"Generations" money needs to help students
Matthew Loughran, Graduate Class of 1988
Before this week, the "Generations" newsletter has sat untouched on my desk with only the headline, "Goal!" drawing any attention to it.
I knew that the University, by earmarking every single contribution by anyone over the last two years as part of "Generations," had reached its goal of $767 million. I also knew that a large amount of this would go to endowed chairs, some scholarships and the construction of yet another science building. But, I wasn't sure about the full effect that this wealth would have on the University, so I finally broke down and read the pamphlet.
What was written inside has forced me to recognize something apparently very, very necessary to this University: lots and lots of money.
Now I realize that many of the fine structures that I had the privilege of working and living in needed large amounts of capital to be built. Some were built for good, necessary reasons. Some were built because an insanely rich alumnus decided that he needed his name on an edifice and gave generously to a tax-deductible cause in order that such glory could be his. I realize that, in order to survive as an institute of higher learning, this University has invest its time and effort into improving the quality of its facilities.
A great many worthwhile programs will benefit from the "Generations" campaign. The newsletter devotes an entire page to The Institute for Church Life and its job as a training ground for priests and community volunteers. According to the newsletter, the ICL is scheduled to receive at least $1.865 million. I won't begrudge that. It sounds like a good program to help fill the altars and churches in this country that have stood vacant for far too long.
Of course there is the proposed new Science Teaching Facility. This project is slated to receive $60 million. That is a full eight percent of the total campaign. Why is this building necessary? According to the newsletter, "to maintain the University's status as a top-ranked teaching institution."
I would advance the theory that any campaign as gigantic as "Generations" must serve two absolute goals. The first is to make the University a somewhat pricier, but still affordable, alternative to the ever-improving public university system. The second is to make the University appeal to a wider range of students.
Originally I feared that this second goal was sacrificed in favor of graduate research laboratory space and the ever-increasing graduate schools at Notre Dame. My father, a 1966 graduate, used to complain that Notre Dame was trying to turn into a sort of "Catholic Harvard" (i.e. formerly one of the greatest undergraduate universities, now more known for its graduate schools and research). But, being a graduate student myself and seeing some of the wonderful benefits and prestige that graduate research can bestow upon a university, I cannot really accept that point of view anymore. Of course, Harvard is at the top of the U.S. News & World Report rankings every year so how can we go wrong to emulate them?
We have plenty of "science only" buildings on campus. But where are all of the Arts and Letters offices? They are in that run-down and paper-strewn closet of a building that is O'Shaughnessey Hall.
Of course, as I said, lots and lots of money is needed to fund these buildings and to insure that the University is able to make a good showing amongst schools like Harvard and Stanford and Yale. Where does this money come from? It comes mostly from tuition. That is where my first supposed goal for the "Generations" campaign comes into effect. This campaign should be used to pay for these projects so that tuition is not caused to rise. As the newsletter says, "Keeping the Notre Dame experience affordable has been a recurring theme throughout the campaign and one which the University trustees have insisted upon."
Every year, tuition goes up and every year the University rejoices that it has risen "by the smallest percentage in history." However, working out the numbers, that percentage increase almost always amounts to a larger increase from year-to year in real dollars.
They say that scholarships are a main priority but do not note any. They say that keeping the experience affordable is the idea, but do not stop tuition at its already insanely high amount.
I am not the one to stand in the way of learning on any level. But Notre Dame is special. It has a special character and has had a reputation as a high-quality liberal-arts undergraduate school. Are we throwing that away just because of what some stupid magazine ranks as important factors amongst "national" universities? Is it worth the $767 million dollars? Is it worth the sacrifice of that liberal arts reputation?
I hope so.
Matthew Loughran is a 1998 graduate and former news editor of The Observer.
The views expressed in this column are those of the suthor and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Wednesday, September 29, 1999