EDWARDS: A gift, not a statistic

Once, while walking down York Street next to my beloved Jonathan Edwards College, a homeless man shouted to me and asked, “Hey you! What’s the best nation in the world?”

I stared at him with a blank look on my face before responding. “Uh … Bangladesh?” I said.

“No, no, my friend. The best nation is a do-nation.” Amused by his pitch, I gave him a dollar. It was an unexpected moment of philanthropy. In any case, it was worth it for the entertainment, and I gave willingly.

This month, we have a different type of beggar flagging us down on the street — our own classmates. February marks the start of senior class gift fundraising. Earlier in the year, Yale seniors received an email urging us to participate in this year’s class gift effort. Since the beginning of this month, the emails have become more frequent and even more urgent. But I will not be participating.

First and foremost, the senior class gift is not treated as a gift but as an entitlement. Having lived with seniors last year, I witnessed firsthand senior class gift coordinators — and even administrators of Yale College — haranguing a suitemate, coming to the suite and demanding a nominal gift of $5. After about a week of what I would call harassment and even written appeals from the dean and master, my suitemate finally succumbed to the pressure. And so his donation was marked down in the books as another percentage point in JE’s heralded 100 percent participation rate.

But just how much of that 100 percent was voluntary? I doubt all of those donations were done as willingly as mine on York Street some time ago.

But wait a minute. This campaign is called the senior class gift. Aren’t gifts supposed to be voluntary? Well, maybe not. As the Senior Class Gift coordinators see it, it is your duty as a Yale undergraduate to keep the dollars flowing back to the institution’s coffers. To me, this senior class gift feels more like a senior class tax expected of my classmates and me, with non-payment punished with shame and alienation.

I also take objection to how some of the senior class gift funds are allocated. Don’t get me wrong; these gifts go to a lot of areas of the University worthy of support. The funds raised by the senior class gift campaign can support Yale College’s financial aid fund, our libraries, general undergraduate life and the facilities budget. These are all great, and if I were to give, I would gladly help finance all of those causes.

However, the senior class gift is also partially allocated to fund what the campaign’s website refers to as “Faculty Support and Curriculum Development.” This one-line item piqued my interest. Aren’t faculty support and curriculum development among the primary budgetary costs of Yale College? When did the senior class gift become part of the operating budget? Who decided to start funding essential costs of Yale College with gifts?

This feels just a little bit too presumptuous. To me, it feels like my gift will just end up fulfilling some kind of donation quota for senior class gift coordinators. To me, it feels like someone in the budget office doesn’t necessarily view the senior class gift as a voluntary donation.

Let me be clear: I don’t have a grudge against Yale College. As I’ve said, I would be happy to support many of the elements of the Yale experience that the senior class gift supports. However, the gift has become more of bureaucratic requirement than a thoughtful, concrete donation. I may give to Yale in the future, but for now, I’m holding off.

David Edwards is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at david.edwards@yale.edu.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    “a different type of beggar”

    An unfortunately elitist choice of words.

    PK

    • Dedwards

      beg·garˈbe-gər
      noun
      1 : one that begs; especially : a person who lives by asking for gifts
      2 : pauper
      3 : fellow 4c
      Examples
      I heard you won the contest! You lucky beggar!
      the pitiful beggars that are such a common sight in underdeveloped countries
      Origin: Middle English beggere, beggare, from beggen to beg + -ere, -are 2-er.
      First use: 13th century
      Synonyms: mendicant, panhandler

      I think “obsequious mendicant” would have been elitist.

    • CX

      Comrade Paul, how many beggars of either kind have you given to in the past month?

      • River_Tam

        Something something vermont.

  • RexMottram08

    One should only give to Yale if it is possible to control the purpose of the expenditure.

  • River_Tam

    Have you ever been to Bangladesh? Why would you pick it?

    • Dedwards

      i thought it was funny

  • River_Tam

    I support David “Related to Jonathan?” Edwards’ sentiment completely. Great column.

    • Dedwards

      correct. thanks river_tam, much appreciated

  • ashe12

    you can specify the destination of your gift. personally, I chose to have it go toward financial aid.

  • Inigo_Montoya

    RexMottram08 wrote:
    >One should only give to Yale if it is possible to control the purpose of the expenditure.

    ashe12 wrote:
    >you can specify the destination of your gift. personally, I chose to have it go toward financial aid.

    Unless you can make a very large donation to a very underfunded (in your eyes) area, restricted donations don’t actually alter Yale’s spending patterns, because money is fungible. The vast majority of Yale donations are unrestricted. The areas in which Yale encourages restricted donations (e.g. financial aid) have huge budgets. So your $5 “to financial aid” just means 5 fewer unrestricted dollars to financial aid. To make a difference in Yale’s spending patterns with tied donations, you need to give a lot of money (specifically more than the difference between Yale’s current budget in that area and the total quantity of tied donations in that area[1]).

    [1] This is a bit of a simplification. Some earmarked donations go into the endowment. With those, I believe (though I’m not sure) that Yale calculates the percentage of the endowment “earmarked for financial aid,” and is then obligated to spend at least that percentage of the annual return on financial aid. That number comes out to less than the financial aid budget.

    • RexMottram08

      Exactly. Save your pennies until you can endow a departmental chair in something worthwhile (hint: not WGSS)

  • yale_senior

    I don’t really understand lines like this: “it is your duty as a Yale undergraduate to keep the dollars flowing back to the institution’s coffers”

    Why do people thing the Senior Class Gift is somehow evil? Where do they think the money is going? To Levin’s yacht? Caviar at the development office?

    Students say, Yale is just doing that because it wants more money. That is exactly the reason! But the money goes directly back to the students. Yale undergraduates should understand how after the recession, when Yale’s endowment lost 6 billion dollars (a 30% drop) departments stopped hiring, construction was put on hold, graduate students were cut, but the undergraduate experience stayed essentially the same.

    Now Yale is just trying to raise money from seniors because after a three-week fund raising drive that usually raises less than half a semesters tuition, Yale gets an incredible platform by which it can ask larger donors to contribute. The reason Yale focuses on participation is because it’s absolutely true that beyond $10 they are essentially raising what they would get anyway from a student’s parents. But the participation is crucial and shows that current Yale students support the Yale experience and want to see it continue to grow.

    • RexMottram08

      It would be nice if Yale focused on educating students instead of funding 4 years of Disneyworld in New Haven.

      • CrazyBus

        You can learn a lot in 4 years at Disney World. Just depends on who you’re talking to and what you’re doing there. Epcot?

        • River_Tam

          I hear Animal Kingdom is a little too sciency for the humanities majors.

    • Dedwards

      sounds like you are an SCG coordinator

  • yale_senior

    I hope david you one day have a chance to speak to one of Yale big donors and hear just how much they care about whether you decide to give your $10 or not – it is much more than you expect.

    • Dedwards

      how sure are you that i haven’t already talked to several of Yale’s ‘big donors’?

      And I hope that you one day realize how much of a business of fundraising higher education has become! As for those ‘big donors’ most do it for the tax exemption because when choosing between Yale and the IRS you choose the lesser evil.

      • ImportImages

        Commenting on your own column… poor form.

        • River_Tam

          How so?

        • CBKM

          How is engaging with people responding to one’s ideas poor form exactly?… This isn’t the NYT or WSJ. Give me a break.

        • Dedwards

          thanks for adding to the debate

      • thomasyoung

        As an alumnus who has given what I can over the years, I side with Yale Senior on this point. I’m sorry that it sounds like your peers are pushing you hard on this issue – but like everywhere else these days, raising money has become even more important for universities to stay competitive. Great universities aren’t free, someone has to pay for it, and today it is even more expensive to do so than it used to be. While my gifts are small, I am glad to do my part in supporting education. Plus, as a democrat who works in a well-paying upper-middle class job, I think my taxes need to be raised anyway to support public goods, such as education. My thinking is, rather than wait for Washington to get its act together, I can support the issues I care about today.

        I would also say that I doubt most donors who give large, or even small donations for that matter, see it as a lesser of two evils. First of all, donations are counted against taxable income, so if I donate $100 dollars to a cause, I only pay $30 fewer in taxes (in my case). But more importantly, I think I can speak for other alumni who give when I say that we don’t see it as an evil at all! And we are proud to see all that young Yalies are accomplishing.

        I wish you best of luck in your future endeavors,

        Thomas Young ’75

  • eli1

    If Yale wants to be serious about addressing harassment, it should really take a look at the senior class gift chairs. I have never been more uncomfortable in my life than waking up to find 5+ emails and voicemails from people I don’t know basically demanding that I give to the class gift. These emails even extended into the faculty as well. Even though I had very legitimate reasons not to give to the class gift I finally gave in and sent in my 5 bucks to get them off my back. Like he said, the class gift is not a tax; it should be a thoughfully considered act. I personally would rather certain Yale organizations have my money than the University itself, and I regret giving into the harassment.

  • jamesdakrn

    I would be all for it if the money went to giving everyone a bottle of scotch and an oz of Cali medical weed

  • CX

    The simple fact that educating you for 4 years costs much more than the full cost of tuition means you should give. And if you actually had a good experience here, all the more reason.

  • cyalie

    It’s just grooming, voluntary or not.

  • The Anti-Yale

    @CX:

    Since you beg the question:

    I prefer the word ‘homeless person” to ‘beggar’.

    When I worked at my first job at Stop and Shop in Hamden as a high school student in 1961, every day a taxi would deliver a man whose legs had been amputated to the front door of the store and he would sit on the sidewalk with a hat full of pencils for sale.

    We chatted often and he told me he made approximately $80.00 a day that way. (In 1961 that was $400 a week or $20,000 a year, $7,500 more than my father made as Director of Labor Relations for Landers, Frary and Clark in New Britain.)

    Some would say that working as a teacher for the first thirteen years of my career at a salary which Yale certified as “hardship” status, was a donation to the public good.

    I have donated thousands of hours to twelve-step programs over the past 30 years to help those who profit from them, as well as to improve my own way of life.

    When my income improved with the addition of a third master’s degree in 1997, recalling my own academic struggles to make ends meet, I donated at zero cost to a Dartmouth student, a mother-in-law apartment in my home each year for five years, (approximately $5000 non-tax-deductible gift a year) until H.R. Block told me I would have to declare the student’s income on my own income tax forms unless they the student paid rent—-an impossible expense for me.

    Beggars are in the eye of the beholder.

    Judge not, lest ye be judged.

    PK

  • River_Tam

    I saw this comment, I hardly think it qualifies as violating the usage agreement.

    • jamesdakrn

      Thank you, River Tam.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “River_Tam 6 hours, 21 minutes ago
    I saw this comment, I hardly think it qualifies as violating the usage agreement.”

    I hope all the censorship in this thread isn’t a knee-jerk reverting to the Cartoon-Controversy intimidation Yale allowed itself to become the target of a couple of years ago. That was an unfortunate low in freedom of thought and speech at Yale.

    PK