Exorbitant costs and wasted potential

By Ninya Loeppky

After four years studying in the International Studies (IS) Department and two years before Mac attending a United World College, I have spent a fourth of my life being trained as a global citizen. Considering ourselves global citizens is a privilege which few in the world have, and gives us an inordinate amount of power and responsibility to use this citizenship wisely.

Inherent in the creation of the Institute for Global Citizenship is the implication that Macalester’s president, faculty, and staff are themselves model global citizens capable of teaching others that it is not only through contemplation, but through action that citizens can create positive change in society.

As well, it implies that Macalester is a model global institution that embodies the ideals of transparency and the efficient and thoughtful allocation of resources, even during economic downturns and critical junctures in both its own and world history. However, I think that on both counts, the individuals in charge of the institute have been either inconsistent or incompetent.

This became clear to me at the luncheon with Kofi Annan last Saturday, as I sat in Kagin with my IS peers, listening to an executive encourage us to buy his corporation’s new device, Arcturus. Arcturus, he said, would end global corruption by earning his corporation billions and aiding those most in need.

The hypocrisy of his speech sent us Mac kids into hysterics, so much did it resemble a Fresh Concepts skit. But my mood subdued as I looked at the polite faces of those around me, especially the kind and familiar face of Mr. Annan. I realized that which makes Annan so admirable is that he can bridge this world of corporate executives with that of AIDS orphans, while making each feel that they are of key importance. He can put on a polite, neutral stare during corporate bullshit speeches, and moments later make you giggle with his obvious enthusiasm for having a woman as the next Secretary-General.

Rather than similarly bridging these two worlds, the Macalester administration feigns to function for the good of current students, while it actually must deal like a corporation to stay financially afloat. Countless dinners with trustees and executives are held every year, and speakers that cost tens and sometimes even hundreds of thousands are brought here to make important appearances that make us more marketable. Most students, myself included, are completely unaware of this process, and continue our grassroots organizing activities on the side, unaware of the millions of dollars being exchanged and the corporate philosophies that drive a huge amount of institutional spending.

According to a survey I conducted of 60 Mac students (see chart), a majority thought that Thomas Friedman’s lecture was not worth the rumored $50,000 paid for it*, though most were unaware of the cost. He gave a recycled speech, did not interact with Mac students, and did not encourage innovative programming or initiatives. In other words, Macalester paid Thomas Friedman $7 a second so that we could do what we already do for hours every day: sit on our asses and contemplate global change, rather than initiating it ourselves.

During his opening address in the Field House on Saturday, President Rosenberg touted students’ ability to think outside the box. However, if this were the case, I do not believe that the first three events to kick off the opening of the Institute would be two speakers and a conference involving discussion alone, and a discussion not with the larger Twin Cities community, but one solely among privileged intellectuals. As a student, I spend enough time listening to my professors talk, and they are excellent professors. The majority of the classes I have had with Professors Samatar or Moore are far more engaging than any campus lecture I have attended, because their job is to engage me intellectually.

What the Institute needs to do is provide us with the tools to change the inspired intellectual discussion around us into action and true student engagement. Students should be planning events and giving their own lectures and workshops, as well as attending those given by others. Grants should be created for students to follow their own initiatives and to give them leadership roles. Students should be involved at every level of the Institute, from the executive committees, to the schmoozing corporate dinners, to the small-scale events and daily programming.

So far, the Institute has done nothing to engage students in a way they are not engaged already, raising the question of why the Institute was created in the first place and whether funds are being allocated irresponsibly.

Almost all those who make up the Macalester community would agree that a global citizen is mindful of their place in society, and tries to share his or her resources with others less fortunate to improve the quality of life for all. Global citizens are frugal and skeptical of redundancies, and do not take waste lightly. It is because I am trying to embody those ideals that I question the legitimacy of this Institute and demand that it become more than something to pray for at convocation and to celebrate in ambiguous brochures.

Being a global citizen should not be something one advertises once in awhile, to show superiority over others or to gain recognition. It should be a constant reality that we as students, and Macalester as an institution, should constantly embody. There is an inordinate wealth of ideas, inspiration, and initiatives that already lie in the minds and hearts of Macalester’s student body that can help this Institute to realize its potential. However, this wealth is undervalued while the college concentrates on monetary wealth, and the potential remains unrealized.

Editors’ Notes:

The graphs on this page are not scientific and are not representative of the entire Macalester community.

$50,000 has not been confirmed as the amount paid to Thomas Friedman at his March 28, 2006 address to the Macalester community.

*The source of the $50,000 for the Friedman lecture is rumored to be from a trustee and not necessarily out of funds for student uses.

Contact Ninya Loeppky ’06 at

[email protected].