Sunday, January 09, 2005

College Donations

Do you know how often I get shaken down for cash by all the schools I've ever gone to? College, high school, even grade school. I get letters from grade school several times a year asking for contributions. After I finish my current grad program, yet another school is going to start leveling old-growth trees by the hundreds to send me endless letters asking for cash.

Here's the big question. Let's say I have a charity budget for the year. I don't, but let's say I did. Wouldn't I donate it to cancer research, or to the homeless, or mentally ill, or the red cross, or something worthwhile? Wouldn't I send the money somewhere where it could be put to actual charitable use?

Do you know, do you have any idea how low on my list of charitable priorities is the idea of giving money to a university for, say, a new athletic facility? Do you know how much good shape the world would have to be in before I considered charity for a bloated, wealthy private school that had already milked my family for obscene tuition for years?

I read about these people in Manila, they live on and in these gigantic garbage landfills. They live in garbage, creating little hovels for themselves out of bathtubs and particle board and whatever else they find. They send out their own kids every day to scavenge through the freshest garbage to salvage anything they can that can be traded on the junk market for a couple of cents. Every once in a while a storm blows through and destroys all their homes, but it's hard to tell, because it was all just a pile of garbage anyway. If I had money for charities, the garbage people would be first on my list.

But forget about all that, my high school wants to build a brand new parking structure! Complete with elevator access for the handicapped and elderly! Won't you send a check? Think about all those great childhood memories.

That's really the hook, isn't it? These schools always couple their requests for cash with an appeal to those warm, fuzzy memories. Another tactic is to dole out honorary shit left and right. Want your name on a bench? No problem. Want to join the exclusive ranks of "Friends of the Headmaster", thereby earning a coveted invitation to the annual headmaster's wine and cheese party? You think I'm making that stuff up, but it's true. My grade school assigns you a ranking based on how much you donate. Here are the categories:

Julius Caesar ($25,000 and above) Orsino ($2,500 - $4,999)
Prospero ($15,000 - $24,999) Benedick ($1,000 - $2,499)
Othello ($10,000 - $14,999) Mercutio ($500 - $999)
Oberon ($7,500 - $9,999) Orlando ($100 - $499)
Hotspur ($5,000 - $7,499) Ariel ($1 - $99)

Looking this over, I'd say if I had to donate, I'd give $499. Better to be the mack daddy of all the Orlandos than your basic, run of the mill Mercutio.

And the people who name buildings after themselves. Ooooh I hate that. What kind of ego do you have to have to want a building named after yourself? Who the hell are you? I could see, maybe, if your donations entirely financed a brand new building, the school would give you the honor of selecting the person to name it after. But even then, you wouldn't name it after yourself. If it was a science building, you'd pick your favorite scientist, or something like that.

The only time I could see naming a building after yourself is if you were an established mafia boss looking to appear legitimate in the community. Then you'd want to name the new children's library after yourself. And maybe put your wife on the board.

But I digress. What I was saying was that schools hand out the honorary names and dish out the artificial pomp like it's an old fashioned European sale of a noble title. And I guess it works.

Even if I decided I wanted to make a donation to a school, or toward education, why pick my own schools? Any school that's going to award you the title of Prospero for a donation can't really be doing that badly. I would probably weigh a bunch of different scholarship programs and see which one had the best track record of taking disadvantaged kids and getting them a quality education.

Here is the only charitable gift I am currently prepared to make to all my old schools. I am prepared to make a donation of free envelopes, printer ink, letter-size paper, several dozens of stamps, staples, and an hour of free clerical/administrative labor time. All they have to do is stop sending me regular donation requests, and my gift will gradually accumulate, all by itself, in their offices, over a period of years. I think that's pretty generous.

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