A few weeks ago, I received an email from a sender called Senior Gift in a Box.
“It is our pleasure to bring you this brand spankin’ new video, ‘Senior Gift in a Box’” quoth the e-mail, providing a YouTube link for my clicking pleasure. “The video is an ode to the Senior Class Gift, which is a reflection of our class’ spirit and commitment to Yale.” The e-mail then told me that the Senior Gift is “also a competition among the colleges” and that I should “HAVE SOME 2007 PRIDE — LET’S BREAK RECORDS AND SHOW WE’RE THE MOST SPIRITED CLASS EVER!”
Skeptical but curious, I made my first huge mistake: I clicked on the link. I then made my second huge mistake: watching the entire video that played for me.
I call these things mistakes for reasons entirely separate from the video itself, the quality of which is immaterial to my ensuing irkedom. These were mistakes because they caused me to think a little too hard — as is my constant problem — about the tactics to which Yale was resorting in an attempt to get its claws into my wallet.
As I closed my browser window and made ready to punch an angry hole in my wall, I couldn’t help imagining a fictitious meeting at which the video might have been devised. In the meeting in my head, each residential college’s Senior Gift Coordinators file into a room and a creepy Yale Endowment manager (who for some reason looks in my mind’s eye a lot like Jafar from Aladdin, only female) speaks into a microphone with heavy feedback.
“No 22 year-old without a consulting job would ever donate a chunk of their modest post-graduate income to an institution with $20 billion in the bank,” she rasped, spittle spraying in all directions. “We’ll link the Senior Gift to class spirit, even though the two are totally unrelated. Then we’ll create an inter-college rivalry, even though that goes against the nature of what we’re doing. But that’s not enough — we need to find a way to reach the kids, something that’s ‘hip,’ maybe something from that ‘pop culture’ I’ve been hearing all about. IDEAS!”
The Senior Gift Coordinators look at one another in horror, and silence descends. Then one kid raises a tentative hand. “What about a “Dick in a Box” parody?” he stammers. “People love it. We could make a video and put it on YouTube … and then everyone will see how in touch we are, and they’ll donate.”
“Yeeeeeessssssss,” hisses the Endowment hag. “Peeeeerrrrrrrfect.”
As the hallucinated scene dissolved, I found myself wishing I could revoke, on principle, the donation I’d already made to the Senior Gift: I don’t like getting treated like an idiot — or a mark — especially not by an institution that’s supposed to respect (and increase?) my intelligence. If you want my money so much, I said to the fresh hole in the drywall of the stairwell, don’t treat the me the way an advertiser treats a consumer: Treat me the way you’d treat any other potential donor.
In the subsequent minutes, with the help of a glass of warm milk and a tummy-rub, the cooler of my heads prevailed. I reminded myself what the Senior Gift actually is, and why I’d chosen to contribute to it in the first place.
The Senior Gift is a donation Yale solicits from its outgoing class before we’re given our bachelor’s degrees, pats on the ass and mandates to achieve maximum earnings potential in our first years in the work force. Yale is an institution that operates on donated money, and it tries to instill the spirit of giving in its alumni as early as possible … namely, before they’re even alumni yet.
On its face, I don’t have a problem with the Senior Gift. I understand why Yale does it, why Yale considers it important and why Yale pushes so hard to get as many of its seniors to donate as possible. Not only does Yale need donations in order to keep providing a world-class education for lucky fucks like myself, it needs to put a full court press on all of its potential donors to give something — even a tiny, nominal sum — in order to boost its statistics in categories like “size of offensively large endowment,” “total money added to offensively large endowment per annum,” and “percentage of eligible donors who contributed to total money added to offensively large endowment.”
Yes, I’ve paraphrased the statistics involved. Slightly. The point is that Yale has to perform well in these categories in order to match up well against other, similar institutions and to rank as high as possible on U.S. News and World Report’s list of best colleges — a ranking that, for some unknown and nefarious reason, includes lots of statistics of that type.
Actually, the reason statistics like that are taken to account is pretty obvious: Shit like that is measurable, as opposed to shit like “Are the teachers good?” or “Are the students happy?” Like all social science endeavors, ranking colleges objectively is a statistician’s nightmare, since important issues aren’t quantifiable, and quantifiable things make a nicer, more functional rubric. So it’s not an unknown and nefarious reason … just a nefarious one.
It’s a fucked up formula, and the resulting situation Yale faces is pretty fucked up too. They feel they “need” the statistical results in order to compete. And that’s why they’ll employ whatever tactics necessary to get those results … including stooping to the lowest common denominators (playing on Yalies’ Pavlovian response to competition) to get the job done.
So, Yale: I get why you’re doing it. I sympathize. But I’m still pissed about being treated like a mark, instead of like a partner — and, what’s more, I’m right. That’s why I don’t feel bad at all about invoicing you to pay for the damage done to my back staircase as a result of your unsavory tactics.
I’ll expect a check in the mail by next Friday. A check in a box.
David Chernicoff would like to suggest a simple formula for getting his money in the future: 1) cut a hole in a box; 2) put your junk in that box; 3) approach me like I’m an adult worthy of respect. That’s how you do it.