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Blame construction for low donations

Sixty-seven days from today, members of the Class of 2016 will have graduated. They will be alumni. They will no longer hold an amorphous "administration" responsible for fulfilling their social and interpersonal experiences. They will no longer compete within their curved classes to beat the test median and finish higher than the class' B- average. They will no longer live and breathe Duke, walking Abele Quad during the day and sleeping in university housing at night. They also probably won't be donating.

Statistics online on Duke's donations page shows a clearly decreasing trend towards how likely students are to donate to Duke upon graduation. An all-time high of 69 percent of the Class of 2009 donated upon graduation; just a few years later only 40 percent of the Class of 2012 donated. Last year only 32 percent of the class donated. Last I'd heard, this year's class was still in the single-digit percentage for seniors who'd give money to Duke. There is something clearly wrong with this picture, and while the administration has taken steps towards trying to combat it (they did provide bottomless champagne at the Blue and White Senior Dinner after all) they are missing the point.

Seniors feel like they've been swindled, and construction is a big reason why. Entire sections of campus have been closed down, and sites that were once landmarks become inoperable for years at a time. I was barely on campus before the plaza shut down, and I still doubt I will ever see the plywood in the door from the main quad leading into West Union removed. I have difficulty fathoming why so much construction, ranging from Penn Pavilion to West Union to Parking to the Bryan Center to the Chapel and more, needed to be completed at the same time.

A visiting alumnus from my fraternity noted that it seemed like half the campus was under construction. Visitors note how strange it is that there's a one-way road that requiring mobile traffic lights, which regularly features working jackhammering the pavement. Before recently, when friends would visit it would even be difficult to take a photograph of the iconic Duke Chapel because of the crane that was just within sight. It's undeniable that frequent construction on campus has been an eyesore for Duke's beauty and a hassle for its students.

The Board of Trustees, which presumably makes most of the decisions regarding construction, is woefully out of touch with the impact these numerous construction projects have had on campus culture. The past Young Trustees have done a woefully inadequate job of representing Duke students' voices during decision-making concerning construction. The onslaught of construction was rarely communicated except shortly before it would begin and was presented as inevitable.

Without doubt, the idea to socially engineer on-campus activities through physical locations such as the Events Pavilion, the Devil's Krafthouse and other locations are a much-needed bonus to bring events back on campus. However, there was not a need for all of these locations to be constructed simultaneously. The net result is that the Class of 2016 will graduate never having truly used these event spaces (no, "Senior Preview" does not count).

While President Brodhead may try to tell us that increasing the percentage of seniors who donate to the school will increase the value of our degree because U.S. News and World Report uses it as an input in its annual rankings, that is hardly an inspiring argument. When Duke's President makes such a baseline and purely self-interested argument for an initial donation (in the hopes of perpetual pestering in the years to come) you know the situation is desperate. Donating to increase degree marketability may be an uninspiring argument, but it is undoubtedly a Duke argument.

It may be true that in recent years there has been a new form of student activism where students from historically marginalized groups assert themselves in a desire to build space on campus, and that these groups tend to be dissatisfied with the administration. But judging from the often-limited participation at various "DukeEnrage" protests I believe it is safe to conclude that while this may be a contributing factor for some students, it is not an issue that is at the forefront of most student's minds. Similarly, although recent years have been filled with administrative scandals in various facets of student life often dealing with the intersection of race, gender and class, this is hardly without precedent here. Yet the donation rates continue to drop.

The years directly preceding and following the Class of 2016 will likely be known as the "Lost Years" where donations plummeted, largely a result of relentless and all-encompassing construction. But hey, at least we have a $3 million dollar glass box.

Tyler Fredricks is a Trinity senior. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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