Every year, someone writes a piece in the News condemning the Senior Class Gift, and this year has been no exception. This time, even University President Peter Salovey has joined the discussion about student donations. But despite the best efforts of the SCG committee, participation in the fundraising campaign has declined year after year for the past three years.
To be honest, I don’t really care about the philosophical arguments for and against donating. What’s more interesting is the comically inept way that the Senior Class Gift has been marketed. If Yale wants more donations from the senior class, there’s a fairly straightforward way to get them: Be transparent about where the money goes.
It’s bizarre that the Senior Class Gift is marketed as a way to “give thanks” to Yale for all it’s done for us. Spare me the didactic sermons about how unappreciative my generation is for our education. My education is a service that I’m paying for with my tuition. To those who point out that our tuition doesn’t cover the cost of our attendance — that sounds more like poor management on Yale’s part rather than a positive reason for me to donate (and besides, it’s not like Yale’s hurting for money anyway).
Instead of treating a donation as a way to do something nice for the school, the Senior Class Gift is often framed as a moral responsibility for students. This kind of framing is the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of why people donate. Yale donors aren’t altruists. They’re not donating because of some deep philosophical belief in the mission of the University; they shell out money because they want to see some tangible benefit to their own communities. Seniors in college are no exception. To be sure, we can channel donations to one of six awfully broad categories within the Alumni Fund, but there doesn’t seem to be any follow up on our donations. I’ll be much more likely to donate next year if someone points out specific programs that were made possible by the gift from the class of 2017, and I’m sure the class of 2017 would love such an update too. Yale should already be accounting for spending from the Alumni Fund somewhere; why not release that information?
Without such transparency, the Senior Class Gift seems like yet another bill from an organization that has already taken up to a quarter of a million dollars from families and saddled some students with mountains of debt. For students receiving financial aid, it’s a request that has come after four years of being required to work multiple jobs to fulfill the student income contribution and four years of constant nagging to write “Thank You” letters to the families of named scholarship donors. With such a backdrop, is it any surprise that seniors decide not to donate — especially after seeing the administration drag its heels on things like mental health reform and the Calhoun name change?
I have yet to hear a credible defense of Yale’s opaque decision-making process. It’s true that the University doesn’t owe us an explanation for everything that it does, but it’s also natural that many students feel they don’t owe the school more money either. One of the reasons Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway is so beloved by students is that he seems accessible and constantly makes an effort to reach out. Events like his “Lunches with Dr. J” are a brilliant way to make students feel a connection with him, and by extension the Yale College Dean’s Office. I appreciate that he takes students seriously. University President Salovey, on the other hand, never seems to engage with students directly; more than a few were miffed that he didn’t even mention student activism in his email about the Grace Hopper decision, for example.
To stem the fall in participation in the Senior Class Gift, the University needs to stop treating us as children to mollify. Presumably the administration doesn’t think we’re stupid; they admitted us to Yale. We’re capable of understanding that the University has long-term financial considerations to keep in mind. If the University wants more donations, however, students need to know where their money will be going.
Shreyas Tirumala is a junior in Trumbull College. His columns run on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .