A blast from the past

Got a begging ‘phone call this afternoon.

Not the usual spam at all, but one from my alma mater. They would like their alumni to make contributions of a financial nature, and they’re targeting people like me who they suppose to have money.

‘Twas a young lady who called (I expect that’s best marketing practice when targeting middle-aged men). I didn’t catch her name, but she’s a third-year undergrad. She caught me at a good time, so we had a bit of a chat, and she told me of some recent developments at the old place.

Turns out she’s a singer (too), and Girton now has a real musical reputation. Well, that’s quite a contrast from my time, when it had very little, and the organ scholar in my year was making valiant efforts (some funnier than others) to get at least something going. So we exchanged anecdotes on music then and now, all of which was mildly interesting.

But it occurs to me: if I donate to education (other than through my taxes), should that donation really be targeted at Cambridge? Yes, I loved my time there, and would recommend it to anyone. But it’s one of two universities in my past: some years after my Cambridge days I did research at Sheffield.

Now Sheffield is well-reputed, but not ivy-league, and it doesn’t have the luxury Cambridge does of a large surplus of the strongest applicants in every year. Nor does it have Cambridge’s historical legacy of immense wealth (admittedly, neither does Girton). Yet my impression was that many of the Sheffield students I encountered were doing much better work than my contemporaries and I had done at Cambridge.

Which of these institutions should be more deserving of my hypothetical largesse? Answer I think: neither as such. If I were to donate to either of them, it would be have to be to something rather more specific. And yes, today’s girton girl mentioned a specific project, but minor building works in the tower area don’t really catch the imagination very powerfully. Cambridge’s strongest claim to precedence would perhaps be in the context of helping some brilliant but impoverished young person realise a dream.

I wonder how many of our non-ivy-league universities make this kind of efforts to tap their alumni?

Posted on March 31, 2007, in education. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I spent my third year in the tower at Girton (I did come out from time to time) and it seemed in pretty good shape then. I even checked the place out last year when I happened to be driving past, and it still seemed sound, so I’m not sure what building works need to be done.

    On a more serious note, I agree with your sentiments entirely. It’s what people DO in universities that really matters, so helping someone to achieve something she/he would otherwise be prevented from doing would seem to be a good way to support the place.

    I don’t get young Girton girls ‘phoning me…where did I go wrong? Then again, I HATE telesales of any and every kind, however worthy; I’d respond better to a nice letter…

  2. Over here, across the pond, they try very hard. You don’t even have to complete the curriculum (graduate). UC Berkeley still hits me up for alumni donations, and I left that school in my second year there. The school I did get my degree from hits me up as well. I donate to neither since I never really did have any school spirit and all that rah rah. I guess what I’m saying is that when schools want money, they’ll hit you up even if you didn’t graduate from that school.

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