Giving to the office at the office: are you f^(king kidding me?

excellenceI just received a telephone solicitation from a student at Baa Ram U. to donate money to support programs at Baa Ram U.  I realize that because the Democratic politicians in my state (who have been running the show for the last nine years!) are so gonad-free that state colleges and universities are literally going begging.  I also get it that “development” is all the rage.  Everyone’s got their hat out these days.

But I still feel pretty goddamned miffed about being asked to donate to my own damn employer.  The steady stream of solicitations had been until tonight confined to paper and email pleas for support.  (Curse you, stupid land line!)  I’m really interested to hear how the rest of you university and college employees feel about being solicited for donations by your employers, because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.

Here’s my thinking:  at least 50% of my pique comes from the fact that faculty at my university are dramatically underpaid compared to our “peers” at our own “peer institutions.”  I also didn’t get a dime’s worth of a raise between 2008 and 2012, and when I finally got a raise in 2012, it was a measly $1,860!  Seriously.  Another 25% of the rest of my irritation stems from all of the unpaid labor I do that the university doesn’t even recognize (like donating time to the university archives, one of the causes I was asked to support tonight on the telephone!), and the remaining 25% or so comes from the fact that my research agenda has largely been self-funded.  Yes, that’s right:  humanities faculty end up paying for the privilege of doing more work, because we end up without any meaningful research or travel funds to help us move our projects forward.

My feeling is that I’m so underpaid for my education, experience, public outreach, and publication record that at least 50% of my job is volunteer labor.  So, there you go, Baa Ram U.:  this year, I’m giving you nearly $67,000!  You’ve already got your Excellence Without Money.  Did you miss the “without money” part?  Can’t you do more with less?  Now where’s my goddamned tax deduction?

45 thoughts on “Giving to the office at the office: are you f^(king kidding me?

  1. I’m right there with you on this one.

    Each year at our faculty training day we get a spiel from the administration about how we (the faculty) “need” to donate part of our salary to the university “even if it’s just ten dollars a month,” they say earnestly. “We need to be able to say to [the state government] that 100% of our faculty are donors! We need to be able to say our faculty are COMMITTED!”

    Blah blah blah.

    We already ARE donors. We’re underpaid, we’re teaching (in most classes) 4-10 students above the recommended cap, and putting in 20 to 30 hours of free labor a week on top of that.

    Go ask all the rich bastards you gave tax breaks to for donations, FFS. Except we already know how they feel about public education.


  2. I do give to my university, but that’s by choice, not because I’ve been solicited, and it’s part of my tithing of my income. At previous institutions I’ve felt much as you do, though I have given to programs I valued. In fact, I give to my employer in lieu of giving to my alma mater… My campus needs the money in a way that incredibly wealthy alma mater doesn’t. And since I give to the center I run, I know it will be spent well!


  3. One thing to say on the phone when you get a solicitation call that you don’t want to reward with $ and it’s not because you’re being cheap or can’t afford it is “I won’t be able to help; I have reason to think [soliciting institution] doesn’t treat its employees fairly.”

    I’ve said it as both a person on the payroll and a bystander. It tends not to get pushback from the other end. Maybe because your typical cold-caller understands the soul-sucking suckitude of a crap job.


  4. Having picked up an MA several years ago as part of my PhD program, the university where I am completing my studies considers me an alum. I find it galling that a university that already takes back 15% of my stipend by charging me fees has the nerve to pester me constantly for donations.


  5. Didn’t you ask this last year? I have given to scholarship funds in my department but beyond that, no way. Having led my Department’s alumni committee for many years, I’m acutely aware of how university foundations work. If you do give and you care about such things, be careful to know who makes the decisions about the funds to which you contribute.

    I recently learned that a fund to which I contributed in honor of a retiring friend was misrepresented. The funds are controlled by the college and not the department. Pisses me off because I am careful about this stuff. Nothing I can do about it now.

    I’m with Historiann. If you work at most public universities in the states, you are already making a sizeable donation every year.


  6. I also give directly to my department, and then respond to all donation requests from the central development people with a sharply worded note about the institution’s misplaced fundraising priorities (athletics, medical campus almost exclusively) and screwed up budget-sharing equation (funnels money from Arts & Sciences to professional schools) that dissuade me from donating to the general fund.


  7. Never got a solicitation on the phone; it comes in the mail and gets recycled. Have worked for a private university for 30 year. When I retire, soon, I will donate to the university. It made it possible for me to raise my kids, have a good life and have a decent career. The donation will be targeted for scholarships.

    In my area, the salaries are decent, although not merit based. In the decades I brought huge grants, my salary increases weren’t proportional. Bitterness doesn’t help; I found other ways to make me and the kids comfortable.


  8. I’m an admin assistant at a flagship state university in the dental school. I contribute to the school’s outreach clinic that is a last resort for people needing care. I also contribute to the university’s art museum because I consider that a public good. That’s where I draw my line: community service outside the usual remit.


  9. I have yet to get the phone solicitation, but I do get regular calls from the institution where I earned my PhD. I am nice, but I will never give money to the general fund. When I finish paying off my student debt, I will give to the scholarship that was established in the name of my Doktor Vater and his spouse.

    No, what makes me angry are the solicitations from both our foundation and the /untied way every fall. I already give at the office, for the reasons you have mentioned above. I belong to the union and the state university system does not negotiate in good faith. Administration has yet to negotiate and sign a contract on time. I think that we have been working a year without a contract (Again). They want me to donate money when they won’t negotiate my salary in a timely manner? Go to hell.

    I know that the untied way does good things, but frankly, rich people need to pay their taxes instead of donating money to private funds that the 1% control directly by appointing their spouses to run or where they control it indirectly by sitting on the board. I don’t want to give to a private charity that is fulfilling the social tasks that government can and should do as a public good.


  10. Like you, I work at an institution that pays well below what our peer institutions do; top that with a state government that broke our union, and I don’t feel any need to donate.


  11. I’ve left enough money on the table in various capacities over the years to endow a chair, or a whole rotten roomful of them, and maybe even a Chair to stand up front philosophizing and emoticoning to their occupants. But we also get the exhortations to actually send in money, or to sign up for payroll deductions. Which I refuse to do. But the refusal gets refuted. The big takeaway over at Hoodumpler Hall is percentage of internal donors, which allegedly causes the suits at State H.Q. to send more money. So the dean uses a slush fund to reward departments that hit 100%. Even this doesn’t faze a tenured old bastard like me, so the chair uses another slush fund to donate $10 in my name to get the department over the goal line. Then it turns out that none of these slush fund-generated moneys are really available to us. Rather they go to “The Foundation,” which is another (albeit unaccountable) stake-plunger in the institutional “governance” game. If we want to use any of it (these dollars are already inside the boundaries of the state system, mind you) we have to apply and be nice and have priorities that match those of the existing regime, and also say “yes!” every time the local suits want something extra done. It’s a total racket. The big suits over at Hoodumpler don’t even go through the pseudo-nicety of announcing how much withholding *they* are signing up for in these drives.

    I even get a falsely-generated but official federal “tax document” (copy to the IRS) thanking me for the contribution that I didn’t make. Somebody ought to wear a wire on this kind of stuff. The actual taxpayers out there are getting rolled.


  12. [F]rankly, rich people need to pay their taxes instead of donating money to private funds that the 1% control directly by appointing their spouses to run or where they control it indirectly by sitting on the board. I don’t want to give to a private charity that is fulfilling the social tasks that government can and should do as a public good.

    YES. Thank you, Matt L. That’s the larger point here. Public universities used to be seen as taxpayer-funded public goods, rather than tuition and donation-funded private goods. I work for a public university now. I wish it acted like a public university.

    Why not train all of those “development officers” and volunteers to go picket Denver & get legislators to fund our universities properly? Colorado is and I believe always has been a net-importer of people with college degrees. It’s not like there isn’t work for college grads in my state.

    N.B. Truffula, I think you’re thinking of the post I did on alumni giving.


  13. I should say that non-rich people like me should pay their taxes, too. It’s really appalling how low property & state income tax is here in Colorado. No wonder we have school & university funding levels that resemble Mississippi. We’re number 49! We’re number 49! Why try harder, when there’s always Mississippi?

    The only reason our population as a whole remains so well-educated is that most of our college grads are, like me, imports from other states. Just another way in which this Western state leeches off of the tax bases of New Jersey, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Illinois, for example. We’re a net receiver of the money the rest of you invested in other people’s educations! Thank you!


  14. This must be the new thing — my U recently announced a similar campaign, though so far just bugging us by email, not phone. In a meeting last week, I, too, expressed that I donate my unpaid labor every day — how much more blood do they want from me?

    But, that said: I do give to certain University funds. Emergency fund for LGBTQ students who have been cut off by their families; specific outreach programs that support underrepresented minority students; a new program that gives staff a modest amount of $$ when they have a financial emergency.

    These are not the flagship fundraising programs my University would like to tout. But it is a way for me to make a difference that matters to me in my local community.


  15. Though I completely understand the frustration here, you might be shooting yourself in the foot. Lawmakers, foundations, and other donors sometimes use the percentage of faculty and staff (and/or alumni) who contribute to a university to decide whether they’ll support it, too. The thinking is: “Why should I give money to this school if its own people don’t think it’s worth supporting?” Unfortunately, withholding a contribution will not inform these potential funders/donors of the truth: “This institution’s own people don’t support it because the institution doesn’t treat them well enough to merit their support.” Effectively, withholding a contribution will only cause the school to miss out on other sources of funding, making it even more dependent on squeezing the little guys. Better to pay $5, get counted as a supporter, and hope some state and big-donor money follows.


  16. Better to pay $5, get counted as a supporter, and hope some state and big-donor money follows.

    Just buy a lottery ticket, it’s more likely to pay off.

    FYI- I’m now Dr. Rustonite, former academic. Hooray for corporate employment!


  17. Congrats, Rustonite!

    Here’s an idea–take a page out of that dangerous radical Henry Ford’s book: pay university employees enough money to give back to the uni, just as Ford paid his employees enough that they could be his consumers as well as his producers! People might even give cheerfully to the uni in that case.

    Until then, my donations will flow to Weld County Food Bank & other worthy causes, instead.


  18. I actually have donated to Baa Ram U. However, I did so because a scholarship was established in the name of a good friend who tragically passed away in 2009, a few months after he graduated. The scholarship is not yet endowed, but once it is, all the money will go directly to supporting students in one of the most underfunded departments on campus. I will likely give to this fund until it is endowed. I would also consider giving to other scholarship funds in the future (but I am an alumna as well as an employee who has benefited from these funds).

    I don’t want to detract from the important discussion about the defunding of higher ed (Baa Ram U should hire lobbyists and picketers!), but I do want to say two things. First, There are plenty of worthy causes to support at Baa Ram U (as at any university) should one no where to look. Unfortunately, most are not included in the Call-A-Ram program (a service that Baa Ram U contracts out and focuses on broad university initiatives rather than one specific to a college or department). Second, there are ways for the development office to record and credit the uncompensated labor and time of faculty and staff (considered a gift in kind). Few faculty do this because it is a total pain in the a$$, but I always wondered what would happen if faculty and staff started demanding that the development office record their volunteer hours.


  19. We don’t get calls to donate directly to our university, but we are heavily leaned on to give to United Way. And guess what? Turns out you can request that your United Way donation go to the university! Everyone wins!

    The university’s goal is that 100% of the employees will give, and every department has someone to keep track of who has given and who has not. So every year I get a personal email from one of my (overpaid) senior colleagues asking what my problem is. It does not make me feel charitable.


  20. I dream of being an overpaid senior colleague, because I’m just an underpaid mid-career colleague.

    Admin, can you stop by or email me instructions for reporting all of my unpaid/unrecognized labor? As you probably know, I’m hardly the biggest contributor in my department on this score, so it’s intel that will probably be very interesting to a number of my colleagues.


  21. You’d be surprised to find out how many of the administrators at your university “contribute” big bucks to the institution. It’s an underground economy that procures and preserves administrative jobs.


  22. I’m sure I wouldn’t be surprised at all. That’s just one of the many reasons I find it galling to be asked to contribute even a penny of my stalled, mid-career salary back to my employer.


  23. Pingback: On philanthropy: why must no good deed go unpunished? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  24. @ Americanista: I would challenge you, as well as the lawmakers, big donors and other 1% types you mention to apply the same logic to the other side of the equation.

    If state legislatures won’t adequately fund state schools then doesn’t that mean they don’t support education? And if state legislators don’t think its worth supporting publicly funded higher education, then why should I put my money there in any denomination? Wouldn’t I be a chump to give money to something that the lawmakers themselves won’t support?


  25. In the K-12 private school world this is pretty standard, although we do it by the “give a dollar” rule. My employer asks that everybody give a dollar to the annual fund because, they say, faculty giving is a measure used by outside agencies when evaluating us for grants. This year, to sweeten the deal, every division (we have 6) that reached 100% was offered a happy hour at a local bar. Maintenance and security got there first and in record time. I give slightly more ($20) because my kids attend the school. Because my kids are in different divisions it gets counted for all kinds of participation rates (LS parent, MS parent, Faculty) so they are very happy to get it.


  26. If your kids attend your school, I think that’s reason enough to donate, whether you teach there or not. Private schools and unis are one thing–I work at a nominally PUBLIC school!!! It’s the PUBLIC part that my state seems to have forgotten.

    If Coloradoans want higher education to be a private privilege instead of a public good, then I say auction off the naming rights to my university. The people shouldn’t put their names on an institution to they’re not paying for.


  27. I’m enjoying (for the moment at least, as finals week rolls along) savoring the question of where the biggest delusion is located if institutions think they’re conning “outside agencies” on the participation rate metric at rates as low as 1$ per head?!? Where’s the transparency, the accountability, the “laser-focused” algorithmic insight at Foundation City, in relations between these cultural figures–institutions and agencies? When students play around with margins and fonts, or pad their footnotes with citations from (from an actual paper in front of me right now), we just shake our heads. My chair just ventrilloquized me at 5X the base rate–with monopoly dollars from a rainy day fund–if a crumpled up one-spot would have done the trick.


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  29. I STILL get letters asking for donations from Private College who let me and 100 other employees go in 2009 because of budget cuts. They had no qualms about asking me for money even as the door hit my ass on the way out.


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  31. I work at Walmart and I resent it when they ask me to donate to Walmart every year! (I really don’t work at Walmart.)

    I think it is ridiculous for any employer to expect an employee to donate money. It is more ridiculous when said employer has not given raises to academic personnel since 2008, and those where at most 1%.

    Of course, I live in the heart of the red states and we know how people there feel about education; it exists to provide the only acceptable form of socialism, state sponsored athletic entertainment.


  32. I pretty much feel the same way. Unless I’m also an alumna, and/or unless a family member of mine is or was a student, I’m already part of the “team” and am doing my part.

    As David Perry said above: I think my employer is clearly confused about our relationship.


  33. I am the development officer for an academic unit on campus and I work really hard with my Dean to raise money for scholarships and programs that benefit very deserving students. I received a scholarship as a student and feel compelled to “pay it forward”. I also work at a state school where faculty feel underappreciated and our endowment is small.

    Our faculty and staff campaign is more organic, (faculty asking faculty- no calls or letters) and we value participation. No one is expected or forced. It really helps these kids out who are so deserving. The power of scholarships should never be understated. I too wish our faculty were treated better because it would make my job alot easier! Thanks to all faculty for the hard work you do for our students. I do agree with the above commenter who stated that the participation inspires others to give– it does. Who knows, some day a generous donor might endow your position!
    PS. Use your foundation officers to your advantage, they are always looking for projects for folks in the community to get excited about


  34. I don’t hate you, Don’t Hate Me Because. . . hate the sin and love the sinner, right? (JK).

    If someone from my college development department approached me and other faculty in my department about contributing money to a specific, History department-type cause, like our scholarships and awards, then I think I’d be more generous and less peevish about the whole thing. But that’s not what that phone call last Sunday night was about; that was a musketfull of buckshot aimed at the side of a barn, and unhappily my address and phone number were in the charge.


  35. Could be worse — I am an adjunct, did NOT graduate from my employer, and they panhandle me!

    I told them that the amount I pay for parking is my donation and to stop calling me. The lady on the other end of the phone laughed. She’s probably getting the calls too!


  36. Snailmail, email, presidential peptalks… Targeted (í.e., library), general fund, athletics (yes)… we get them all at my small (fte < 2000) LAC. But this spring "they" ramped up the game with personal VISITS to faculty offices. ugh


  37. LAC@SD: I think you can just borrow David Perry’s expression and inform the beggar that “I think [this] fine institution is confused about [our] relationship. I sell the institution my labor, and the institution pays me. Now, begone!”


  38. I’ve started to receive phone calls to donate to my alum institution. I just ignore them if I can. However, my present FT employer, a for-profit institution, is sending me and my colleagues numerous emails to join the school’s corporate owner’s PAC. Very thankful to have a FT job, but I could do without the emails touting the important role PACs play in higher education. Seriously?


  39. I’m just wondering if schools with huge endowments like Harvard, Yale, etc, ask employees to give?
    What strikes me as dishonest about the donation requests is that if you work for a big university, most of the money is probably going to go to the athletic program/football team, or the med school dean’s salary, or to someone who’s more likely than not to waste the money.

    Best thing to do if you’re going to donate is to give to a specific program that’s separate from the general fund. Sending a new tuba to the marching band might be just the thing they need most. If you’re a cheapskate, you can send them a new set of drum sticks instead. Either way you’ll be doing your college a service.


  40. Pingback: On philanthropy: why must no good deed go unpunished? | Historiann

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