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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

What’s the deal with the senior gift?

Published: April 27, 2007
Section: Opinions

Youd think that four years of steady, on-time tuition payments would be enough. Youd think paying in to an absurdly overpriced meal plan would suffice. Youd think that several mandatory senior fees would finally quench the schools thirst for cash.
Not so fast, fellow students. Brandeis wants just a little more sugar before youre out for good.

Through every communications channel available, the Development office has begged and pleaded me to participate in a fundraiser they call the Class Gift. Ive been emailed, called (by Jehuda!), and mailed literature since the beginning of this year with requests to donate to the University. Ive even been offered cocktail parties and lunches with famous people just to get me to give. One of the last pitches will come next week at the Senior Sign Out, where if everything goes according to plan, Ill finally be accosted in person.

Certainly the school must see my gift as crucial to the Universitys survival. But before I give, Im asking why.

The Development website claims that my gift funds such diverse, worthwhile expenses such as my professors paychecks and university maintenance. Heres a thought: If the school is relying on broke seniors to pay its professors and keep the electricity and water flowing, maybe the administration should reorder its priorities. (We can probably stop building the ugliest buildings in New England, for example).

If the school is that desperate for another $10,000, why not just eliminate a position in the Development office? Since that department seems to have a plethora of spare manhours available to pester me about a class gift, Im sure some reorganization could take place there. Or maybe Jehuda can get a 3.2% paycut.

Of course, the school isnt in any financial trouble. It has a record endowment that is growing annually. It aint exactly Harvard, but Brandeis has amassed more than a half-a-billion dollars in its young life, much of that the product of Jehudas God-like fundraising ability. (Never mind about that paycut! Keep up the good work, Mr. President.)

The office would probably respond to my concerns by reminding of the effect the senior gift has on this schools US News and World Report rankings if I give enough, the schools ranking will go through the roof, theyd say, making my degree worth more than it already is.

This argument is, in the very least, misleading. It is true that an entire 5% of the scoring used in the US News methodology, according to their website, is allotted for the Alumni Giving Rate, which measures all giving for all alumni, regardless of their graduation date.

Id like to note, however, that 10% of the US News scoring is derived from per-student spending, defined as averaged spending per student oneducation expenditures. If Brandeis needs to immediately boost their position in this arbitrary, inconsequential ranking, why not just spend more on every student? Funds for this extra spending could come from some of the sources I mentioned earlier.

Since I cant find a single practical reason for the school to squander so many resources on asking me to give, I have the feeling more is at play here than meets the eye. Maybe the Development office uses the class gift to find out who, exactly, is most likely to donate in the future. Maybe senior gifters are on an alumni short-list the rest of their lives, and are called and emailed by Alumni Relations nine times as often as they call and email rest of us. Maybe Im just cynical.

Whatever the reasons, Ill be saying no to the senior grift.