Need Blind: Alums Withhold Donations on Admin’s “Giving Tuesday”

“Your comment is awaiting moderation…”: an alumni response to Michael Roth

roth dn

Calls for a boycott of the administration’s capital campaign have re-emerged this week as President Michael Roth continues to solicit donations in the name of financial aid. Alums are refusing to contribute on the grounds that doing so would be a vote of confidence in increasingly reactionary, discriminatory policies. As of now, there remains no plan for Wesleyan to return to need blind admissions.

The following statement was submitted in response to Roth’s latest blog post – where it is still “awaiting moderation” (don’t hold your breath). We are posting it here in the meantime so you can see it. A similar statement has emerged on a Facebook group for recent alumni.

Support Wesleyan — Refuse to Donate! 

President Roth mentions twice in his “Giving Tuesday” appeal that we can support financial aid at Wesleyan by donating to the University today.

What Michael Roth doesn’t mention is that 68% of every gift earmarked for financial aid gets drafted into the general operating budget, and only 32% of such gifts actually goes to improving the University’s financial aid budget. This is a dismaying betrayal of trust.

It is brazen for Michael Roth and the Wesleyan PR folks to encourage us to support financial aid at Wesleyan the year after Roth and the Board took unprecedented steps to erode access and decrease spending on financial aid, by ending Wesleyan’s policy of admitting students on a “Need-Blind” basis (wherein students were admitted based solely on their promise as applicants, without knowledge of their ability to pay).

This year’s freshman class, the first admitted under the new “Need-Aware” admissions policy, which actively discriminates against poor students, contains 6% fewer students receiving grant aid, 4% fewer first generation college students, and 3% fewer black students, as well as smaller percentages of students from everywhere outside of New England than the previous year’s class. (Citation)

Given Wesleyan’s diversion of financial aid contributions to the general operating budget, and given President Roth and the Board’s historic erosion of access for poor students in the last year, I cannot believe that their appeals for donations to financial aid are in good faith.

Moreover, I think it is clear that any donations we alumnae make this year constitute no more than a vote of confidence in the University’s priorities, which are at present profoundly misguided.

I would like to encourage my fellow alums, seniors, parents, and others in the extended Wesleyan family that this year we can do more to make Wesleyan the best it can be by vocally refusing to donate to the annual fund, than by donating.

I am convinced that vocally refusing to donate is the best way to convince Wesleyan that it is in it its interest to listen to its progressive alumnae, and to adopt a more inclusive and ethical set of fiscal priorities.

I encourage you fellow alums to call or email Michael Roth (mroth[at]wesleyan[dot]edu 860-685-3500), John Meerts (jmeerts[at]wesleyan[dot]edu860-685-2607), and Alumnae Relations (860-685-3933), explaining why you’ve chosen not to donate this year, and to advocate for a change of priorities.

Let’s encourage these decision-makers at the University to ask us again to donate when they are ready to commit to a set of ethical priorities for the University that inspires us and that makes us believe once again that Wesleyan is a cause worth supporting.

Related Articles:

Wesleying: The Wrath Update 
President Roth, I Expect Your Efforts Redoubled
The Endowment is Up 12%
Open Forum on the Endowment [Liveblog]
Need Blind Wes: Updates and Organization
Trustee Occupation Aftermath
Need Blind Activists Storm Football Game
Argus: The Endowment Faces Major Challenges
University Endowment Increases by $4 Mil in First Part of 2012 Fiscal Year
Wesleyan 2020 Blog: Wesleyan’s Endowment
MRoth Blog: Wesleyan Fundraising Campaign: This is Why
Wesleyan Endowment FAQ

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22 thoughts on “Need Blind: Alums Withhold Donations on Admin’s “Giving Tuesday”

  1. alumni

    I want to see transparency in the salaries and benefits of the deans and administrators, a segment of the university staff which has ballooned in volume. I am sure significantly higher than the average salary a wesleyan professor receives.

  2. pissedoffstudent

    Did all of you do too many drugs while attending Wesleyan? I mean to say, is your brain so damaged that you think withholding money is a good idea? This is the most illogical bullshit I’ve ever heard. The reason we got rid of need blind is that we cannot afford to have it. I have no doubt that the university is in efficient in managing its money but taking more money away is only going to lead to a rise in tuition and budget cuts. you’re all idiotic. If you are an alum, PLEASE DONATE.

    PS. I probably wouldn’t have applied to wesleyan if it wasn’t need blind and I understand the frustration but withholding money from an institution that needs more money is only going to create more problems.

  3. Alum '12

    So I inadvertently boycotted giving tuesday yesterday, because, like many alumni, I have been “boycotting” donating to Wesleyan since graduation. I work at a non-profit where I don’t make that much money, my family is definitely middle class but certainly does not have the means to make frequent, large donations to anything, and when I do donate money I generally choose an organization whose mission I wholeheartedly support, (i.e. SHOFCO, which I usually donate to for Xmas on behalf of my family). I believe this (or something like this–especially the point about donating elsewhere) is a pretty typical situation for Wes grads, and part of the reason why our endowment is pretty low compared to other similar schools. I am also well aware that my giving pattern is not buying me any influence with the University. While it is much easier to sign a petition saying I will (continue to) boycott donating, it’s much more effective to influence the school’s policies by either donating a specific gift or donating large amounts of money with some frequency so the school courts your opinion. That’s just how non-profits and universities work.

    1. Clarification

      There is a difference between not donating (what you have been doing), and what the Need-Blind activists have been calling VOCALLY refusing to donate — this means calling the office of the President (860-685-3500), the VP of finance, John Meerts (860-685-2607), and Alumnae Relations (860-685-3933) to tell them why you are choosing not to donate this year. In the absence of such an explanation, I agree that your choice not to donate has less of an impact.

      Still, even without such additional communication, your choice not to donate has more of an impact than the sort of nominal donation the University encourages recent alums to make. These nominal donations make no appreciable contribution to anything the University does; rather they merely serve to help the University achieve a certain percentage of alumni support, which is in essence an “approval rating” for the University’s priorities. These approval ratings the University uses as rhetorical ammunition against activists who claim that alumni are worried about the University’s priorities.

      While it’s no doubt true that the really big donors actually influence University policy, that’s not the case for us (would-be) little donors, and so is irrelevant here.

      Also, for everyone below the “really big” category, it is relevant to remember that even if you think you’re donating to a specific cause (because you checked a box on an envelope, let’s say), most of your donation is redistributed across the general operating budget where it just supports the status quo. For example, as the above post reveals, only 32% of donations designated for financial aid actually go to increasing the financial aid budget.

  4. On the other hand

    Do I really have to be the first person to back withholding donations until the school changes (drastically) it’s S.O.P. with regards to every-fucking-thing?

    “68% of every gift earmarked for financial aid gets drafted into the general operating budget, and only 32% of such gifts actually goes to improving the University’s financial aid budget.”

    But I couldn’t help but notice how incredibly inefficient and/or straight up dysfunctional every part of the administration seemed during four years (Res-life, P-Safe, CRC immediately come to mind as the most objectively incompetent). The problem isn’t just that alums don’t want to contribute. It’s that the money that is being donated is pissed away on mismanagement.

    If we want to restore the endowment, we need to restore the trust between the administration and students/alums. That means no more exorbitant fines for individual students (trans* activists and 2010 TDF scapegoats). No more strong-man tactics (Roth steals mic, roth steals chalk, etc.). And less negative happenings wouldn’t hurt (P-Safe voyeurism, P-Safe steals from senior houses, Stacey Phelps and Scott Backer still have jobs?).

    Basically I guess I’m saying that I see no reason to donate money to Wes as it is. I guess I’m calling for REVOLUTION.

    1. Realistic Rachel

      I understand disliking certain campus policies, but there is a difference between disliking the people who run ResLife and thinking that paying someone to run ResLife is a waste of money.

      I do agree with your sentiment – Wes has not been doing the best job ever of hiring people (ESPECIALLY when it comes to the many, many P-safe debacles). However, what you are talking about is campus policy, not money.

      In terms of ResLife specifically, the reason that GRS is extremely stressful for students is because the university is actually trying to SAVE money (not piss it away) by selling some of the more attractive housing options (ie woodframes), which are really expensive to maintain and heat anyway. This means that more students are stuck with housing options that seem unattractive to them, ie all of the juniors who have to live in Hewitt (which, I must say, happens to be an extremely energy-efficient dorm building).

      Fixing the P-Safe situation, which I think is a much more serious problem than a stressful housing lottery, is actually costing the university money in the short term – I can’t imagine that it was cheap to hire an unbiased, outside firm to assess the type of job that P-Safe has been doing, as well as make recommendations for things that P-Safe should change. However, I think that this is definitely something worth spending money on…P-Safe should be an approachable group that students can go to with their problems, not a racist / classist / creepy group that students are afraid of.

      Some good things cost money sometimes. Our Wesleyan education sure as hell costs a lot of money. But that money is going to good things, like trying to make sure that our public safety officers aren’t the kinds of people who think its ok to harass students of color in the name of “safety”. Unfortunately, because of low alumni participating over the past couple of years, that money is running low. The only way we can change it, as “Raisin Bran” says, is to donate whatever small amount of money we can to the endowment. Anything else might make our message clear but will also not do anything productive to solve the problem.

      And I agree with “alum ’13” – I would like to see the citation for the “68% of every gift earmarked” statistic as well.

      ((We shouldn’t be fining students absurd amounts of money for participating in tour de franzia, unless they are destroying campus property, in which case they should be fined only the amount of money that it would cost to fix whatever they broke. Fines rarely work as a behavioral disincentive anyway. So on that part, right on!))

  5. Raisin Bran

    Imagine these two conversations at an annual meeting between everyone who works on the budget, aid, and scholarships:

    (A) Well, I’m looking at our endowment stats. It looks like people decided not to donate this year. I think they did it to protest our need-aware policy. At any rate, donations fell 40% year because the initiative was pretty popular. What should we do? Well, it seems we don’t have much money to change our need-aware admissions policy, even though most of us in this room would strongly prefer to change it. If only we had more money we could. Well, I guess we should fund raise again. No change in policy.

    (B) Well, I’m looking at our endowment stats. It looks like a bunch of people donated quite a bit of money this year. I think they did it because they hate our need-aware admissions policy. At any rate, donations rose 40% this year because the initiative was pretty popular. What should we do? Well, it seems that, if this trend continues for a few more years, we’ll have enough money to change our need-aware admissions policy. Thank God. I hated our need-aware policy, but couldn’t get you all to change it because we all agreed that we didn’t have enough money. Looks like we’ll have enough money, though, so let’s aim to change the policy in the near future!

    Need-aware admissions makes sense given Wesleyan’s endowment. It totally sucks. I hate it, too. I practically worship Nader, praise Seattle electing a Socialist, and hate discriminating against the lower classes. But the money’s just not there. Amherst (and Williams & Swat to a lesser extent) is on a roll with diversifying its student body with respect to socio-economic status. It can do this because (1) it has the support of enough undergrads, staff, and alumni and (2) it has the funds. Wesleyan has (1) but not (2). Given the absence of (2), (1) doesn’t matter. Both are needed for a need-blind admissions policy. Seriously — I absolutely hate need-aware policies, but further damaging Wesleyan’s endowment will not improve the situation. The school needs money to get back to the point where it can stop discriminating.

    It’s also true that (C) could happen, in which the people in the meeting decide to cut other programs, but the point is the Wesleyan shouldn’t have to cut these other programs. It shouldn’t have to cut need-blind either. A Wesleyan with a fatter wallet is the best of all possible worlds.

    1. A matter of priorities, not $

      Actually Wesleyan DOES have the money to be Need-Blind now, but lacks the will.

      You presuppose that Roth and the Board would like to return to Need-Blind, but they repeatedly claim they have no desire or intention to do so. They simply claim it is “unrealistic.” Sure it is, if you prioritize other things over access.

      Lastly, I think that if Wesleyan took a stand on returning to Need-Blind admissions, many more alums would donate and would make the return much easier than anyone would anticipate.

      1. ugh

        This is actually just factually inaccurate. We would need a billion dollars cash in order to restore need blind. If you’re saying that we should divert money from faculty salaries and other parts of the budget just to cover financial aid though, then that makes no sense either. What kind of education are we offering without supported programs with our faculty, our arts, our athletics, etc.? That’s why, students in need chose to go elsewhere because the schools who can offer them full rides (Harvard, Amherst, etc.) have the prestige, too.

  6. Realistic Rachel

    I posted this on another thread about boycotting “Giving Tuesday” but I will post it again, with some slight changes to respond specifically to this post:

    The reason that some schools (ie Hamilton, Swarthmore) are able to maintain their need-blind status is because they have a more involved alumni network of givers. That, and they don’t waste money on energy inefficient non-dorm housing (such as woodframe houses, program houses, and lowrises) or extraneous student activities.

    Unfortunately, need blind policies costs money. If we EVER want to have enough money to bring need blind back, we need to either…

    *sell all of the program houses, woodframe houses, and lowrises, and move the entire campus to energy-efficient dorm-style residence halls, stop spending money on extraneous and unnecessary events such as spring fling, and accept the fact that wesleyan might not be as weird anymore
    *cut even more healthcare/insurance benefits from the university faculty and staff and increase their already overwhelming workloads
    we could try to encourage alumni to participate more heavily in funding our school!

    I think that it is absolutely the worst policy imaginable to cut Need-Blind admissions. I agree with almost everything that this post says. However, when we give back to Wesleyan, we aren’t giving the university our vote of confidence / saying that we agree with the Need-Aware policy.
    Rather, we are investing in the less wealthy, more qualified students who have the potential to make Wesleyan a better place. As people who have benefitted from our Wesleyan educations, AND from the previously Need-Blind admissions process, we have a duty to give back and make sure that future students are allowed the same opportunities that we had.

    So to summarize, unless students are willing to give up…

    -the comfort of living in energy inefficient senior houses / program houses

    -fun activities such as spring fling
    -benefits for our professors and support staff, who work hard for US to make Wesleyan a better place

    …we need to increase alumni participation in order to get our Need Blind status back.

    1. yup

      Diversity trumps fun (that’s had its own controversies and declining participation) and environmentally unsustainable luxuries. If donations continue, Need Blind will never be restored.

    2. Other things we'd happily

      Students are willing to give up energy-inefficient houses if they know why they are doing it.

      You could add to the list of things students would be happy to give up:

      – expensive and environmentally terrible 19th C landscaping aesthetic

      – a whole lot of redundant N/S College bureaucrats

      – Reslife summercamp-esque programming and redundant staffing

      We can return to NB in an instant if we reorient our priorities toward access. It’s the right thing to do and will inspire alumni to donate more, because they believe Wesleyan is making an effort.

      1. Realistic Rachel

        Maybe I’m more cynical than you, but I have a hard time believing that people would want to give up their Fountain Ave parties, BuHo concerts (they tried to sell BuHo two years ago but didn’t follow through because of a student uproar), and spring fling concert so that Need-Blind could be reinstated a couple of years after they were gone.

        But you’re right. If the Wesleyan administration AND the students realigned their/our priorities, we would definitely have enough money to bring back Need-Blind. I’m just not sure how much faith I have in the student body, who can’t seem to have a fun, normal TDF without a few people breaking tables and smashing windows.

        1. Other things we'd happily

          Realistic Rachel, I think it would be fantastic to have this conversation–in which students and administrators together realign priorities–but what we have seen is that the administration is unwilling to enter seriously into such conversations.

          Last year the Budget Sustainability Task Force spent a lot of time coming up with a lot of recommendations, which were all dismissed as far as I know, by administrators.

          These suggestions for realigning priorities which were offered to the administration on behalf of the student body were dismissed and ignored by administrators because they weren’t under any pressure to listen to the students.

          Refusing to donate creates the pressure that will bring the University administration to the table to have this conversation.

          Your cynicism is misplaced. The students (and alumni!) are ready. It is the administration that sees no incentive to depart from the status quo.

  7. alum '13

    The refusal to donate today as a way to stranglehold the university into changing its policy tomorrow seems very short-sighted and reactionary. I for one donated a small amount today because I benefited from financial aid, so I understand that even small sums add up for those less fortunate (of whom we seem to love talking about protecting) as soon as possible.
    We need to understand that change towards need-blind admissions (indeed, any change at all) is not a switch-and-flip. It’s going to take some time and it’s going to be very messy. The university board only decided to be need-sensitive May of this year. Is is really realistic of us to believe that in the span of half a year, we’ve fixed all of our financial woes? Is it realistic to think that the university board has had time to formulate a plan back to need-blinds so quickly? Probably not.
    But how can anyone help it if a bunch of privileged bubble-kids refuse to donate? No amount of telling them that insisting on not donating today will only contribute to the decline of beneficial programs at Wes seems to get through.

    PS, I’d like to see some citation for the earmark percentages. If these claims are true, I’d be very upset indeed. Aha, not so reactionarily upset to not donate, though.

    1. What's money got to do with it

      I hear you, as someone who has benefitted from financial aid, that it makes you uncomfortable for people to discourage donations. The problem is, however, that you’re accepting the University’s logic that the switch to the new discriminatory admissions policy is compelled by lack of money, rather than a lack of political will and a lack of willingness to take a stand for a set of ethical priorities, including fair access.

      Donations won’t return us to Need-Blind as long as the University doesn’t think it’ important to do so, but Alumni refusing to donate will make the University think it’s important to return to Need-Blind.

      1. alum '13

        As someone who has worked in Admissions and University Relations in work-study jobs, and who’s seen and experienced how difficult it is to work in a system where the beneficiaries don’t really appreciate you, I’d like to see some evidence to your assertion that Wes will never go back to need-blind status because of political motives or lack of willingness.
        Everyone I’ve ever worked with knew moving to need-sensitive admission was a thing that had to happen for the financial (not political) stability of the university (and it probably should have happened a couple of years before it did, considering the state of our current financial status and a comparison to peer institutions). And everyone I’ve worked with has been motivated to think of possible solutions out of need-sensitive status (which sort of disproves your lack of willingness point, don’t you think?).
        In other words, if you don’t give me proof, bogus.

        1. jarsilver

          “And everyone I’ve worked with has been motivated to think of possible solutions out of need-sensitive status”

          Who? I’ve heard that from literally no one. I was on the Budget Sustainability Task Force, and every administrator we talked with (in pretty much every department) thought that it was cute that we were trying but they had made up their minds, thank you very much.

          1. ugh

            There’s a difference between knowing your reality and wanting to change it. Yes, the decision is made. And like the person above said, it didn’t happen overnight and it won’t get better overnight. Every alum, UR staff member, and administrator I’ve ever encountered knows that we want to return to need blind. The fact is that we can’t afford it… yet.

        2. What's money got to do with it

          I agree with jarsilver, below. I think the burden of proof is with you, since there’s not been a peep from any upper administrators in this regard…

          But maybe that is a relevant distinction–between upper and lower administrators? I don’t doubt that a lot of the staff in AR and Admissions are disturbed by the new need-discriminatory policy, and I’m also not surprised that they buy the stories their bosses (upper administrators) tell them about it– that it is “a necessity given the size of our endowment”, that it is “just realistic right now”–which are, of course, plainly false.

          What do you think?

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