7 percent of fourth-years chip in to begin class gift campaign

By Ethan Jewett

A line of fourth-years across the Ida Noyes lobby waited to see Old School at Doc Films on Monday January 17. The film, free for graduating seniors, marked the kick-off of the senior class gift campaign.

Every year the senior class bestows a gift upon the University. Previous class gifts have included the C-Bench outside of Cobb, the clock outside the Reg, and the doors to the Ratner Athletics Center. Now, however, the senior class gift goes into the College Fund, a tradition that began with the gift of the class of 2002.

Koren Phillips and Lakshmi Shenoy, fourth-years in the College, serve as co-chairs of the class of 2005 Senior Gift Committee, which raises the money for the gift. “We’re the manpower,” Shenoy said. “We go out and plan activities and tell the members of the class about the gift.”

When students give to this year’s class gift, the money will eventually go to the College Fund, as it has since 2002. The gift to the College Fund, Phillips and Shenoy said, is a better destination for the senior class gift than is buying a structural object because it is flexible and “will improve the quality of the college experience.”

“The University doesn’t need more physical things,” Phillips added. “It needs the money to make the college experience possible.” The College Fund, Phillips and Shenoy explained, goes towards internships, RSOs, financial aid, study abroad, and faculty resources. If they want to, graduating students can restrict their gift to one area of the college fund.

Caroline Swartz-Zern, a fourth-year in the College, had not heard of the class gift: “Senior gift? What senior gift?” Other fourth-years, like Jared Weiss, do not know what the gift is but have heard of its name through other students and the commemorative plaque in the Reynolds Club.

Thus far about seven percent of the graduating class has donated to the 2005 senior class gift. Phillips and Shenoy characterized this as a healthy pace of giving, noting they are only three weeks into this year’s campaign.

The movie at Doc attracted about 75 fourth-years, of whom slightly more than 10 donated to the class gift.

Ever since the Senior Gift Committee of 2002 decided to give to the College Fund, the class gift has been commemorated by an entry on a plaque in the Reynolds Club lobby. While the plaque notes gifts ranging from $29,899 in 2002 to $36,539 last year, these numbers can be misleading. The total money raised from students has not exceeded $5,000 in the last three years. The additional money comes from matching donations, the largest of which is a yearly donation of $25,000 by Peter May, after whom May House was named. May’s gift is contingent upon 50 percent of the graduating class donating to the senior class gift.

Karyn Ullman, assistant director of Young Alumni Giving, organizes big-donor support to the committee. The main goal of the senior gift is twofold, she explained. “The Gift Committee tries to make students more aware of philanthropy and how it relates to the University and to get students involved in giving.” The senior gift, she said, is the earliest and best opportunity for students to start giving.

“One thing that sets the University of Chicago apart from peer institutions is that we are not as well endowed,” Phillips said. “The senior gift is trying to establish a pattern of giving. We’re only looking for a dollar.”