Macalester's Institute for Global Fundraising

By Michael Richter

A couple of weeks ago, Macalester welcomed some of our wealthiest alumni to kick off the long-anticipated Step Forward capital campaign. Their presence was marked by improved landscaping, better food, catered events, and, of course, golf carts to save them the hassle of walking across our fifty-acre campus. The Capital Campaign is a project that has been in the works for years, and its presence on campus goes well beyond boardrooms. The College has made a marked turn over the past few years toward a new set of values and priorities, each coined with advancement in mind. Chief among them is our abstract and ultimately empty commitment to internationalism.With our rank sitting somewhere in the mid-20s among liberal arts schools, it is difficult for Macalester to make a name for itself on a broader level. The small, selective liberal arts college is no longer a unique find, and the competition and similarities among these colleges makes distinguishing ourselves a difficult task. A school in our position needs an angle on the whole “liberal arts education” to set it apart, and ours is internationalism. We have students from ninety countries participating in a so-called globally-focused campus in a vibrant multicultural city. This is surely a positive attribute in its own right, despite the widespread opinion that international students are the most exclusive and separated group on campus.

The problem lies in the fact that our administration has taken this idea of internationalism and built it up into an exaggerated, flighty and expensive tool to draw alumni, bring in money and make Macalester a big name on the college circuit. I have no problem with fundraising, but in this case they are trying to pass it off as something meant for our education. If students doubt my basic claim, I suggest they look to our alumni relations practices. It is not coincidental that only international students are hired to work at the Alumni House, or that a disproportionate majority of the stories on our website are about international students. Our administrators clearly like to show them off, and their efforts are expanding to new and even more superficial levels.

The most impoverishing example of this trend is the Institute of Global Citizenship. The IGC building was designed to be a driving force behind the capital campaign. It is a perfect complement to our angle of internationalism, and when completed will act as our unparalleled beacon of global understanding for every visitor to see. I am sure alumni will love it. We need to show them that something new and unique is happening on campus, and what could be better than constructing a big white monument to what makes us special?

Now when it comes to function, the IGC is not so promising. A “get to know the IGC” meeting was held last semester where President Brian Rosenberg and Professor Ahmed Samatar tried to sell the ideas behind the Institute. Aside from the typically hollow theory behind the project, it was argued that just giving Institute members a place to put their stuff would increase their influence on campus (in ways yet to be determined). The only practical change I heard of was that the International Center offices would be in the new building, saving us a two-minute walk when it comes time for study abroad advising.

But how will the IGC add to our education in a tangible way? The price we pay to come here is increasing and we should expect a corresponding change in the product. The amount of money being raised and spent in our name on the project could make a big difference if placed elsewhere on campus, but instead we are getting a symbol to flatter our ego and bring in the cash.

I suggest we raise our standards for the ways Macalester spends our money. No one who cares about this school should tolerate the administration turning it into a corporate entity. If they want to focus on internationalism, they should do it in a way that is geared towards my education and not alumni donations. Events like the International Roundtable, a perennial non-event for most of us on campus, are not cutting it for the average student. And I do not see what I will get out of what is soon to be Macalester’s own United World College Alumni Lounge, otherwise known as the IGC. It is time for our administration to address these concerns and take their ambitions down to a level that benefits students, staff and local residents in a humble and valuable way.

Contact Michael Richter ’10 at [email protected]