Letter: Senior Class Gift boycott symbolically important

In response to “Invest in your peers” (Mar. 1) and “Letter: Senior Class Gift a gift for students” (Mar. 5).

By Letter to the Editor

There has been a flurry of discussion on campus and in the pages of the Maroon regarding the boycott of the Senior Class Gift (SCG) spearheaded by Students for a Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SRIC) and supported by numerous students. In light of these conversations, I am writing to clarify what I see as the goals and motivations of the boycott.

First, it is important to note that Lurie and LoBraico (in an op-ed), Dean Daugherty (in a letter), and I agree on the key issue at stake in this debate: The administration and Board of Trustees’ investment policies are opaque and unaccountable. As Lurie and LoBraico write, “[T]he community as a whole would greatly benefit from an increase in transparency with regard to [investment] decisions.”

What we disagree on is strategy, not aims. I see the boycott as an attempt to foster awareness about what student and alumni donations symbolize and contribute to. While it’s possible for Daugherty to provide details about how the College Fund supports student life, there is no mechanism in place for what I consider the University’s most important stakeholders—students, faculty, alumni—to review investments made on our behalf through the endowment. This opaqueness puts us out of step with many peer institutions, including Harvard and Brown, which have advisory committees that evaluate investments and make public recommendations directly to those responsible for the endowment. More importantly, this lack of transparency directly contradicts the spirit of free inquiry that supposedly guides our University.

While it may be true that the SCG goes directly to the College Fund, focusing on the money raised fails to acknowledge that this is not the campaign’s primary goal. The metric used to evaluate its success is the percentage of the senior class that participates, not the amount of money raised. The campaign is an expensive undertaking, and while matching donations contribute, the SCG Web site notes, “It is the act of giving that is important. Gifts of any size make a big difference.” The main goal, then, is to foster a culture of giving among soon-to-be alumni that will hopefully continue far into the future, aiding University fundraising efforts like the multi-billion dollar drive on which the Maroon reported on Tuesday, of which $250 million is intended for the College. Compare that to the record-setting $60,000 raised by SCG last year. As one of these soon-to-be-alumni, I hope I’ll be able to support a university whose policies and practices I am just as proud of as my four years here.

Boycotting the SCG is one of the only ways we can indicate our collective disapproval of current investment policies. Previous demands by students for increased transparency about the University’s financial holdings and investments, including petitions and meetings with individual administrators, have resulted in no concrete commitments or serious discussion. The SCG places graduating students in a uniquely powerful position to question the University’s policies through symbolic action. As fourth-years who love our university, we have a moral obligation to encourage it to be better. I encourage you to boycott the Senior Class Gift.

Gregor Siegmund, Class of 2013