Friday, December 08, 2006

Got a million to spare?

My 10th-year college reunion is this coming June. As if that event alone weren't reason enough for me to start reflecting on all my inadequacies, today I received a letter from my class reunion chair soliciting donations for our class gift.

Now, I never had any intention of contributing to this gift (I may have written in the past about when and why I stopped making my annual $25-50 donation to Instant Name Recognition U, and the explanatory letters that I wrote to my class secretary, the dean of the college, and the dean of the graduate school, and to which I received no reply), but I opened the letter and read it anyway.

Apparently, INRU is in the midst of a new capital campaign. I wasn't, actually, aware that the old one had ended--I suspect that they never really do end, just change their names--but our reunion chair was all burbly with excitement about the opportunities that this offered those of us desperate to give our money away:
In line with the University's priority to renovate campus facilities, two challenges are underway: an initiative that will match dollar-for-dollar outright gifts and pledges from $25,000 to $1,000,000 for [Important Building X]'s recent renovation, and a [Important Building Y] Challenge that will also match all new gifts or pledges of $10,000 to $500,000 for its restoration, which has recently begun. Both initiatives offer Class reunion fundraising credit and individual recognition opportunities for twice the amount of any qualifying gift. Recognition opportunities are limited, and on a first come, first served basis.
Okay, I'm going to try not to throw myself out of my second-story window at the thought that there might be someone in my graduating class either interested in or able to donate $10,000+ to my alma mater, because what I find most interesting are those last two sentences. The implication seems to be that a large number of us might well have tens of thousands of dollars lying around, but we're too chintzy to donate it if we think we'd only get recognized for it once--and that we would, moreover, jump at the chance to donate a mere $50,000 (say), if we could publicly claim to have donated $100,000. In fact, there are so many of us with pots of money lying around, and so greedy to be seen as even fatter cats than we are, that we'd better act fast--recognition opportunities are limited!

And then there's the final paragraph:
I hope you are as eager as I am to give back to [INRU]--an institution that has given us so much. [INRU] and your fellow classmates appreciate your commitment to our alma mater and to the Class of 1997.
Now, you know what? INRU probably gave me more than it gave the punk who wrote this letter: it gave me three degrees, my closest friends, and what I will admit was both an amazing education and a great set of personal and professional connections. I am the person I am today because of that school.

But that B.A. and M.A. were fully paid for (well, except for those pesky, outstanding loans, but nevermind them). It's probably untrue that my labor as a TA and as an instructor fully covered the expenses of my Ph.D., but I'm smart enough to know that alumni giving has no meaningful relation to grad student stipends--or to the wages that the university pays its clerical/technical/maintenance workers--anyway. I also know that there's no way to earmark any donations specifically for those purposes.

And that, ultimately, is what I find so frustrating about these solicitations: I wish that I did have that kind of money to give, if only so that the university would care enough to listen to my reasons for not giving it.


Wol said...

I appreciate this post, because I feel the same way about Certain Snooty U. Although I got a fair education there and did finish my degree there in record time, the experience was not one I would repeat nor recommend to anyone else. My spouse attended Certain Snooty U. for his grad work, and had a terrible experience rife with departmental politics, two warring advisors, and worse. Every year they call us both to ask for money. We're nice to the students who do the asking--it's their work-study, after all, and politely explain that never, ever, in a million years would we give money to Certain Snooty U. Like you, I wish sometimes that it was known that I had just zillions and zillions, so that it would sting them more when I don't share it with them.

Thanks for the post.

ZaPaper said...

Wow Flavia, you and I are of an age. Aren't I a slow-poke. I also went to an INRU; wonder if it's the same one. I appreciated the snarkiness about the never-ending exciting campaign. Whenever I get one of those letters, I treat it as if it has come to the wrong address by accident. In a way that's true. The audience for those letters isn't you and me. It's the kids who are currently running daddy's business.

Anonymous said...

i too wish i had lots o money only for the fact that i would pretend to give it to them if they changed x and y. and then would yell "fake."

Anonymous said...

I give to my undergrad college, but not my grad school, also an INRU which doesn't treat its workers terribly well. Possibly the same? At any rate, I don't think they've hit me up for money since I sent them a frosty letter explaining I wouldn't give until they had better labor relations. I still can't ditch their self-congratulatory alumni newsletter, however.

jw said...

I rolled my eyes at "I am the person I am today because of that school" because that's such a gross oversimplification. I don't give any institution that much credit, and you shouldn't either. You are who you are for working so damn hard. INRU got lucky that you didn't drop out like so many.

I once did make buckets of money, and I still had a difficult time giving it to Wealthy Religious U where I did my undergrad. How can anyone who slogs their way through an underappreciated English department ever feel good about giving money to their school? The business departments are always so beautiful, well kept, and updated.

Then again, by not giving I suppose I'm perpetuating the problem. Fortunately, I don't have the money anymore. Whew: moral crisis averted.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous reader,

It's been a while since she's mentioned it, but Flavia has sent INRU a number of angry missives about why she won't give them any $$ on principle. The solicitations continue, however.

--GWB, Flavia's s.o.

(Who gives no money to INRU or to his SLAC undergrad alma mater)

kfluff said...

I have no doubt that my grad institution (which has one of the best alumni giving rates in the country) has a good deal to do with getting my foot in the door at my current institution. Yet, I've never agreed with some of their choices, which are getting more and more disturbing (and limiting to academic freedom) as time goes on.

I've also tried to get them to stop sending solicitations, and explaining why I won't give. But they just keep coming. I hold out hope that if enough alums raise a stink, they might change their ways. I shouldn't hold my breath, but I'll hold out some hope...

Anonymous said...

I sometimes amuse myself by daydreaming that I've won a large enough lottery that I can donate 10 million to My U. They would dance and sing like Rockettes for me! It would be snarky fun to watch this, and put lots of conditions on the money. I don't play the lottery, of course.

I would like to donate to my undergraduate U, but I'm reluctant to because I know my first donation would begin the eternal flood of solicitation.