11th 2013
Philanthropy: nostalgia, disgust, and objective value

Posted under: childhood, jobs, local news, students, unhappy endings, weirdness

cowgirlgunsign1For the past twenty years or so, I’ve been a semi-regular donor to my private undergraduate college.*  I write some pretty big checks in reunion years, and while I sometimes miss a year or two, I’ve given that institution between $1000-1,500 in the past four years.  On the other hand, the pleas from my graduate institution go right into the recycling bin, as does their monthly alumni magazine.  (Honestly:  what a waste of paper and fuel!)  When I get mail from this university, I am disgusted that this large, private research university (which benefits from all kinds of government contracts, including morally objectionable work for the Pentagon, etc.) dares to ask me (me!)for a share of my modest income.

But let’s think about which institution has done the most to help me earn that modest income:  clearly, it’s my graduate institution, which granted me the Ph.D. that made me eligible to work as a tenure-track historian in the first place.  Besides:  my undergraduate college charged me and my parents thousands of dollars a year for the honor of matriculating, whereas I went to grad school for free!  It’s true:  I had a T.A.ship and two years of dissertation support, so I not only didn’t have to pay or even borrow a dime, they paid me!  So why do I react with such disgust and resentment when my graduate institution asks me for money?  That seems pretty unfair, doesn’t it?  But the fact of the matter is that I was happy in college, and I was (mostly) unhappy in graduate school, at least in my first year there.

College for me was the perfect combination of liberty and indulgence, with only the responsibility to do well in school and make some money to pay for my books and other expenses and contribute a few thousand dollars a year to help pay for tuition, room, and board.  I made friends for life there and had experiences that still make us laugh in the remembrance.  Whereas in my first semester of grad school, the man with whom I was having a love affair turned out to have another girlfriend, which I discovered when he invited us both to the same event:  imagine my mortification.  In my second semester of grad school, an envious classmate (I had a fellowship, she was paying tuition) spread rumors about me.  And, oh yeah:  as a pedestrian, I was hit by a car!  Only one of these three misfortunes was even remotely connected to my graduate institution, and as the History department treated me fairly I can hardly complain about the department or university themselves.  But, still:  I was unhappy.  I spent most of the winter of 1991 in bed reading all of the novels of Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway and wondering why I would burst into tears for no apparent reason.  Clearly, I was depressed, but being a naturally happy person I had no idea what was going on.

So, my graduate institution can’t really rely on my nostalgia for that time in my life now, can it?  And nostalgia seems to be a huge part of philanthropy in higher education.  Reflecting on my different emotional reactions to these standard requests for alumni support has made me think about separating my emotions from my philanthropic impulses.  That it’s taken me this long to figure it out is my fault.  However, I don’t think I’m alone in this privileging of support for my undergraduate institution–for example, my husband similarly favors his undergrad school, and although he had good times and made lifelong friends in medical school, to my knowledge he doesn’t support it at all.  Clearly, we need to reevaluate our philanthropic priorities.

Which educational institutions do you support, and why?  Have you had to overcome some disgust in order to write those checks?

*Let me just stipulate that private colleges and universities are hardly the neediest of philanthropies.  My household’s largest cash donations go to the Weld County Food Bank.


52 Responses to “Philanthropy: nostalgia, disgust, and objective value”

  1. quixote on 11 Dec 2013 at 8:23 am #

    My undergrad school has an endowment big enough to fund the space program. They don’t even try to send me begging letters anymore. And my grad school did treat me unfairly, grossly unfairly, the same way they treated everyone else. It was just how they roll. So not a dime there either. (Although they’re stupider. They keep trying.)

    Saves a lot of money, but, honestly, I think I’d rather have the fond memories.

    Philanthropy, I think, is wired to flow toward love.

  2. Historiann on 11 Dec 2013 at 9:29 am #

    You said it best, quioxte: wired to flow toward love. That’s it. But is it right?

  3. Matt_L on 11 Dec 2013 at 9:37 am #

    I have to admit that I have not donated more than a couple hundred bucks to any institution of higher education I’ve attended. I gave a couple of c-notes to a scholarship fund established by my PhD Adviser and his wife when he retired from the school. I have a lot of good will towards my Doktorvater and his spouse. But to be honest, my philanthropy at this point is a pittance, and it only happens once in a great while.

    I had a great experience in grad school and the people I met there are still my longest lasting, nearest and dearest friends. But I also see grad school as inherently exploitative. I would probably give more to my graduate institutions if I did not feel like “I already gave at the office.”

    More bluntly, if I hadn’t spent the better part of my late 20s and early 30s doing academic scutwork so some Oxbridge boor could use his 2/2 teaching load to publish more articles on the Commissary and Logistics policies of Napoleon’s army in Italy, I’d feel obliged to be more generous than I have been towards the program and university.

    I have no illusions that this type of fundraising by universities trades in nostalgia and good feelings. I like Quixote’s formulation. “Philanthropy… is wired to flow toward love.” So if you don’t feel the love, don’t donate Historiann!

  4. Ruth on 11 Dec 2013 at 9:45 am #

    Mr. RMK and I do our philanthropy jointly, and we give mostly to our undergraduate institution, which he attended essentially for free because his family income meant that he got very generous financial aid. He feels the need to give back. I also donate to my current employer, specifically for graduate student financial aid.

  5. Western Dave on 11 Dec 2013 at 9:52 am #

    Very interesting post. I always give a little to my exceedingly wealthy undergrad SLAC because it was fabulous and participation rates matter for outside funders.

    I don’t send my grad school, U of Michigan anything, but they definitely need the money. I feel I was somewhat exploited there (although some of that was my fault for not knowing how the game was played or refusing to take advice about that). If there were a way to know that the money were going to grad students, I’d be more inclined to give. OTOH, given the overproduction of PHDs, I don’t really feel right helping them produce even more, either.

  6. Historiann on 11 Dec 2013 at 10:05 am #

    See–this is what I’m talking about! Most of you (like me) have ambivalent feelings to disgust for your grad schools. But we were all (I’m assuming–feel free to correct me) beneficiaries of graduate education, and I’m guessing that most of us went to these schools on fellowships. Why shouldn’t we contribute to pay it forward?

    I’m sure there are ways to designate where you money goes if you care to look for them, Dave. You could perhaps donate to a travel fund for students who are already dissertating? That way, your money won’t be used to lure unsuspecting young things into the grad school trap, and instead will help those already ensnared spring themselves. Contact your grad department for details.

  7. Matt_L on 11 Dec 2013 at 10:25 am #


    Of course you are right about paying it forward, which is why I was happy to kick in for the scholarship. But like the Catholic Church, I don’t think it is responsible to give money to chronically mismanaged organizations where there is little to no accountability at the top.

    I’ll give more when they (The public R1′s where I attended grad school) stop taking so many grad students; do a better job of training those grad students in pedagogy (that is they actually take a couple of classes on how to teach college); require all the tenured profs to teach more; demand teaching excellence from all tenured faculty, not just the handful that earn the honorary teaching excellence award. I’d even donate money to a fund established to accomplish those goals.

  8. Matt_L on 11 Dec 2013 at 10:26 am #

    (and yes I feel a little defensive and should probably pry open the checkbook a little bit more. Call me Scrooge McPhD. I’ll mend my ways!)

  9. Historiann on 11 Dec 2013 at 10:36 am #

    Don’t be defensive–all I did this morning was write about why I haven’t donated to my grad school alma mater. I’m still looking at the plastic-encased alumni mag from that school sitting on my office floor, wondering if I’m just going to unwrap it to recycle it or if I’ll write a check this week.

    Another reason I haven’t donated–one I forgot to mention: the semester after I graduated with my Ph.D., I wrote a check to the research institute I’ve supported there. I received a thank-you note back addressed to “Dr. and Mrs. B.T. Scrivener,” and was I pissed off! I couldn’t believe that my own institution 1) ignored my signature on the check, and 2) was innocent of my degree. I also wrote to complain that on top of that, the note was incorrectly addressed because we weren’t even married, so I was absolutely no Mrs. Scrivener to them or to anyone. (I never use the title “Dr.” so I didn’t care about NOT being addressed as Dr. and Dr. I just resented being addressed as a Mrs.)

    I got a note of apology, but pretty much stopped donating after that sexist shitshow.

  10. Nicoleandmaggie on 11 Dec 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Pretty much the same, only without the love affair or getting hit by a car. I did do therapy in grad school! And my undergrad was very happy.

    Also, that Dr. and Mrs. Shit is something my high school pulled. He didn’t have his doctorate yet and I did. Assholes. They get nothing. NOTHING. (I dug into their database and changed my salutation to Rear Admiral and my address to Leavemethehella Lane.)

    Of course, the government messed up my grandma’s tombstone. They thought her late husband was the Captain and she the civilian (she was a flight nurse in WWII, and captain of her unit, he was a non-military counselor). So the military funeral went without a tombstone. Sexist jerks.

  11. Flavia on 11 Dec 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    I’ve written about this before, but I give only a token amount to my undergrad and PhD institution (I went to the same place). I’m very grateful for what it gave me, but it’s one of the wealthiest goddamn schools in the country, and I’m really turned off by the way their appeals are so nakedly about nostalgia and are often so tone-deaf about the relative “need” of different organizations for philanthropic donations.

    As for paying it forward: I hope I’m doing that by trying to build relationships with or mentor current graduate students. Indeed, I would give my graduate program quite a lot of my time, if they asked for or wanted it, to talk about life post-degree, or about teaching at a less prestigious institution, etc. (Instead, I guess I just blog!)

    I’d also consider giving money *just* to the English department, if there were a way of doing so, and especially if it were earmarked for things like conference travel, professional development, etc. But I’m not aware that there is.

  12. Contingent Cassandra on 11 Dec 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    I’ve given selectively but not regularly to my (R1, private, Ivy, very well-endowed) undergraduate institution (which has an institute and library, named for the former women’s college from which I also officially graduated, which focuses mostly on women/women’s history, which makes things easier; when I donate, I donate to the institute). I can’t remember ever giving to my (very similar) grad institution, but I also didn’t have a good experience there (in fact, the further away I get from the experience, the more appalled I am at how badly the grad program in my department was run). Grad institution has been stepping up its outreach to grad alumnae recently, but only in a celebratory mode; it shows no signs of wanting to hear from grad alumnae who would be interested in talking about the problems they encountered, and ongoing issues with the academic employment market, and how things might be improved. Also, though I was fully funded, most of the support came courtesy of a national fellowship (I did have TA support for two years, but I spent those teaching, without an advisor, and with nobody noticing I didn’t have an advisor, so I think we’re at least even on that one).

    I might donate toward a targeted fund at grad institution that alleviated some of the problems I encountered (e.g. summer support/a dissertation-proposal-writing workshop in the summer after generals, or a program that substituted paid alt-ac internships for some TAing). I’d also contribute enthusiastically if either my grad or undergrad institution decided to try creating a model teaching-oriented tenure track within their otherwise research-oriented institutions (something I think we need to consider nationwide, and they’re both big enough names to be influential).

    My charitable giving goes to my church (which in turn funnels a considerable portion of the funds contributed to charities that meet basic needs at home and abroad, as well as providing various kinds of care and mostly non-financial support to its own members, including young families and an increasing number of frail elderly people), and to local charities (mostly focused on hunger, medical needs, and homelessness — the latter my way of dealing with the fact that I have neighbors who live on the street near my home, and I don’t give to them directly — and a bit on self-help/self-development (microfinance and similar) and environmental issues. We’ve got a local catalog that focuses on small, effective charities, and I tend to choose from that, in part because it allows me to donate anonymously, from the charities’ point of view, thus preventing them from spending money on multiple follow-up solicitation).

    I also consider my willingness to work for a public institution of higher learning for considerably less than I could earn in the private or government sectors (or in a tenure-track job) a contribution of sorts to higher ed. I don’t, however, give often to my current employer (mostly because I think they seriously underpay me, and the work I do doesn’t get much attention in the fundraising materials, which, like all fundraising materials, tend toward the disgustingly self-congratulatory).

    That’s another interesting question for professors, by the way: do you contribute to your current employer? Why or why not?

  13. Historiann on 11 Dec 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    Flavia, you bring up an interesting point about mentoring. I wonder why grad departments don’t call on their alumni to do this more. (I guess because they don’t want to admit that not everyone who graduates gets a job at an R-1?) It’s a shame because I think a lot of people would be interested to hear what you have to say about the first 10 (or so) years of your professional life.

    I think if you looked into it, there probably *is* a way for you to target your money if you wanted to. Institutions are getting much more sophisticated about development, and most unis are encouraging departments to start buttering up alumni and prospective donors.

    n&m: what a sad story about your grandmother’s tombstone. I’m glad you (or someone in your family) made a stink.

  14. Contingent Cassandra on 11 Dec 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    One way to sum up my attitude toward giving to my undergrad and grad institutions, and to my current employer: I’m unwilling to support the status quo (and especially unwilling to appear to be concurring in celebrations of the status quo) in higher ed. If any of them did something to recognize and address what I see as the current problems with higher ed (especially treatment of the people who actually do, or will do, the bulk of the teaching, especially in intro/core classes), I’d contribute enthusiastically to that effort.

    And as long as that option isn’t available, I’m thinking that I should consider giving to organizations that are calling attention to those problems (e.g. New Faculty Majority). That might make for an interesting campaign: replying to our alma maters’ fundraising attempts with letters saying that all or part of the contribution they might have gotten has gone instead to an organization we see as better addressing the problems in higher ed. Of course, that might work better if we’d been contributing all along ;)

  15. Comradde PhysioProffe on 11 Dec 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    I only donate to my prep school, and not to any institutions of higher learning.

  16. Comradde PhysioProffe on 11 Dec 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    “Don’t be defensive–all I did this morning was write about why I haven’t donated to my grad school alma mater. I’m still looking at the plastic-encased alumni mag from that school sitting on my office floor, wondering if I’m just going to unwrap it to recycle it or if I’ll write a check this week.”

    Hahahahahah! Those fuckes keep finding me every time I move to send me that fucken alumni rag.

  17. Jonathan Rees on 11 Dec 2013 at 4:18 pm #


    I favor my grad school because they desperately need the money while my undergrad institution (if memory serves me well) is where you went to grad school. I’ll give when Trump gives, a.k.a. never.

  18. koshembos on 11 Dec 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    Went to grad school late, had kids, school didn’t treat me particularly well and the school today doesn’t even resemble where I went to school. I did well after school. Every month I send my grad school money; it’s not millions but it’s useful.

    I send to other organizations, Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, food banks, anti racial organizations and for fighting poverty. I wish I had more to give.

  19. Janice on 11 Dec 2013 at 5:59 pm #

    My undergraduate institution has an impressive endowment for a public university. They don’t need my money but they sure try hard.

    My graduate institution really doesn’t need my donation as it’s one of the richest in the country. They’ve occasionally gotten my money as they reach out to M.A. and Ph.D. grads through phone campaigns staffed by current grad students. I have to give them top marks for nuanced and attentive appeals overall. Well done, guys!

    They’re not getting any donations at the present, however, as Eldest is now doing her undergrad there and while she has a nice scholarship, we still have to pay for all the rest of the package.

    The university that employs me at present is younger than either of those, modestly endowed and serves a lot of first-generation students. My university philanthropy is largely focused there. Some may see it as self-serving to consider it philanthropy when you donate to your employer, but I know it makes more of a difference.

  20. truffula on 11 Dec 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    How about donating to scholarships or other funds at folks’ current institutions? I assume that most, like my former employer in the US, a big but non-flagship state university, have internal giving campaigns.

    The nature of the fundraising appeals I get varies. My undergraduate school was a small state university with a narrow focus. They emphasize opportunity for students who are now like you were once, in a fairly populist way. I’ve never given them anything because I was not actually much like them (politically) and continue to not be, though I consider the education I got there to have been top-notch and important to me.

    My MS school, a flagship state university, markets straightforward nostalgia and self-defined greatness. I’ve given only to a named scholarship that was a grassroots effort in honor of somebody (not my adviser) whom I admire quite a lot. My true loyalty is to my adviser, who was happy, reasonable, and excellent in a sea of infighting. He’s dead now. I did not donate “in his honor” because I thought they loved him (or the potential of him) more in sickness and in death than they ever did in life.

    My PhD school, a private uni packed to the rafters with laureats of assorted types just knows how good it is, as do its graduates. The pitch at this end of the spectrum also seems to be “students who are now like you were once” but in an entirely different way. I actually read that alumni magazine because the articles are about interesting research all across campus. I love my department there and the university but have never given them a cent. Again, my loyalty is to my adviser and I show this by working with hir on scholarly-community minded projects.

    I did make regular contributions to scholarship funds in my department at my former employer in the US, a few of significant size. I loved those students–often non-traditional, solidly middle-class, and striving for something–and could see exactly how the contributions would help. This is nostalgia of a sort, but for the experience of being a student, not for the experience of the institution, per se.

  21. truffula on 11 Dec 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    Ha! Janice addressed my question while I was writing it.

  22. Indyanna on 11 Dec 2013 at 6:55 pm #

    A great essay, which I really enjoyed and learned from. I was on the road all day, so too late to get in on the comments thread in any meaningful way. I remember some of these events, but not all, and certainly not the matrix of them. I’ve given only a tiny amount, lifetime, to my undergraduate college, which could probably use more, and which was pretty foundational for me. Like Comrade, I’ve given much more–but probably still not enough–to the old prep, which was even more foundational. My run through the research institute you mention was really my second trip through graduate school, with the distraction of having to write a dissertation dispensed with by the fact of (sort of) having done that already. That way, I could sit back and actually learn a little history from some incredible scholars, including you, Historiann. So I do write moderately appropriate checks to what I still anachronistically call “Bennett Hall” for its benefit. (The only two other things that I’ve “repeated” in academic life were the 9th grade, and junior high school, which I’m still repeating even as I write).

    I think nostalgia of a sort is at the heart of whatever we do about these things, although academic nostalgia works in funny ways. As for monetarily supporting the institution at which one currently works and pours ones blood into, I’ve totally ruled that out, although we get these treacly appeals to do so on a regular basis. It was even recently hinted to us that the institution is making a list and checking it twice as to our “lifetime” donations record. Ugh. But I do read the glitzy mags and newsletters from BFU with some kind of perverse interest, often muttering and smirking as I do.

    Finally, a shout-out to Jonathan Rees, for being mentioned and quoted in today’s NY Times piece on how MOOCS seem a little less inevitable for the time being.

  23. Dutchie on 11 Dec 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    I love my undergrad state university. I got a wonderful education. I went with VA benefits, loans and a night job. So, it wasn’t an unending party by any means but everything I wanted from college I got. I stayed and got a great MA and TA’d a year. My doctoral institution? Not so much. I was supported but I TA’d for that support in all but the final year that I won a competitive diss fellowship. I still maintain that it was the training I got at my BA/MA institution that kept me from the drifting and depression classmates at PhD U seemed to have. I have NO emotional attachment to PhD U. none.

    And, when it came to addressing mail? PhD U used “Ms.” All the time. Still does. I sent my alumni note to BA/MA institution magazine with my doctoral degree award. All mail instantly from then on used the title. They might have an efficient alumni operation, but they bothered, and that is indicative of the way they do everything—and why they still matter to me.

  24. Western Dave on 11 Dec 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    Of all the educational groups I give to, I actually give the most to the non-profit summer camp I attended which has a great scholarship fund but also desperately needs cash just to operate. (If you have camp age kids it’s an outfit called Cottonwood Gulch in New Mexico and has produced a surprisingly large number of academics in a variety of fields as well as Senators Udall and Heinrich).

    My public HS in a ritzy NY suburb tried to hit me up for money to set up an endowment and I had words on the phone with the solicitor, a classmate of my brother’s about what public education means.

  25. Susan on 12 Dec 2013 at 12:30 am #

    Like several others who went to wealthy private undergrad schools, I give a token amount to keep the participation rates up. I’ve never given to my grad institution – a somewhat less wealthy private. My giving includes my church, local and global social welfare and development, and some local arts organizations. And I make contributions to my campus, a very under-resourced public R-1, to the Humanities Center.

    I’m fascinated that so few of us give to our graduate institutions. As Western Dave suggested, grad school was exploitative, even if positive in ways.

  26. Feminist Avatar on 12 Dec 2013 at 2:10 am #

    This is why I pay my taxes – so I don’t have to fund universities.

  27. Katherine on 12 Dec 2013 at 5:39 am #

    I was ambivalent about my SLAC, but in retrospect got a great education, and do have life-long friends, so I support them, but not to the degree they wish. I loved graduate school, I know unusual, but there it is. So I support the public university, where I got my PhD, but I but I target my donations to my dept, or the libe, or particular scholarship funds. My largest contributions, however go to a domestic violence shelter and a local food bank.

  28. Historiann on 12 Dec 2013 at 6:30 am #

    Susan writes, “I’m fascinated that so few of us give to our graduate institutions. As Western Dave suggested, grad school was exploitative, even if positive in ways.”

    Was grad school itself really *exploitative*? Most of the people in this thread (so far as I know, anyway) are working historians, so whatever dues we paid, we got what we needed out of grad school to start our working lives. What I wonder is if grad school happens at a time in life when a lot of tough lessons are learned, especially by previously protected members of the meritocratic elite like us, and we’re transferring those emotions (disappointment, ambivalence, shame) onto the grad schools rather than to being 22-27 years old. (But maybe I was just a very young and naive grad student.)

    On the subject of giving to one’s employer that Janice & others upthread have raised: I’ve always been more of the opinion of Contingent Cassandra & Indyanna, i.e. “I gave at the office,” and consider working at an underfunded public uni a big part of my charitable contribution. So I’m amazed to hear from Janice that this kind of institutional support could ever be seen as “self-serving!” I think of it as a particularly generous kind of philanthropy, especially as most of us now teach at institutions that are far less prestigious than our grad unis.

    (I might consider doing this more if there were a way of me donating pre-tax money to my department’s scholarship funds, but it just rubs me the wrong way to think of making a donation of my post-tax salary when it was earned in the service to my department and university in the first place.)

  29. polisciprof on 12 Dec 2013 at 6:36 am #

    My graduate school (a semi-public university) has been trying to contact me for months. Thanks to caller ID, I haven’t had to talk to the poor student earning some extra cash by working the phone bank. They call so often that I have the phone number memorized.

    Like other commentators, I donate occasionally with targeted donations to specific programs that need cash. Most of my educational philanthropy, however, goes to a university in Bolivia that prioritizes students from rural areas for admission.

    While we are on the “spirit of giving”, I wonder how other readers feel about their current employer asking for donations? My current university, a state-owned institution, is about to embark on a capital campaign. I’m waiting for the “outside donors really look at staff giving rates” line from the fundraisers. Last time I went through a capital campaign I gave them a dollar to do my bit for the participation rate. I even got a thank you note from the chief fundraiser! Contributing to capital campaigns so that I can do my job better(?) just seems weird to me.

  30. Nicoleandmaggie on 12 Dec 2013 at 7:21 am #

    @Historiann– My uncles took care of it. It was a really lovely funeral (except for the temporary marker instead of a tombstone).

  31. Susan on 12 Dec 2013 at 7:44 am #

    I think the key for me in giving to my current institution is that I give to a particular program, that is doing its own fundraising. I mean, my grad department is fundraising all the time. I wouldn’t give to general funds. And this is the first place I’ve worked where I’ve been willing to give at the office.

  32. anonymous grad on 12 Dec 2013 at 7:52 am #

    I still actually feel grateful to my small, private, expensive SLAC – not only was I happy there, they gave me very generous financial aid so debt didn’t hold me back after graduation, and they actually gave me money to explore fields I was interested in over summers and after graduation, which was amazing. I don’t have a whole lot of money as a grad student, and my regular donations go to more local charities, so I only give occasionally and minimally. But gratitude is part of it.

    I can tell that certain administrators in my private grad institution wants us to look at our time here through the lens of gratitude – we’re students, not workers, we’ve been given this great, funded opportunity to focus on our studies, getting to teach means we don’t have to go into debt, etc. Those things are actually true, I don’t feel exploited. But they’re not very persuasive when they mainly come out in the context of reducing funding eligibility, or sending anti-union messages saying that teaching is “experience,” not “work,” or remarks that we shouldn’t be trying to “get rich” while living the life of the mind. We are students, but this is work we do for several years at a time when we have bodies and families and actual material obligations – life of the mind isn’t quite enough. I recognize how privileged I was that I didn’t have to worry much about those things in college, and that’s one of the reasons I still feel grateful for that time, but I resent being made to feel “ungrateful” for worrying about them now.

    I figured when this was all past, I’d paint a rosier picture and feel better about it, It’s so interesting to hear from so many others that they still have negative feelings toward they’re graduate schools.

  33. Fretful Porpentine on 12 Dec 2013 at 8:11 am #

    My loyalties are to my undergraduate institution, current employer, and graduate institution, in that order — I’ve kicked in a token amount of money to all of them from time to time, although I absolutely refuse to donate anywhere other than the English department at my grad institution, since other parts of the university have been involved in some sketchy shenanigans. But I figure my graduate education was fully funded, so why not pass it along?

    I draw the line at donating to the place that hired me as a VAP for a year and conspicuously did NOT hire me for the tenure-track version of the same position, however. Soliciting donations from former contingent faculty is a special kind of inappropriate.

  34. Historiann on 12 Dec 2013 at 9:04 am #

    Soliciting donations from former contingent faculty is a special kind of inappropriate.

    Keepin’ it classy, development office! And I thought it was gutsy to ask underpaid current employees for donations.

    I suppose we should solicit donations from everyone who has applied for a job recently in my department. Now that’s an overlooked opportunity for mining cash!

  35. Indyanna on 12 Dec 2013 at 9:31 am #

    Since I spend a good part of the year living literally in sight of my grad unit (whose awkward marks on the skyline partly contribute to my ambivalence), there’s a different way of giving back, forward, whatever, that is, in kind of a sort, by some regular and fairly sustained academic interactions with current grad students, visitors who are for the time being wholly part of the institutional program, and even faculty. Some of those interactions may be asymmetrical, but they are definitely mutually-constitutive. You benefit immediately and tangibly as much as you may (hopefully) offer something of benefit, rather than waiting for a nice laser-printed letter from an estate planning specialist in the development office, with information about what “part” of your gift is tax deductible.

    I love the idea about tele-dunning people to whom one of your own colleagues only last week sent one of those e-mails ending with “best wishes for your effort to find a suitable position in these trying times…” Ouch!

  36. Bardiac on 12 Dec 2013 at 10:26 am #

    I haven’t given much to any of the four institutions I attended. Only my undergrad institution has ever asked, and the place I work always asks. But now that I’m thinking of it, I may just look up and write a check to the community college that gave me the opportunity to take classes when I really needed and wanted that opportunity, and to the public regional comprehensive university I went to after, where I found real mentoring. I got degrees from neither of those places, and attended for less time than my undergrad or PhD institutions (both public R1s), but they were both better educational experiences in many ways.

  37. Matt_L on 12 Dec 2013 at 11:34 am #

    I can’t speak for others, but I found grad school to be a mixed experience. It was exploitative in the sense that I was a cheap source of labor as a TA and RA. The only time I saw myself as an apprentice scholar and benefiting from an RA-ship was when I worked directly for my adviser. When I was a TA, I was simply cheap labor to grade blue books. When I was an RA doing office work for an institute on campus, I was doing office work at half the price of the classified staff.

    Even when I had earned a fellowship (A Fulbright) right after passing my PhD exams so I could go overseas to do research, it was all about the cheddar and what this would cost the department. The Director of Graduate Studies mistakenly asked me to sign up for the 1 hour continuing enrollment credit instead of the 12 credits of dissertation research I should have enrolled in, so as to save the department a little money. (The terms of the Fellowship meant that the Department and the University were supposed to give me a tuition waiver.) Unbeknownst to the DGS I was not eligible for that 1 credit class. I lost my full time student status and the payment for my student loans kicked in while I was overseas. I spent the year after I was back getting the mess sorted out with the Feds and the University. But I am still paying for it today, in the form of higher interest and a spotty forbearance record.

    That said, I got some great mentoring from a lot of people at my Uni and especially from the mistaken but well intentioned DGS! The Department was not run by snidely whiplash, but it was still an inherently exploitative set up. At the end of the day, the five years of being a TA/RA meant I was cheap labor first and foremost.

  38. Linden on 12 Dec 2013 at 11:41 am #

    I give to my undergrad institution, because I loved it and they gave me scholarships while I was there, so I like to give back to them. I don’t contribute to my law school– getting my degree there was a mildly unpleasant means to an end. I paid them for my schooling, they provided me quality schooling, and I feel like we’re at quits now. I used to say I wouldn’t donate until they changed their racist Indian mascot, but they did and now I don’t have that as a high-minded excuse anymore. I simply didn’t love it there.

  39. ProfSweddy on 12 Dec 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    I was an itinerant undergraduate, but occasionally give money to the public undergraduate institution from which I graduated. They welcomed me with open arms and I had some really amazing professors in both history and English. (I think I had finished all of my general education courses by the time I arrived, so only took upper division courses in things I really loved.) I, however, don’t give money to them regularly because my salary is small and I give away a good deal of it to non-profit organizations, like the Colorado Anti Violence Project and the Food Bank of Western Colorado.

    I told my graduate institution to never ever call me or send me solicitations. I actually loved graduate school unconditionally, but the administration there did not love the history program and were always half threatening to kill it. I have thought about donating directly to the department, if such a thing is even possible, but I have no love lost for the institution.

  40. truffula on 12 Dec 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    [for graduate students] teaching is “experience,” not “work,”

    Well that is vomit-inducing.

  41. Western Dave on 12 Dec 2013 at 7:05 pm #

    The biggest non-teaching fellowship I ever got was 3500 for a semester in grad school. I only had health insurance if I taught. There was a reason why we had a union as graduate students. We were being exploited. There were more of us than they could reasonably fund and it was not an accident.

    It was a hard lesson. And the thing is, on the whole, I liked graduate school. But I kept believing them when they held out carrots (you’re a prime candidate for x fellowship; if you just teach one more semester for the cranky old sexist dude that nobody else will teach for, we’ll owe you; honestly, it doesn’t matter that your adviser left for another institution etc.etc.) to keep me around and teaching. Eventually, I left and then I finished.

  42. Mike on 13 Dec 2013 at 7:25 am #

    I’m also a historian. I don’t ever donate to my undergrad institution, because it’s a state university and I refuse to let the taxpayer off the hook.

    My grad institution’s endowment is in the top 15, and it got there thanks to people like me, so generally I give around $5000 per year– generally in appreciated stock I could afford in the first place only because of my grad university. As a historian earning almost $200k per year, I think that is my obligation.

  43. Belle on 13 Dec 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Nope. Not to UG or either grad univ. All were publics, and the grad institutions got my ‘contribution’ when I was there in free labor. Yeah, I taught their undergrad classes and got a stipend for that. But all the hours that I spent in therapy because of the crappy way they treated me? Those I gave them in service? We’re even. Wir
    Nor do I give to my current uni, where again participation in faculty giving is important. When they ask, I look to the current AAUP which reports that 100% of my peers make more than I do. I point to the free labor they get from me. “I donate in kind, not cash” is my response.

    I do give a lot to various charities – food bank, animal rescue/treatment, etc.. I’m going to give to the uni’s study abroad scholarship fund. Wired to flow towards love indeed.

  44. History Maven on 13 Dec 2013 at 8:14 am #

    My first tenure-track gig was at the university from which I received my BA. And then the Powers That Be there didn’t reappoint me. But I get the alumni magazine all the time, despite the many notes I write. The development folks have stopped calling once I explained the situation and read the letter the university president wrote to me after I appealed informally (there was no formal appeal process). Included in the letter was legally actionable content. They were appalled.

    My graduate institution decided to fold my program, then ranked either #1 or #2 in the nation. Why would I give? And I, uninformed working-class member that I am, received next to nothing in aid. Still paying loans.

    What little I can give I give to local charities and to organizations which fund scholarships.

  45. Northern Barbarian on 13 Dec 2013 at 8:34 am #

    I had a pretty good time for most of grad school, but my undergrad SLAC made it all possible with very generous financial aid and top-quality teaching. They don’t really *need* my money, but I am generous back to them out of gratitude and a sense of duty to support other kids like me. My giant graduate R1 provided mediocre mentoring and teaching by comparison: I got my research done more despite my clueless PhD adviser rather than because of him. I agree with Matt_L that I’d like to see the big R1s take teaching at all levels seriously and do less catering to the big egos of senior profs. You’d think this economy would do it, but I haven’t seen much sign of that yet.

    I give as an employee to my wealthy SLAC a reluctant, token $5 to keep up the participation numbers. If they don’t ask with a pretty please, I don’t give anything.

    And now, perhaps appropriately, off to liberate the serfs.

  46. MrsNorthernBarbarian on 13 Dec 2013 at 9:25 am #

    Purely coincidentally following the spousal unit in this comment thread, but we did actually attend the same grad school. I wonder if there are just more ways for a graduate program to screw you over personally, and that’s why most of us don’t give donations to them?

    In my case, I had entered the MS program (in Religious Studies) and then applied to the PhD program (that’s just how they did it) twice. I was turned down both times: the first time, because “they were uncomfortable having a Jewish student studying Jewish topics” (hmmm, as if the Catholics weren’t teaching about Catholicism, the Protestants weren’t teaching about Protestantism (i.e., biblical criticism and ethics) and who do they think teaches about Judaism in most higher ed institutions?). I heard this news directly from my advisor who got it from the graduate committee. The second time I heard later on via a short grapevine that they were uncomfortable with the fact that I am gay (which, in the early nineties, is entirely plausible, though still not very diverse for a large R1). So … back to the marketable degree, which I was fortunate to have from the graduate division of the state university which I attended as an undergraduate (earning a very unmarketable but quite fun degree in linguistics).

    So no donations to the bigoted grad school, but I have donated to the undergraduate college, on the principle that (a) when I was in college, the state support was at about 90% of their budget; (b) it is about 30% now; (c) public universities should be more accessible; and (d) I still live in the same state, and would have been happy to pay additional taxes for higher ed, so figure that it comes out even with the donation.

    Current employer — occasional donations to the emergency loan fund for staff. Otherwise they really are very well-endowed.

  47. Historiann on 13 Dec 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Mrs.NB: What a weirdo department! Maybe it was the lesbian issue, but seriously: what religious studies department is OK with antisemitism? (As Jonathan Rees always says: why must we choose? Can’t we have neither?)

    I think you’re right that grad schools have more ways of eliciting student/employee ressentiment. A number of the resentments listed in this thread seem to revolve around this very question: are grad students students or employees? Many people here (rightfully) resent both the devaluation of their labor (it’s not work, it’s experience!) and the exploitative position they’re put in as students dependent on their advisers’ good will and good word in letters of recommendation.

    I never felt exploited by my grad institution; if anyone was being exploited, it was the undergraduates I was asked to lead in discussion sections, when I was just 22 and right out of college myself. That said: affordable health insurance would have been nice.

  48. Indyanna on 13 Dec 2013 at 11:57 am #

    Gotta call you on the “exploited” self-call, Historiann. I (over)heard you leading an outdoor class discussion once while I was walking over to get a coffee at Dallas Hall (First Student Union in the Nation, tm), and the u-grads were raptly at attention, which is almost impossible to achieve outside and hard enough inside. Plus, whenever they came over for your office hours at 3401 High Street, they always asked for “Dr. Historiann,” and acted as if they were meeting an actual professor, rather than a t.a. Just testa-fyin’.

  49. Dr. Koshary on 13 Dec 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    Like Susan said a few days ago, I loved my (expensive, private, well endowed) SLAC, Alma Mater U., and so I give a trivial sum each year to contribute to the statistics of alumni donations. And, since I know that I cannot trust AMU to do the right thing with money without guidance, I always check the box earmarking my donation for need-based scholarships. I feel a personal responsibility too, since I don’t think I’d have had anywhere near the quality of intellectually challenging experiences anywhere else, and I’d be distressingly close to a privileged, clueless d-bag, of which we have so many already running around.

    Dear Old University, where I went to grad school, is a ginormous public university with what I tend to think of as %$&#ed-in-the-head financial priorities. (FOOTBALL.) Much like Historiann suggests, I had my share of Sturm und Drang there, but very little was in any way the fault of DOU. However, I took it very much amiss when Alumni Giving dunned me for a donation in my last year of write-up, when my funding had been cut because I was somehow the lowest priority student in the entire pseudology department, and I was living on savings (and would soon supplement that with unemployment insurance). Since I had earned my MA there, they considered me an alumnus already, and gave me a spiel as if I weren’t in intimate, unpleasant contact with the functioning of DOU.

    Of course, like many people have now observed, I owe my professional credentials entirely to my training at DOU, which might be worth acknowledging somehow. DOU’s budget is overwhelmingly funded by private donations, being one of those state schools whose cretinous state government has reduced its contribution to about 10% or so — another good reason to throw them a little cash. But, since I paid out my own money for DOU (as opposed to my parents taking out massive loans against themselves to put me through AMU), and since DOU itself funded me for exactly one year of grad school, with the rest of my education funded through fellowships given by either my department or an external agency, all of which I had to write coherent grants for and fight to get…I still kind of feel like telling DOU that I will never give them a nickel. Someday, perhaps, I’ll get over that pettiness. Someday.

  50. Tenured Radical on 15 Dec 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    I send my money to the women’s private school across the street from your undergrad institution because neither NYU or Yale need my money, in my view.

  51. Fie Upon This Quiet Life on 17 Dec 2013 at 10:22 am #

    I’ve never given money to either of my grad institutions. However, I’ve given to my all-female undergrad institution whenever I’ve had extra cash. Part of the reason I really want to support that school is because going to a single-sex institution was a fantastic experience for me, and I became a completely different person as a result. In grad school, I didn’t change as much. I learned a lot, but there wasn’t such an overhaul in my selfhood. I didn’t have unequivocally happy times at any of the institutions I attended, but I valued the education I received as an undergrad more because it helped me become a feminist.

  52. an academic in europe on 19 Dec 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    I was happy to come across this discussion, as it reflects many of my own ambivalences – I’d like to give something, but for a long time didn’t have much to give, so I didn’t. And when I did have a little more, I didn’t want to give it to places I associated with mixed experiences there. Maybe there’s a way around this: giving to an institution you haven’t yourself attended, but one where you know it would really make a difference?

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