OP-EDS

  /  

April 23, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: To give or not to give?

Matt Barnum and SCG co-chair Jessie Reuteler debate the merits of donating to senior class gift

» Dear Jessie,

I received an e-mail the other day from the Senior Class Gift (SCG) Committee, tempting me to go to the Reynolds Club with an offer of a free bagel and coffee. I like bagels and I like coffee, so indeed I was tempted. But I decided not to take advantage of the appealing offer. Not just because of the inevitable snake-like lines and frenzied incompetence of the C-Shop employees, but also because I don’t know if I support the SCG, and I don’t know if I plan to give any money to it.

The SCG website’s attempt to persuade me hasn’t worked so far. In answering my main question of why I should donate, it says, in whole: “…because the Senior Class Gift supports the College Fund.”

Okay…then why should I give to the College Fund? Well, the website lists a bunch of pretty cool things that the Fund supports—ranging from financial aid to funding study-abroad programs—and yet I’m still unconvinced. I still don’t understand why I should pay for some future student to do many of the things I just got done paying for myself. I know this, or some form of it, is an all-too-common argument—one I’m sure you personally hear all too often—but I still think it’s an important one.

Look, come to me with your free bagel and coffee in twenty years. Maybe then I’ll feel in a position to help out students at my alma mater. But right now I’m not. Yes, $20—oh, sorry, I mean $20.10—won’t break my bank account; but then, my $20.10 donation to the U of C isn’t going to make a big difference either. In fact, I would venture that I need my $20.10 more than the U of C needs it.

So why the Senior Class Gift? Why not just have a good young-alumni outreach program, and then, down the road, tap into those of us who are prepared and able to give back?

Best,

Matt

» Dear Matt,

First and foremost, you’re crazy not to take that free bagel and coffee. Free lunches may not exist, but free breakfasts do. At least (on Aramark’s dime) for seniors, they do. Better get on that last one in May,, Barnum.

As for why the College Fund, you’re right, it does cover some pretty cool items—small class sizes, student activities, and internships, to name a few more. The College Fund covers the best aspects of our undergraduate experience—the very things that make up, for many of us, what it means to “go to UChicago.”

However, your tuition doesn’t pay for all these core experiences on its own. Frustrating as it may seem, just “paying for yourself” does not cover the most memorable features of our undergraduate experience. Alumni donations and the entirely alumni-supported College Fund do. Truthfully, our opportunities are the result of generations of alumni support—not spiraling tuition rates.

Moreover, these College alumni put forth this money to provide us with experiences they never had. We’ve all met alumni at Taking the Next Step or CAPS who have drooled over the internship, study abroad, travel, and research opportunities we’ve had.

Finally, why does your $20.10 matter now? Because you are here now. As a graduating senior, you know exactly what the College has done for you. And after learning about the College Fund, you know exactly what you need to do for the College. Make that first gift while the experience is fresh, and ensure that you’ll be a responsible and engaged member of the larger Chicago community that is 400,000 affiliates strong.

Reppin’ that sen10r pride,

Jessie

» Jessie,

Maybe you’re right—with your blessing I might just take SCG up on its offer of a bagel and a coffee.

As for supporting the College Fund, I genuinely appreciate alumni who have helped fund my time here. I’m not sure, though, that this implies any sort of obligation on my end. My view is that alumni gave me a gift, not that it was some sort of pay-it-forward deal. (And that’s holding aside the idea that some donations come for selfish reasons, like improving the value of a U of C degree.) But I do understand where you’re coming from: If I value some of my experiences at the U of C, then I should consider trying to help other people have those same experiences. Fair enough. I also think it’s fair to say that we should consider donating while our experience is fresh.

On a separate point, I’d like to add my distaste for the notion that some alumni will only donate money if students achieve a certain donation level. I understand the point of it, but doesn’t it make you feel a little uncomfortable that James Crown will withhold money if we don’t reach some (arbitrary) total donation amount? Obviously, I appreciate his generosity, but I’m personally a little turned off by the gimmicky nature of this.

Yours,

Matt

» Matt,

As the cute-back-when-he-was-prepubescent Haley Joel Osment once said, “When someone does you a big favor, don’t pay it back...pay it forward.” It’s entirely up to you if you want to help out future UChicagoans, but the Trustee Challenge you mention is what makes any gift you do make a lot more productive.

As for your dubbing Trustees’ Crown and Fyfe’s participation challenge (i.e. to engage 85% of seniors—and not some arbitrary dollar amount) as “gimmicky,” I think you’re looking at it all wrong. Quite to the contrary, I think instituting a challenge that incrementally contributes up to $60,000 to our Gift as more seniors participate, makes my gift a lot more exciting than it would be in isolation.

Here I am, having just spent all that money on tuition, but after finding out some of my favorite aspects of the College were paid for otherwise, I go to make a gift towards that great cause...and I contribute $20.10. Yeah, it’s a sizable amount of money for me (one less round of the classy beer at the Pub tonight, guys), but it’s no $50,000.

Crown and Fyfe, two admirable guys who are probably bringing in more money than I could ever dream of, have made this conditional offer such that my $20.10 gift becomes a lot more than it seems. Both financially—should we hit 85% participation, for every gift a senior makes, their gift (no matter its size) is amplified by $50.50 in Trustee Challenge money—and symbolically—we can’t get to 85% without nearly every single senior going online or up to the Reynolds Club table and making whatever gift is meaningful to them.

After all, how satisfying is any goal without recognition for crossing the finish line?

Yours in philanthropic debate,

Jessie

» Jessie,

I gotta admit: You kind of won me over about the Trustees’ contribution. It does seem like a good way to make students’ gifts more meaningful.

So I have one last question for you: How would you pitch SCG to someone, like me, who perhaps feels ambivalent about his experience at the U of C? Obviously, I got a great education and had a lot of great moments here; but there were bad moments. I don’t want to make this a litany of my grievances against the U of C, but there was the Core, for one. (I just want to shout it from a rooftop, or something: I hate the Core.)

I know that that’s not quite the point. But for me, somehow, it is. This isn’t really a fair argument to ask you to respond to—you can’t refute my feelings—but at the same time I see it as one of the fundamental obstacles to a successful SCG.

So even if you’ve out-argued me—and you have—what this comes down to is not argument, but instinct. My instinct says, “meh” to SCG; yours says “woooh!”

I guess that’s what I’ve been forced to resort to—trying to win a debate by rejecting the validity of the debate itself.

Sheepishly yours,

Matt

» Matt,

I appreciate your kind words. It’s true, I doubt that many students leave Chicago on a train of euphoric bliss, thinking, “There was no way this experience could have been any better!” But there’s a good reason for that. It’s not that we haven’t had a meaningful time, it’s that we’ve been trained too well to uncritically embrace everything thrown at us. After all those years (in the CORE, I ight add, sheesh) of developing our critical thinking skills, we’re renowned for not letting any situation go unanalyzed.

It’s for this reason I don’t think a senior should think that healthy skepticism towards certain aspects of the University automatically negates a motivation to contribute to SCG. Your instinct doesn’t have to say OMG YES towards the College or to SCG. All you need to do is take a moment and hone in on what aspect of your time here you really did appreciate and enjoy. Was it an arts grant you received that helped you fund a project? Was it the people and resources an RSO provided? Was it a new professor who outperformed all the tenured ones?

Don’t read this list as a check-list; everyone has his or her own meaningful memories as we go towards graduation. SCG is a chance to do justice to those experiences. I’d expect every senior to have a unique reason for giving.

After all, when you think of mini-Matt-Barnum, worrying four years ago over which college to attend, you’d probably want him to have as many chances as he could to find his niche and to justify his decision to come here. You cannot deny that better funding makes those sorts of experiences possible.

Say “meh” to those experiences you’ve had here that deserve it; chip in as little as a dollar towards SCG to pay tribute to those that made your time here worth it.

Sincerely,

Jessie

—Matt Barnum and Jessie Reuteler are fourth-years in the College majoring in Psychology. Jessie Reuteler is co-chair of Senior Class Gift Committee.

MOST READ