When fourth-year in the College Margaret Hansen arrived at the first Senior Class Gift meeting early this fall, she was shocked to discover that the senior class gift had already been chosen. The students were told, much to their surprise, that as of 2003, every senior class gift will be a donation to Dean of Students in the College John Boyer's previously created college fund.
Hansen decided to participate in the senior class gift committee so that the arts, which she considers to be severely neglected on campus, would not be misrepresented. As the director of the Festival of the Arts (FOTA) last year and this year, Hansen has been one of the most forceful advocates for the arts on campus.
The majority of grants that FOTA distributed to students came from the senior class gift of 2000, which set up a $37,000 fine arts grant.
Since the class of 2000 chose to set up a fund for the arts, Hansen is upset that the class of 2003 will not have that choice.
This year, the college fund will have four allocations: financial aid, study abroad, internships, and faculty support. Seniors may choose which of the four they want to support as a class.
The University's development office refers to this type of gift as an unrestricted gift to the dean's college fund.
Although most students in attendance agreed that the four options are all noble choices for a senior class gift, many feel that it is not fair that the initial decision was made by the development office.
"They were highly encouraged by the Alumni Fund to give an unrestricted gift to the college fund," said Karen Alexander, director of public relations for the development office. "They were given no other choices."
It is not a new concept for seniors to donate their class gift to the more general College fund. The senior classes of 1998 and 2002 both gave unrestricted gifts to the Dean's college fund.
Many peer institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia have used this method to get students to support their College's aims instead of donating a plaque or a monument on campus. The latter is referred to as a restricted gift because it aims to raise a specific amount for a specific goal.
"The difference that the class of 1998 and 2002 had was that they chose to give an unrestricted gift to the College; the class of 2003 and those from now on will not have that choice," Hansen said. "What is being called a senior class gift is actually not a senior class gift at all, but instead a large unrestricted senior donation to the College fund."
Paul Kim, fundraising co-chair of the Senior Class Gift Committee, supports giving to the college fund. "I feel that any gift towards the fund is better than a monument," he said.
"It would be interesting if we could set up a fund for the arts, but there was no flexibility in the committee's decision. It would be nice to choose a gift, but I'm working within their choice, and I feel better that this will now be the tradition of the school," Kim said.
There are a number of reasons the development office believes a senior class gift of a donation to the college fund is beneficial, especially because recent alumni have contributed less to the College than alumni at peer institutions. The development office hopes this year's gift will boost senior participation.
Additionally, last year an outside donor named Peter May proposed a challenge that if 50 percent of the senior class participated in the senior class gift, then he would donate $25,000 to the gift.
Fifty-two percent of the class of 2002 participated, making their $4,000 senior class gift into a contribution of over $29,000.
Alexander could not say if May had proposed that same challenge this year.