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Hear This, Dean Knowles

A Defense of the Alternative Senior Gift Fund

By Megan L. Peimer

Dear Dean Knowles,

As you predicted to us in your letter of March 3, the majority of the senior class has been asked by a classmate to contribute to the Class of 1997 Senior Gift. Many of us have given, albeit with reservations. But others of us have held out.

You are probably asking (to paraphrase your letter): "Why are you not choosing 'to join in this tradition, carried forward by tens of thousands of your predecessors in the College?'" Our answer is manifold: for a variety of reasons, giving a no-strings-attached gift to Harvard has seemed inappropriate.

Most importantly, many of us remain unconvinced that giving to the "traditional" Senior Gift is the best way to help future Harvard students. We agree that during the past four years we have learned and grown. We disagree, however, that our experience has been as "rewarding" as you portrayed it to be in your March 3 letter.

Your letter argued that the University's investment in our education has far exceeded the cost of tuition, and that this investment constitutes a bequest from earlier alumni to us--a bequest which it would be selfish not to support for future classes. In some ways, we agree with you. As will be made clear below, however, our participation in the Alternative Senior Gift Fund (ASGF), is aimed at giving future classes a different sort of bequest: namely, an education made stronger not merely by financial giving, but also by consideration and effort regarding what that money will support. We acknowledge the value of alumni giving, but know that our dollars can go further when tied to reform of the institution.

Indeed, during our four years at Harvard one of the primary lessons we learned was this: money speaks. Especially to the administration. On a variety of occasions, we have been taught that Harvard will not listen unless the voice is backed by money. If someone is willing to give a significant donation--or if someone is able to with-hold money--then Harvard will respond to their requests. Otherwise, Harvard tends to follow its initially determined path, ignoring the requests and needs of students and employees. Whether disregarding the 4,000-plus signatures on the petition to change the Core, ignoring PBHA's (and other student groups') requests for increased student empowerment and decreased top-down management of student groups, or stalling on a satisfactory resolution of the HUCTW workers' contract, Harvard College has repeatedly proved that it will not respect the articulated needs of its community.

It is because of these experiences and these observations that we have chosen to create the Alternative Senior Gift Fund. After having seen numerous causes ignored by the College administration, we are not going to pass up this chance to (finally) influence College policy. We are putting our money where we wish it had been years earlier: behind the causes that we believe in.

As you probably know, we have chosen to withhold money from the University until it shows signs of achieving gender and ethnic equity in its faculty.

A lack of women and minority and women professors in many of the FAS departments has negatively impacted our education: We have missed out on new perspectives, new research, and new theories. This condition for release of the ASGF was not arbitrarily chosen. There have been numerous statistics, Faculty-generated reports, and a plethora of recent Crimson articles proving that Harvard has failed to recruit adequate numbers of women and minority professors. These same media have suggested various means by which the gender and ethnic balance of the faculty could be improved. Thus, the ASGF money could be attained by you without too much new research or promising on the part of Harvard. The College needs only to follow through with its previous promises.

We wish to close by reiterating that we are, for the most part, satisfied with our Harvard College experience. The past four years have been amazing. But we strongly believe that these years could have been better; providing us with a more representative faculty is only one of many improvements that could have been made. Precisely because we did learn from our time in Cambridge, we are promising to give to Harvard eventually--just not now.

Megan L. Peimer '97 of Adams House, past president of Radcliffe Union of Students, is an organizer of the Alternative Senior Gift Fund.

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