President Levin held a Master’s Tea in Davenport this week, and I’m sure everyone had a grand old time. Master’s Teas generally give students the opportunity to get to know the speaker on a much deeper level, and this was no exception. Levin talked about his childhood in a Gypsy circus. He was candid about experimenting in the ’60s with a little peyote and a lot of free love. He admitted stealing a throw pillow from the Lincoln Bedroom, and I hear he spoke of his innermost fears and hopes. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
I really wanted to go, because I felt it was time I got to know the real Rick, the man behind the enigma. But I was afraid it might be dangerous for me to show up. After all, Levin probably knows I didn’t contribute to the senior class gift — I turned in my official donation form with a big “0” in the amount box.
Many of you alumni reading this column online probably think there’s something un-American and certainly un-Yalie about not sending Old Blue an annual kickback. And you’re no doubt incensed that I would not contribute to the gift of the class of 2002. Obviously, you say, I’m not a team player:
Bromley Sidwell Oxbridge VII ’29: “Take his diploma away. The ingrate doesn’t deserve to be called a Yale man. Here, here.”
Manservant: “Sire, he has not yet graduated, so he has no diploma to take.”
B.S.O.VII: “Well, then, for the way he disgraced their honor, the other seniors should take him out to the Fence and give him a vigorous whipping.”
Manservant: “Sire, the Senior Fence hasn’t been at Yale for many decades. And I’m pretty sure they can’t whip people anymore.”
B.S.O.VII: “Then they should feed him to the townies. Here, here.”
My photo is probably on a dartboard somewhere in the Office of Development. Ravi and Liz are going to take away my senior baseball cap privileges. The pipe Yale is going to give me at commencement might be laced with arsenic.
But if I get taken down, at least I’ll have company. That’s right. There are a lot of other people that didn’t give anything either.
Why would I ever do such a thing? I have a few reasons.
First, I would be much more supportive of the idea of a class gift if it was a physical something. A piece of sculpture, or a giant clock, or a bladderball — anything to which we could attach a note that said, “Here you go, Yale. We thought you might enjoy this. Of course, you could have bought this for yourself if you wanted, but receiving a gift is always much more pleasant. The receipt is in the gift bag.”
But no. We’re not giving Yale a something. We’re giving Yale cash. It’s hard for me to rally behind that. A “class gift” of $12,000, or however much we raise, is too impersonal, too corporate. Nothing says “I don’t know who you are” more than the gift of cash. That’s why your step-uncle just writes you a check every birthday.
Second, the class’s cash gift will be demeaned by its relative value. For Yale, $12,000 isn’t even a flash in the pan. President Levin’s raise last year was more than that. On the other hand, if the class of 2002 bought Yale a $3.50 yo-yo from Rite-Aid, at least we’d be able to point at the yo-yo and say, “Yep, that’s the only yo-yo Yale’s ever received. If Yale ever needs that yo-yo, it’s sure going to be glad it knew the class of 2002.”
Third, although we were given the option of specifying where we wanted our portion of the class gift to go, we weren’t all that impressed with most of the choices. I wouldn’t donate to “residential colleges” unless I could be assured that already-rich J.E. and Silliman would be barred from touching a red cent. I almost got tricked into giving my money to financial aid, but then a Silver Scholar filled me in on the dirty little secret: financial aid is already budgeted. So my donation would not make the financial aid resources any bigger. It would just allow Yale to use less of its own money to help needy students. In actuality, I would be donating to something else, like the down payment on Levin’s new speedboat.
Fourth, I was a little disturbed by the greed inherent in the payment options for my donation. The options included bursar billing. Apparently, stealing from our parents counts as a charitable donation, as long as Yale is at the receiving end.
Fifth, I just don’t think Yale needs my money as much as say, I do. Let’s compare financial statistics. Yale’s bank account: $10.7 billion. My bank account: $10.70.
Sixth, the people in charge of this donation drive are trying to make “participation” as high as possible. “Participation” in this case, however, does not mean “people who donated money to the class gift.” Someone decided that there was a $10 minimum to “count” as a donor. In other words, if you can’t give at least $10, don’t bother. The Office of Development farts in your general direction.
I told my mother that I didn’t want her to donate money to Yale, and she got very upset. She thought I wasn’t proud of my school or grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded. I explained to her that nothing could be further from the truth. I’d just rather give my money to someone or something that needs it more than I do. Like Habitat for Humanity. Or the victims of Sept. 11. Or earthquake victims in Afghanistan. Or M.C. Hammer.
I better shut my mouth before I go too far. I can hear President Levin cracking his knuckles.
JP Nogues is a senior in Davenport College. His columns appear on alternate Fridays.