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Demand a Duke worth donation

Many current and former members of the Duke community were launched into online sparring regarding post-graduation donations after Steve Hassey’s column last week, Class of 2018, don’t write a check to Duke. Lost amid the indignant Facebook commentary touting Duke’s financial aid generosity was a broader conversation regarding Duke’s relationship to fundraising and institutional issues. There is no shortage of controversial points of budgetary contention on campus and—at a university where money speaks—there are ample opportunities for students and alumni to critically analyze their investments within this school. Specifically, the potential for unification in demands for action from Duke through our collective power as potential donors.

In recent years, Duke has made several large investments in improving our constantly expanding campus infrastructure. West Union cost Duke upwards of 90 million dollars, with the majority of its funding coming from a gift from the Duke Endowment. There is also the construction of Trinity House, $25 million; The Hollows, $91 million; the renovation of Page and Baldwin Auditoriums; the renovation of Wannamaker, Crowell, Giles, and Pegram Residence Halls; the purchase of 300 Swift, $50 million; the new Alumni Center, $25 million; the Rubenstein Arts Center, $50 million; and the opening of the new Student Wellness Center. These are all part of Duke’s massive $500 million investment in construction and renovation. With so many recent projects and many more yet to come, Duke is displaying a far larger financial commitment to its future students rather than currently enrolled Blue Devils or alumni. Recent numbers for donation rates have displayed that. Only 32% of the Class of 2016 donated to Duke, compared to the Class of 2009’s high of 69%.

Although it is undeniable that Duke is investing with an eye towards future students, the nature of these investments is also rather clear: aesthetics. With an upcoming opening for a new engineering building in the future excluded, most projects throughout the University have served an aesthetic nature rather than a functional one. These investments update the presentation of Duke rather than the pragmatic function. Lost amongst the large capital expenditures is the potential for projects geared at improving student well-being on campus. There still remain chronic issues regarding mental health and pervasive sexual assault, despite contemporary supposed efforts to ameliorate them. However, Duke is not investing the hundreds of millions it has in combating these ubiquitous evils. History has made it clear that as long as those problems remain invisible to the eyes of prospective students, Duke will display an unwillingness to bankroll solutions that would cost even a fraction of the figures being allocated for towering glass boxes.

While it goes without saying that graduating seniors do not hold the same concentrated institutional sway of heavy-hitting donors such as David Rubenstein, the von der Heyden family or the Penn family, they do hold more power than often acknowledged. Duke has a vested interest in gaining the donations of the senior class, as displayed by their exorbitant Senior Week (complete with a bar crawl and dinner at the Washington Duke Inn). The donations are viewed by many within and outside the school as indicative of student affection for the institution. Despite the fact that students may not have the individual impact of large beneficiaries, their collective voice still means something to Duke.

So instead of simply protesting in silence, consider how collective action can make Duke listen to student concerns. Although no singular, debt-saddled undergraduate will compare to David Rubenstein, the aggregate measures taken by an entire class—perhaps multiple consecutive classes—will be heard loud and clear. Students have a chance to call on Duke to be better. So, Class of 2018, if you’re not donating: tell them why and demand a Duke worth giving back to.


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