for the Midshipmen. Kings Pointers have once again acted with honor, a concept instilled in us all in our very first days at the Academy, and for that we can be very proud.

aaf staff 500We are especially proud of Jim Tobin and the AAF staff who exerted a Herculean effort over the past few days (including Mother's Day) to box up the entire office and assist in the move. These champions include Jim, along with Pete Rackett, Gregg Matalas, Lisa Donitz, Marissa Bholan, Rosa Ziemann, Meg Ropke, and Katie Bill (photo right). Their dedication to the Alumni and to the Academy is incredible. We are truly blessed to have each of them on our team.

Unprecedented Support: Before we delve into some of the details of the court case, we would like to call out four groups of people whose support of the AAF during these recent difficult times has been particularly meaningful and which is important for us all to know and to thank:

To the three former Superintendents, four former Maritime Administrators, ten former AAF chairmen/presidents and the National Parents Association – who all stepped up front and center to support this organization – thank you! Your support tells the real story – of Kings Pointers who by graduation or by simple love of the Institution, support her Alumni Association & Foundation.

To the hundreds if not thousands of other individuals who have also stepped up and will continue to step up – thank you so much. We know of many Congressmen and Senators who stepped in to help, but were unable to change the outcome.

The Road to Court: During the time we were negotiating with Superintendent Helis about staying on the Academy campus, the Deputy General Counsel of DOT placed a phone call to our law firm informing them that Secretary LaHood had a problem with the AAF. Our law firm subsequently withdrew its representation of our organization on all matters involving the DOT and we found ourselves without legal representation in the face of an imminent eviction.

We quickly retained new attorneys, but they were not as familiar with the intricate history of the AAF and the Academy and had only a week of preparation before arguing the AAF's case before the judge. This worked against us.

The Ruling: The judge's ruling apparently turned on whether the AAF had an irrevocable or a revocable 'license' to use the space. Under NY State law an occupant cannot hold an irrevocable license absent proof of consideration. The judge ruled against us in large part because, inexplicably, he did not consider the millions of dollars donated to the Academy by the AAF to be 'consideration.' Our history on board the campus began when we were invited there by the Academy in 1957. By agreement, our donations to the Academy are the consideration given in lieu of rent in return for use of the space. The AAF, through the generosity of Jim Babson '44 (photo to the left), paid to make the derelict space above the garage in the Fitch Building into the Foundation's offices.

The new Superintendent and his lawyers, apparently indifferent to decades of alumni financial support, chose to argue that the AAF had somehow been freeloading on the campus at government expense. In fact, DOT was so intent on removing the AAF from the campus that they went to the taxpayer expense of sending a senior trial attorney from the Washington office of the DOT General Counsel to New York for the hearing.

After the Ruling: The strategies of the new Superintendent and his lawyers continued after the judge's ruling when we were offered the choice of either (1) being 'allowed' to stay in Babson for 10 days if we agreed to surrender rights we have from previous good faith agreements with the Academy or, (2) if we refused to surrender those rights, to remove ourselves immediately from Babson.

The Result: We chose the latter and left memories of a rich history behind.

We moved off of the Academy as of Monday May 13th. It was a great team effort by the entire AAF staff and other volunteers.

Going Forward: We are fully functional – the AAF is up and running and performing admirably considering the circumstances. You will not be able to tell the difference when you call or email the office. Our various contact information can be found on our website, We are not able to provide the same services to the Midshipmen, staff, and faculty which we did when on board the Academy grounds, but we are confident that we are operating in this current mode only temporarily.

The AAF's financial position is as strong as it has ever been and we will continue as a Board to perform our fiduciary obligation to our donors – ensuring that your donations are used as you designate.

Thank you again to all of you for your support of the AAF. The overwhelming positive response has been gratifying. As Directors of your Association and Foundation, we will continue to work on your behalf for the benefit of the Midshipmen and the Academy.

We remain,
Fraternally yours,
The USMMA Alumni Association & Foundation
Board of Directors

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