Having attended public schools up until Yale, the notion of donating to a private school is foreign to me. Watching Yale’s fundraising machine fire up in search of donations from the graduating class has intrigued me these past few weeks.
One guest columnist for the News recently wrote that Yale “necessitates our giving back however we can,” lauding the “generous privileges” of Yale and indicating that she’d “hate to see the [Senior Class Gift] die off” (“Paying it forward,” Mar. 3, 2017).
Fundraiser-in-chief and University President Peter Salovey shared similar sentiments in a letter to the News, claiming that donating to Yale “is one of the great privileges of my life,” and going on to imply that one of the “responsibilities” conferred on Yalies upon graduating includes “giving back” (“Giving back,” Mar. 3, 2017).
There’s nothing wrong with those arguments. In fact, I agree that financial aid is most of what nudges Yale closer and closer to becoming a true meritocracy and engine of social mobility. And like it or not, financial aid can be attributed in large part to alumni donors. This is worthy and important.
However, I don’t agree with the guilt tripping laced in some of the pitches I’ve read to soon-to-be graduates and alumni. This conflation of love for Yale and donation to Yale exposes yet another blindness to financial realities of many students here. This blindness manifests in many ways.
First, those for whom alumni donations do the most good — those who may, in fact, have the most appreciation for Yale — are the exact same students who are least likely to be in a position to donate to the class gift. And later in our lives, not all of us will be able to throw our money at the University to achieve our own ends. In this, I’m talking about the donations some alumni make to get their name on a building or to purchase a Yale College acceptance for a relative. These donations, the big ones, are the ones that warrant shoutouts in those YaleNews emails. I’d, maybe naively, argue that all of the other ways for a recent graduate to “give back” to Yale — by interviewing applicants, for instance, or simply reminiscing to those outside Yale about the good that went on during their time here — fulfills a “responsibility” to Yale just as well as a hefty check or a strange residential college name preference.
Second, Yale isn’t a real charity, and it shouldn’t act like it is. Sure, Yale is technically a nonprofit institution. Sometimes, it helps lower-income people. But still, it is intensely bureaucratic. It also, don’t forget, charges a lot for tuition. For most people, a quarter of a million dollars in four years is a lot of money. Some may argue that donors are the reason the tuition bill isn’t even higher. I argue that considering donations to Yale without keeping in mind how much young people have already paid this University is ridiculous. Not to mention the student income contribution.
Third, even people who do have the means to donate might not have Yale at the top of their list. They might look at the issue in terms of effective altruism, by which donors aim to give through the highest-impact channels, getting the most philanthropic bang for their buck. I’d wager that there are many charities out there that need our money more than Yale does.
If the city of New Haven, for example, wants to remain a sanctuary city, it may need significant donations to make up for a potential dip in federal funding. The people this helps — refugees, who are some of the most vulnerable people in this country — are in far more critical a situation than the Yalies who’d love a new dance studio or the opportunity to study abroad in Auckland. Or what about donating to a local public school so that more students can graduate high school and attend college, even if that college doesn’t happen to be Yale?
My point is simple. If you have the means to donate and you think Yale’s a worthy cause, you should donate. If you have the means to donate and you think there are other causes that would make a greater impact with your charity, donate to those other causes. And you shouldn’t apologize to Yale for it. In the end, Yale is but one choice in a marketplace of good causes. Making a choice different from what a senior gift officer or university president would like doesn’t make you any less proud of being a Yalie or any less committed to the “rights and responsibilities” Yale confers upon its graduates. And Yale should stop pretending otherwise.
Emil Friedman is a freshman in Silliman College. His column usually runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .