Yale just ended a three-week campaign to raise money for the Senior Class Gift. For seniors, this is just the beginning of a long relationship with the Development Office — and with Yale’s fundraising machine.
Through student representatives and repeated e-mails, the University encouraged and cajoled us to donate. Each college set up a Senior Class Gift Council. For those who gave, there was a happy hour, a talk by David Swensen and a cocktail party at the master’s house. The three colleges with the highest participation rate are awarded a $1,000 prize.
It seems like an awful lot of effort just to get me to give the measly $5 minimum. But then, it’s the participation rate Yale cares about, not the amount. Yale knows that someone who gives once is far more likely to give again. It wants to get young alums in the habit of giving, so that if they ever come into a sizable fortune and are hankering to find other hands to hold it, Yale will be on the list.
So when Yale asks for a donation, before reaching into your pocketbook, stop and think about what you’re getting yourself into. Giving $5 is not the same as spending $5 on a burger at Louis’ Lunch. It signals a commitment to giving and an approval of Yale’s use of its funds.
Enjoying your time here doesn’t mean you approve of Yale’s funding decisions. The senior class gift Web site says, “Giving to Yale shows your class pride.” But I wish we would separate the gratitude we feel for our experience from the act of giving money.
I feel privileged to have had such rich experiences at Yale. I have grown academically, and more importantly, I have grown as a person. But most of what I’ve learned has come from interacting with my peers and professors.
The lavish expenditures Yale devotes to beautifying the school and providing luxuries are only incidental to the actual learning experience.
Many of my classmates who donated say they gave to support financial aid; therefore they gave restricted funds. But we all know money is fungible. Your money may be directed at financial aid, but Yale will just redirect some of its budget elsewhere.
Yale uses its donations to compete in an arms race with other elite universities and vies for top students and top professors by creating a material paradise.
Yale should end this practice and direct all future donations toward research or financial aid. The undergraduate experience lacks nothing that money can buy.
Instead Yale constantly builds and renovates. In my four years here I can think of at least nine buildings on top of the four residential colleges that have been built or renovated. There are surely more.
We learn to expect that everything will be perfectly clean and new, that every classroom will have a full range of AV equipment, that snow on the ground will be immediately cleared away by a swarm of day laborers, and that we will get grants for summer vacations — er, research — in exotic countries. It’s easy to forget that Yale is a non-profit working for the greater good — that is, a good greater than personal luxury.
I think many of us disapprove of this arms race. Unfortunately a vestige of our imperialist sense of nationalism encourages us to give anyway. We may feel the arms race is bad, but as long as it’s going to happen, we want Yale to win. It’s like saying that as long as colonization is happening, we want England to win.
But if it’s a dirty race, we shouldn’t be in it in the first place.
Giving to Yale isn’t a bad thing to do; it’s just that there are a lot more pressing causes out there. Give to help the environment, to stop diseases or to control the population explosion. These are causes that desperately need money. If we all stopped giving to Yale, the University would have to cut back on spending, but it would still be an elite institution that provides far more than most schools can hope to.
While it’s too late for me to stop seniors from giving this year, in the future I hope alumni will consider thwarting the efforts of the Development Office.
The reason to withhold donations is not because Yale isn’t doing a good job, but rather because it’s doing a great job. It doesn’t need more money. It’s an unfortunate tradition that showing appreciation has to come in the form of money.
Tyler Ibbotson-Sindelar is a senior in Branford College.