Cornell and Dartmouth Shame Students for Not Adding Their Real Money to the Ongoing Bonfire of Imaginary Money

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Oct. 27 2010 4:54 PM

Cornell and Dartmouth Shame Students for Not Adding Their Real Money to the Ongoing Bonfire of Imaginary Money

Fundraisers at Dartmouth and Cornell singled out students by name for failing to donate money to the universities, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

With lists supplied by college administrators, student volunteers at Dartmouth College and Cornell University circulated the names of students who had not donated to senior-gift drives. The programs relied on students to single out their peers to meet high participation goals.

Not everyone participated happily. The single student from Dartmouth's 1,123-student Class of 2010 who did not contribute this year was criticized in a column in the college newspaper and on a popular blog, which posted her name and photograph.

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The pressure at Dartmouth was particularly intense, according to the Chronicle, because the Class of 1960 had pledged $100,000 if the Class of 2010 achieved 100 percent participation.

Overall, the Dartmouth Class of 2010 raised about $10,000, the Chronicle reports, and the Class of 1960 forgave the seniors for their lone holdout and went ahead with the $100,000 gift.

That hotly contested $100,000 represented 0.003 percent of Dartmouth's $2.998 billion endowment. The $10,000 raised by the seniors themselves—60 percent of which was consumed by stipends paid to student fundraisers—would account for 0.001 percent of the $835 million that Dartmouth's financial managers lost to market downturns in fiscal 2009, or a similarly tiny share of the endowment's rebound in fiscal 2010.

At Cornell, the $80,000 raised by the senior class was 0.002 percent of the school's $4.4 billion endowment, or 0.006 percent of the 1.4 billion the endowment lost in fiscal 2009. Or it was 9 percent of the $888,000 paid to the college's chief investment officer, James Walsh , the year before the investments he was managing collapsed.

Why would anyone with a normal human level of income give any money to these universities? Today's endowments and their fluctuations exist in a budgetary fantasyland ; from the schools' point of view, individual gifts are literally worthless. It is like writing a check to the Department of Defense.

Tom Scocca is the managing editor of Deadspin and the author of Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.

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