Shut Up and Donate: For University of Chicago fourth-years, giving to the Senior Class Gift is a matter of the heart and the head

clock, by Lisa Bang

At the time of this writing, it is -2 degrees outside. My watch tells me it is 12:30 in the afternoon.

It is, in other words, too cold to sit outside and not necessary to look at a clock to find out what time it is. Another cold stone bench or a clock with a precarious relationship with the actual time would be an unnecessary addition to the Univeristy of Chicago campus. Despite the weather and the prevalence of alternative timepieces, debates about the Senior Class Gift have often focused on whether it would not be better to buy another bench or clock or some other thing on which we could engrave the number 2008.

It would not.

The Senior Class Gift used to be a thing, some item on campus that could memorialize a class. But think for a moment. Do you know–without looking–what class gave the C-bench to the University? And what could possibly top that? How do you beat a parabolic chamber? You can’t. Everything else is just a slab of concrete. The same goes for the clock outside the Regenstein Library. It’s a classic, and even when it does tell the correct time, it’s made redundant by the watches, cell phones, and iPods that also tell the time.

These days, the Senior Class gift is a donation to the College Fund, which helps finance programs like study abroad, internships, and financial aid. Far from being a slush fund for the University, the money goes to students of the future who also want to be able to afford college, get job experience, and “study” in Barcelona when it’s freezing in Chicago and too cold to sit outside on class benches. The Senior Class Gift now actually helps students. It’s a real legacy, if not a tangible one. As anyone who has ever taken a UofC economics class (or, you know, lived in the world) can attest, everything has a cost. There are no free lunches, just as there are no free scholarships or trips to Europe or Mexico.

When meeting with President Zimmer on February 8, most of the twenty-five selected students brought up issues in the College and various graduate departments that focused on money: paying graduate students to teach, developing new programs, planning and urban development, and so on. Everyone wants cash for their programs, and despite the cost of attending this fine institution, tuition doesn’t cover everything. Enter the College Fund. The University is an amazing place in part because it offers such a wide range of programs and opportunities for its undergraduates. A legacy that helps maintain that level of excellence is more important and ultimately more lasting than one more thing with which to clutter the quads.

Another objection to the College Fund, outside the desire for a landmark to point to and say “I helped pay for that!” is the feeling among poor college students that they are just that–poor. But it is important to keep in mind that the Senior Class Gift Committee is not asking you empty out your savings. If you can afford to order a pizza or go to Noodles, you can afford to support the College Fund. The minimum donation is $1.00. “It’s about getting as many people possible participating, not about the amount of money raised,” explains Amanda Aisen, a fourth-year on the Committee. Participation helps reach goals set by alumni who have made pledges, as Aisen explains, and most of the total raised will come from these participation challenges, not seniors’ trust funds. Though I’m sure they wouldn’t turn you down if you wanted to give them gobs and gobs of money.

“But what has the University done for me?” you cry, your hair askew and your fingers cramped after a paper-writing, lab-report-finishing, midterm-studying all-nighter. True, the University of Chicago will kick you in the head for four years. But at the end of that time, your brain is better for it. When you can out-think and out-perform your peers after graduation, you’ll appreciate the heartburn and the headaches. Even now, I suspect that the most vocal dissenters are actually the people who have the most fun discussing Plato and splicing genes. In the end, for better or worse, whether we like it or not, we love this place. Not always and not for everything, but the love-hate relationship does have a large element of love, even if we can’t admit it during finals.

One unfortunate element of the Senior Class Gift is the sense of obligation embedded in its marketing. “I don’t have very strong feelings about [the Senior Class Gift],” says fourth-year Jaclyn Seelagy. “But I wish they didn’t make you feel like it was an obligation to the school. Then it’s not a donation; it’s a payment.” But really, what compelling argument is there for not giving a few dollars to the school that will let you leave with an intellectual leg up over most other graduates in the world, the University that sent you to Paris for a quarter of pastries and romance (and even some classes), the College that smiles indulgently at student hijinks during Scav Hunt? Think about it. Over-analyze it all you want (this is, of course, still the University of Chicago.) There isn’t one.

Because we are a concentrated group of intelligent people, we argue and criticize, analyze and disagree. This does not mean that we don’t or cannot have pride in our school. Being self-deprecating and wearing “Where Fun Comes to Die” T-shirts doesn’t mean we can’t support the institution that kicked our collective ass for nearly half a decade. There are real challenges facing the University, including the continuing need for funds and constant vigilance to maintain our intellectual excellence and quirky culture. But the College Fund is not on our list of problems. Not giving because you have a beef with the Core or you spent all weekend working on a paper (and really, didn’t you procrastinate so you could go to a party last weekend?) will make a statement that is heard by exactly no one.

The Senior Class Gift is a unique opportunity for our class to speak together in support of our University. It is a chance to take ownership of the excellence found here and have a stake in the legacy of the Class of 2008. In a theory-driven institution, this is a way to do something and have a real impact. This concludes the kumbaya section.

I encourage everyone to donate to the Senior Class Gift. One dollar, one hundred, one thousand, or somewhere in between–anything you think you can do. I would also like to point out that I am not on the Senior Class Gift Committee, so I get no credit for this. And yes, I have made my donation.

But whatever you decide to do, please, please don’t ask for another bench. It’s just too damn cold here.