Senior class gift decision receives mixed reviews

By Ari Ofsevit

In the past, senior class gifts have taken many forms, from trees and bushes to a recently installed granite compass in Bateman plaza given by the not-so-recent class of 1997. Last year’s senior class broke from the norm, deciding to donate scholarship money to the college. With the help of the Annual Fund, they raised over $25,000, nearly double what the previous senior class raised. With that figure in mind, students this year said they had high hopes. Ideas circulating campus, according to Anne Trickey ’06, ranged from a barbecue pit to an enlarged swing set–itself a class gift–to sponsoring the Scottish Country Fair, last held when the current seniors were freshmen.

In September, however, they received an email notice from the Annual Fund that this year’s gift had already been chosen: another scholarship. The decision was made by Associate Director of the Annual Fund Adrienne Dorn ’03, who coordinates fundraising for the gift.

According to Dorn, the decision was based both on the success of last year’s gift and the desire that the gift meet a demonstrated need of the college.

“It would be irresponsible of the Annual Fund to allow for a gift some might see as superfluous,” Dorn said.

This year’s goal is to double last year’s donation to $50,000 so that a specific “Class of 2006” scholarship could be set up. According to Dorn, it is impractical to manage a scholarship with less money, as the principal on a scholarship typically generates 5 percent per year to be given to students in the form of aid.

Last year’s gift was incorporated into the pre-existing Catharine Lealtad Endowed Scholarship, which is named for Macalester’s first African American graduate and has nearly $400,000 in principal and generates more than $20,000 in scholarships each year.

The campaign this year is starting much earlier than in the past. Last year, the committee of seniors was selected in late December and then solicited ideas from the senior class, and fundraising did not begin until well into second semester, Dorn said. The majority of the ideas solicited dealt with fundraising, both as a reaction to the need-blind debate and an ideal of socioeconomic diversity.

This year, the committee was chosen in September, and a kickoff event is planned for November 30. The longer time frame will better allow fundraising to meet the stated goal. Dorn said that there were several gifts of over $100 from students last year, some of whom were recipients of the Lealtad scholarship themselves.

While a scholarship does meet a demonstrated need of the college, not all the members of the senior class thought that it was the best idea for the gift. “It’s just not that intriguing,” Trickey said, adding that the gift is not organic if the idea comes from the Annual Fund every time. She said that she thinks it may be hard to recruit student fundraisers to raise money for a project chosen by the Annual Fund.

Some seniors are supportive of the scholarship idea.

“Who could be against financial aid? If this is the way to best use resources, it was the best decision,” Ted Clement ’06 said.

At first, Andrea Johnson ’06, who serves on the class gift committee, was not quite sure why students were not included in the process to decide what the gift was. However, she said that she thinks it is a great gift and that she respects the Annual Fund’s decision. “It’s really impressive,” she said. “We should focus on that rather than how the decision was made.”

“I’m all for democracy and power to the people,” Johnson continued, “but you need to be pragmatic and get working, and this was the most efficient way to do things.” She said that she thinks the class will be able to raise the $50,000 in order to endow the scholarship under the Class of 2006 name.

Among Macalester’s peer schools, there are several class gift strategies. Vassar raises money for various causes and tries to find an alumnus to pledge to match the gift based on the number of students who pledge and the amount they give. They have raised as much as $30,000, including $10,000 or more in matching gifts. Bates also raises money for various causes, last year raising $20,000 for a staff emergency fund. Pomona’s classes have planted a tree on campus every year since 1986, although their fundraising barely passes the $5000 mark annually. Even Dartmouth, a much larger school than Macalester, only raised $15,000 last year to devote to a scholarship fund.