By Noah Westreich
President Brian Rosenberg simultaneously called 18,000 Macalester College alumni and parents on Monday, President’s Day. The 7,500 people that picked up their phones were able to participate in a live phone conversation with the President. Throughout the course of the 35-minute call, President Rosenberg fielded questions about the current state of the college, invited special guests to talk about their experiences with Macalester, and administered poll questions to the listeners, to which they could respond by pressing their phone keypad. “The best way to describe it is as a talk radio show with Brian Rosenberg as the host,” said Director of Communications Amy Phenix. “We were hoping to use technology in a surprising and engaging way to help people remember what they love about Macalester.”Last President’s Day, Rosenberg starred in a YouTube video portraying his presidential duties. The video has garnered nearly 66,000 views.Also on the call was Walter Mondale ’50, former Vice President of the United States, who spoke about the role Macalester played in his life and career.”Macalester gave me my start,” Mondale said. “It opened my mind and introduced me to the world.”Acclaimed novelist Tim O’Brien ’68, joined the call and said that without his liberal arts education from Macalester his career as a novelist would not have been possible. Jeffrey Toobin, best-selling author, CNN news analyst, and the father of a current Macalester sophomore, cited the way in which Macalester students desire to change the world in practical, not Utopian, ways.”Macalester students are optimistic but engaged,” Toobin said. “They’re determined to change the world and I hope they do.”The phone call was an effort to involve alumni and parents of the Macalester community in hopes of them connecting or reconnecting with the impact the college has on its students.”Alumni really want to feel proud of their institution,” Rosenberg said in an interview. “They like it when Macalester generates buzz.” The story was featured on Inside Higher Ed, an online news publication that covers topics pertaining to colleges and universities.To the administration’s knowledge, the President’s Day call marks the first time that a college or university has used this kind of technology to reach out to its alumni and parents. The technology, called Community Phonecast, has also been used frequently by large political campaigns. The call cost $0.78 per household, which came out of the community and outreach budget.”It was very cost effective, much more so than direct mail, hosting a live event, or having Brian travel across the country,” Phenix said.The technology was completely computerized and involved entering the 18,000 phone numbers into a database, which the program then called and connected to at 7:30 p.m. CST. While the call was in session, Communications staff was able to see the phone numbers that were on the line, and were able to un-mute them for asking questions on the air. Participants of the phone call asked questions about rising tuition costs, the new need-aware admissions policy, and how Macalester is responding to criticisms that today’s college students are learning less and less. After answering each question, Rosenberg thanked each questioner for his or her continued involvement with Macalester.Though no explicit fundraising goals were set in place prior to the call, class reunion participation is expected to rise as a result of the call. Despite the spottiness of the connection and the occasional timing issue, the phone call proved to be original and highly successful.”People liked it a lot,” Rosenberg said. “We’ve done a good job, and we continue to do a better job creating closer connections with alumni and parents.”Scotch Tape, a co-ed a cappella group on campus, was standing by throughout the call to hear the results of a particpant poll which would determine which song to perform. Out of a choice of five songs, voters chose “Dear Old Macalester,” which the a cappella group performed at the end of the call. Another poll asked listeners to choose their favorite Macalester tradition. The winner: ringing the bell.”Some of you may know that ringing the bell was once traditionally done when students got engaged,” President Rosenberg said to his audience of thousands of alumni and parents. “I have no idea if the meaning has changed.”A recording of the call is available on the President’s web page at macaleter.edu/president.