Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An Open Letter to Leah Dunford Parkinson Christensen, ’55

Dear LDPC’55:

First of all, I’ve got to ask: Did Utah State University’s motto (“Honoring Tradition, Securing Our Future”) come before or after the University of Idaho’s motto (“Where Tradition Meets the Future”)? Not that it matters much, as the U of I had that motto when I was a student there in the late 1990s, and they could well have replaced it by now. I can’t find it on their web site, that’s for sure. I just know there’s a lot of something Tradition somethinging the Future around here.

Back to your letter. Cartoonist Scott Adams has a rather nice analogy to university fundraising letters: Pretend a plumber does some work for you. A few years later, he calls back to check to see if the work he did for you is still bringing you benefits. You take the phone into the bathroom and flush the toilet, demonstrating to him that, yes, you’re still enjoying the fruits of his labors. Then he asks you since you are still seeing a benefit if you’d like to pay for a portion of that work again as a token of your appreciation and to subsidize plumbing work he has going at the moment.

My question (and his, too) is: Would you pay the plumber again?


All righty, then. So you know where this is going. Yes, my wife and I are Aggies. In fact, I’m a current Aggie, meaning that I am shoveling about $750 per class in Utah State University’s direction right now. Gratefully, one more payment to go and I will have the right to add the initials M.S. behind my name on resumes and pompous letterheads. Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful for the right and privilege. I hope that these extra initials will bring me honors and benefits long after I have ponied up the remaining 750 beans for my last course this summer. But you’ve got to understand that, over the past two years, I have shoveled about 33 credits worth of beans to the university, brining the bean total to about 8,250 by the time it’s all said and done.

Where I work I get newsletters. Occasionally in these newsletters the company brags up the fact that one of its employees has earned an advanced degree, thanks in part to a company program that paid for their education. But as a subcontractor to the company, I’m not eligible to participate in that program. So over the past two years my wife and I have made the sacrifice to pay that $8,250 (excluding books and the price of some computer software) for my education. I get some tax credits for the tuition payments, yes, so I suppose in this way my education is subsidized.

When I earn my degree, I plan on submitting a news item to the company newsletter, bragging up the fact that I earned this degree without a company subsidy. I don’t expect it’ll appear in the newsletter, but it’ll make me happy.

Should I expect a quid pro quo? Not really. If I want an education, I ought to be willing to pay for it. And I have. When I say I earned by bachelors degree from the University of Idaho, I mean I earned it. Every penny. I did get some financial aid to start with, got one tiny $250 scholarship and, for the last year, had to take out a student loan of $1,500. But the rest I earned myself, working as a hod carrier, windshield replacement technician, cafeteria worker and English Department office assistant.

I paid for my own education. I expect others should be able to do the same.

Is that stingy? Perhaps. I have three children now. They’ll need educations. So we’re saving up, in part, for that. Maybe when they’re ready some of that money will come Utah State University’s way. At this point, however, I can’t tell. They’ll have quite a few alma maters to choose from, as we receive donation request letters not only from you, but also the University of Idaho and Brigham Young University-Idaho. They all want a slice of that pie. They may all get some – as that’s how my education worked out.

I’m sorry government funding for universities is shrinking. I wish it weren’t, and that state governments didn’t regard education as a frill when it comes time to cut the budget. I’ve also seen universities pay $3,000 for campus-owned blimps to fly over the school to advertise its presence, so forgive me if, on occasion, I roll my eyes at how universities spend the money state government (and students) give them.

So I won’t be making a donation, outside of the tuition I’m already sending your way. Hope you understand.

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