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Class of 2018, don’t write a check to Duke

This week, Duke will wine and dine the Class of 2018. Our seniors will be treated to midnight breakfasts, nights of trivia and a lavish dinner at the Washington Duke that would leave the jaws of everyday Americans on the floor. The week of extravagances reveals a single, clear goal: to remind the Class of 2018 of all that they have provided before their time at Duke comes to a close.

And those members of the Class of 2018 with money to spare should open their checkbooks to support an institution of higher learning. Higher education is a worthy cause that deserves additional funding from whichever avenue possible. But that institution should not be named Duke.

At Duke, I live in luxury. My dorm, Trinity House, is complete with its own arcade room, movie theater and 72-inch television. My roommate and I reside in a 225-square-foot room, and each of us sleep each night on HRL-supplied full beds.

At Duke, we have the luxury of using food points at any of thirteen West Union vendors and The Loop.

At Duke, we’re constructing a 50-million-dollar dorm to expand upon a luxurious vision of Duke housing. 

In other words, I lead a remarkably, comfortable life as I dip from classroom to classroom and extracurricular to extracurricular.

These are precisely the reasons why I will not be giving money to Duke. While our administration has prioritized my personal comfort at the university, it has forgotten those of lesser economic status.

Consider that Duke’s endowment, as of 2016, stood at 6.84 billion dollars, and that that number has grown 234 percent over the last 15 years. 

The entirety of the University of California system, with its 10 universities and 251,700 students, has an endowment of 14.27 billion dollars. For each student that steps foot on campus, Duke will have eight times more money than the University of California schools.

Another factor to keep in mind is the New York Times accessibility index. Essentially, this is an indicator the Times developed to measure colleges nationwide based on their commitment to economic diversity. All five of the most socio-economically accessible universities, based on the Times’ standards, lie within the UC system. Duke, meanwhile, ranks just 33rd, behind the likes of Grinnell, Westminster and University of Washington-Seattle.

Duke has failed to create equal opportunity for socioeconomically worse off Americans to join its student body. Meanwhile, I can walk downstairs from my room, plug in an HDMI cable to my computer, and watch the latest episode of “The Bachelor” with 24 of my closest friends on the big screen. 

There exists a fundamental disconnect between these simultaneous truths that should give you pause. Duke has enough money to fund separate gaming consoles for Galactica, Deer Hunter and Pacman, but not enough to render itself accessible to every socioeconomic sector of the population.

And while Duke’s dollars are going towards new glass boxes instead of financial aid, your money can have an extreme impact elsewhere. Before giving to Duke, take into account the example of Hank Rowan. In 1992, Rowan broke records by giving $100 million to what was then Glassboro State College. He chose to give to Glassboro—since renamed Rowan College—instead of his alma mater of MIT. In describing his decision in an interview in 2006, Rowan explained that “my little hundred million wouldn’t have made hardly any difference at all” at MIT. At Glassboro, his gift reverberated across the campus. According to The New York Times, the money went toward “financing an engineering school, endowing professorships and supporting scholarships for his company’s employees.” With his money, Glassboro began expanding its undergraduate programs, and eventually they introduced graduate programs. 

In all likelihood, you will not be giving a gift of $100 million. But while you may not think that your check will make much of a difference anywhere, take Duke Forward as a case study. Duke Forward, President Richard Brodhead’s signature achievement which raised $3.85 billion over the course of seven years, was built on the back of more than 315,000 donors. 

Perhaps you can’t match the $400 million Phil Knight gave to Stanford or the gift of equal amount John Paulson donated to Harvard. But make no mistake, thousands of the donors who made Duke Forward possible were students. Collectively, the Class of 2018 has the power to shift the dynamic of giving in higher education. They can continue the status quo of giving to the rich and powerful universities, or they can push the boundaries of charitable giving and provide much-needed funding towards the schools who need it most.

You probably have institutional loyalty toward the university that provided your undergraduate experience. When you reflect on Duke, you consider the time you lost your voice sending Carolina to hell, you relive late nights ensconced in conversation in your best friend’s dorm room and each of your wild LDOC celebrations. And if you’re like me, when you think of University of California-Irvine, you don’t think of much of anything. But, if you’re like me, you also believe that education should be our greatest equalizer. Fill out the “To” line of your check, and give to the university that will accomplish the most with your money. And, perhaps more importantly, open your checkbook to the university that will welcome students from every corner of society.

Send a message to our university and to the world about the values our student body holds dear, and send your check just about anywhere else.

Steve Hassey is a Trinity junior. His column runs on alternate Thursdays.


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