Thursday, October 04, 2007

Perhaps you should talk to my friend, Sallie Mae

Faithful readers may recall how I regard INRU's periodic attempts to convince me that, without my "generous financial contribution," the institution will totter into immediate poverty and/or a lower slot in the U.S. News rankings. However, when I'm solicited as an alumna of INRU college, at least I understand why: many of my classmates are indeed making the big bucks, and we also tend, as a group, toward irrational nostalgia and institutional chauvinism.

Today, however, I received a solicitation from the dean of INRU's graduate school. It opened by conjuring up the inspirational sight of this year's crop of new graduate students at their matriculation ceremony, and. . . well, actually, that's where the dean lost me.

The matriculation ceremony? I'm supposed to feel a rush of nostalgia at that memory? (Or any memory from graduate school?)

I read an essay in the Chronicle a few years back where the author asserted that there was no one he knew who had gone to graduate school in the past 25 years who hadn't left feeling brutalized, and that pretty much matches my own experience. Were there good and even great things about my years in grad school? Well yes: there were a few. But were they things that I associate with the institution itself and its management of my education, teaching assignments, salary, et cetera? Fuck no.

More to the point, it's former graduate students--a group of people not known for its deep pockets--whom INRU is asking to send money. Sure, a few alumni may be biotech start-up millionaires or highly placed policy wonks, but that must be a small minority, and even those alumni are likely to feel more allegiance to their undergraduate alma maters than to the place where they received their MAs or PhDs.

Also: don't most of the graduate school's alumni probably work at institutions of higher education? And don't most of those institutions probably have--I'm just speculating here--vastly smaller endowments, operating budgets, and faculty salaries than INRU? So when I'm told that, without my contribution, INRU won't be able to continue offering competitive tuition and stipend packages to its incoming graduate students--well, I'm pretty much obliged to tell the dean to fuck right off.

Really, though, I wouldn't have given the letter a second glance had not something in the first paragraph jumped out at me: in the middle of describing that affecting scene at the matriculation ceremony, Dr. Dean writes that the sight renews feelings of inspiration "in returning students and faculty AND THE WONDER OF LEARNING."

Yes, that last phrase is all in caps--on his lovely, deanly letterhead (what did he think he was writing, a blog post?). And no, it doesn't make grammatical sense.

But you know, if this is who's running the institution these days. . . maybe I should write that cheque after all.


~profgrrrrl~ said...

Hmm. I do wonder about learning all the time. But I'm not sure I'd donate money to it.

phd me said...

Amen, sister! You will never convince me to donate to that particular institution. Graduate school holds no nostalgia for me; it was indeed brutal and those memories are best left to disappear into the mists of time. My undergrad? I loved it. My pittance isn't going to make a dent in their coffers but I'll happily write that check every year.

phd me said...

And by "that" institution, I mean mine, not yours. Just wanted to clear that up. :)

Belle said...

I agree; few people I know have warm fuzzy feelings for their grad institutions. I do (for #3 only), but would never give them money.

Has anyone else been hit up by your present institution? Every year we get this appeal for contributions to demonstrate our own support for the place we teach... My routine answer is that I'm already subsidizing by accepting a lower-than-comps salary. Doesnt' stop the appeals.

dance said...

I get hit up by my current place. They even offer to save me trouble with a monthly deduction from my paycheck. I believe depts with a 50% contribution rate are entered into a raffle.

Fifi Bluestocking said...

I just received such a letter from the place that employs me. Apparently it is not enough that I teach their students - I should be helping to fund them too. Ooh, I sound all bitter and twisted and I don't mean to. But the letter really guilt tripped me and made me seriously consider donating, even though having moved a great distance to start my job here and not being long out of grad school I really don't have much cash to spare. Does this happen to anyone else? I'm from a culture where this kind of philanthropy isn't at all common - and therefore neither are the guilt-trippy letters.

Fretful Porpentine said...

I do, in fact, have warm fuzzy feelings for my graduate department, but no particular loyalty to the institution as a whole (which, as far as I can tell, would rather support basketball than English). Any contributions I make would go to the English department, not the school. (And there won't be any for a while, seeing as how I'm a dirt-poor VAP and anything I can afford to donate will go to my undergrad institution, which has recently lost a ton of money in alumni donations because the president decided to do what was right rather than what was popular.)

Flavia said...

Belle & others:

Yes, I get hit up by RU, too. At first I just laughed and threw the stuff away, but then a colleague explained that many organizations and individual alums look at the percentage of faculty/staff giving as evidence of employee commitment to the institution when making their OWN gifts. And since it's just about the percentage who give *something*, I now have exactly $1 taken out of my paycheque every two weeks. (And honestly, it makes more sense to me to support RU, since its overall institutional health directly affects both me and my students!)

And Fretful:

I wouldn't rule out the possibility of giving money to INRU's English Dept, in the event that they were seeking it for a specific project, event, or facility (I don't believe they ask alumni for money--most funding decisions at INRU are made on a grad-school-wide basis). And I may EVEN, someday, start giving money to INRU again in my capacity as an undergraduate alumna, since I can earmark 100% of it for organizations like the marching band. But the Graduate School? A cold day in hell.

life_of_a_fool said...

Funny, I just got an alumni solicitation from my graduate institution as well. Of course I have been getting them ever since I was awarded my masters degree from there, i.e., for years while I was STILL A STUDENT (and paying tuition for part of that time). I do sort of have warm fuzzy feelings about the university (that started right around when I graduated), but the title of your post says it all for me.

I also got hit up by the university where I worked as an adjunct. I don't understand asking employees (particularly the lowest paid, but really just in general) for money. Haven't we all already demonstrated our commitment and made our contribution by working there? I don't get why this would be a factor for alumni donors either.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. The less money my employer pays me, the more likely it is to be successful in the long term. If I can make them pay me a ton, it is more likely to go out of business, thus costing me my job.

Somehow, this tragedy of the commons-esque problem has never made me feel guilty for my salary, and you won't find me asking me boss to cut my pay.

I tend to agree that choosing to spend one's time working in academia is your "donation," and that it is unnecessary to give back part of your salary to your employer, any more than it is with any other industry.

However, I certainly agree that it seems reasonable to make a token donation if that will help the school in its fundraising goals.

Mr. B. said...

I think targeted donations are best particularly for institutions that just seem to be accumulating a war chest - like Harvard.

So I usually give my little pittance to my undergrad major department and ONE of my grad major departments. The other one gets nothing.

As an impoverished academic you can always sidestep such requests by saying that you give at the office.

Sallie Mae is nice, too.

Ciao, Bonzo