This year, like so many years past, the proud graduating seniors will march across Columbia's deep green South lawns and straight into ... an economic recession. Many of us are not sure what we will be doing in the next few months, much less for the rest of our lives. Some of us have already decided to continue our educations in graduate schools and have bowed to the inevitable financial debt that accompanies such a decision. Some have entry-level jobs lined up, which will most likely demand long hours, repetitive work, and little compensation.
Before these wonderful prospects become realities, however, the seniors have already had to cope with our soon-to-be alma mater trying to convince us that, even though many of us have very little in the way of income, we should send some of it Columbia's way.
This voluntary donation to Columbia is known as the "Senior Fund." The recommended donation is a minimum 10 dollars, and the undergraduate pushers of the Fund have even gone to the trouble of allowing students to use Flex points to donate. The Fund's promoters stand outside every senior event held on Columbia property, exhorting passing seniors to donate to Columbia. They even come to seniors' rooms, in groups, in order to "encourage" donations. This shameless tactic is nothing more than aggressive peer pressure disguised as do-gooder school spirit. Additionally, there is a list of seniors who haven't given, which is available to anyone remotely connected with the Fund, so that the supporters can pick out such transgressors and demand an explanation of their deviant behavior. I have not given to the Senior Fund. As a result, I have been approached by members of the Columbia fundraising community on venues as various as AIM, a Ruggles party, and during a run in Central Park.
The major reason for all the pressure surrounding giving is that the larger the percentage of the senior class that can be cited as having given to the Fund, the more concerned about and involved with Columbia that class appears to be. This, the Fund's supporters claim, encourages older alumni to give because it seems that Columbia's current students are happy with the University. The supporters also unfailingly remind every senior that the gift is "only 10 dollars--and you can swipe it!"
Well, la-dee-da. Only 10 dollars? If it is such a paltry amount, why does Columbia need it? Will it really encourage other alumni to give? Why don't the Fund's supporters go straight to these golden geese more often and hit them up for cash, since many seniors are experiencing a (hopefully temporary) shortage of the stuff.
In order to demonstrate to the cash-rich alums the current students' involvement, why not cite percentages of students who are hard at work on both a major and a concentration, or even multiple majors, or who are active in the arts? These activities are obviously a more accurate portrayal of the extent to which many students engage in Columbia than is the percentage of seniors who give to a Fund because the University tells them to do so.
As for swiping the money, I am sure that the students and administrators who created such a possibility are not so dull-witted as to think that the rest of the Columbia population has not, after four years, figured out that swiping is just taking money from their parents. Compared to academic or artistic endeavors, University-supported nicking of 10 dollars from one's parents at the age of 21 or 22 seems a grossly and embarrassing activity.
So, the Senior Fund asks seniors to give money to Columbia--an institution to which either they, their parents, or their parents' bank (or a combination of the three) have already given a great deal of money. However, to make this request even more presumptuous than it already is, the Fund asks that seniors give to an institution that they might not even like at this point in their lives.
Coming into their senior year, students have two years of experience with bureaucratic frustrations regarding everything from seminar access to space for rehearsals and intramural practices, making them loathe to give any sum of money to Columbia. I say two years and not three because Columbia's first-year programs are, in my opinion, highly successful; sophomores and juniors, however, seem to fall off Columbia's administrative radar.
Sophomores and juniors receive the worst housing, non-existent advising, and limitations on access to upper level classes. In contrast with the administration's refusal to acknowledge them, however, these students are the most involved with undergraduate life at Columbia. Dedicating much of their time to undergraduate life, they run organizations like Orchesis and the "Varsity Show," the Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism and Spec, all of which are usually headed by seniors but staffed by sophomores and juniors.
If Columbia wants seniors to give to the University voluntarily then it should concentrate on improving the lives of its sophomores and juniors so that they do not enter their final year convinced that the administration cares very little about undergrads. It should improve its financial support of the large variety of undergraduate-run clubs. These groups range from organizations like the American Society of Engineers to the Art History Underground. The former group was established at Columbia this year and experienced a great deal of bureaucratic hassle while trying to acquire University financial support, while the latter currently receives no support from the school and must hold bake sales in order to maintain its existence. Such frustrating situations are common for clubs , and the University needs to realize that expecting investment in Columbia from graduation seniors first requires the University's investment in undergrads throughout a student's tenure here.
When President Bollinger stood on that silly wooden cake in the rain last October, listening to the rude jeers of a crowd of undergrads at his feet, he and those who support programs like the Senior Fund should have realized that a great rift exists between the administration and the undergraduate population. This problem cannot be solved by the distribution of foam crowns and the commission of special graduation robes (upon which, by the way, two 'Columbia 250'-emblazoned tabs will rest like velveteen pasties atop each breast of the graduating female population). Until the University addresses the problems of the second and third undergraduate years, and until those requesting donations are required to approach seniors with dignity instead of overt aggressiveness, the administration cannot realistically expect this year's seniors, or future ones, to further damage their bank accounts on Columbia's behalf.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in history.