Guest Column: ‘We Will’ donate to build a better Northwestern

Anthony Guerrero, Weinberg senior

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I, like Dick Reif (Medill ’64), was invited to join Northwestern’s $3.75 billion fundraising drive called “We Will.” My reply – I MUST. I felt urged to write a response to his letter to the editor for two opposing reasons. His message about putting students first in the fundraising campaign resonated with me, so I want to applaud and celebrate his passion and care for students’ best interest. But I disagree with his conclusion, wherein he will not give back, as a means to call attention to these issues.

(Letter to the Editor: Alum says ‘I Won’t’ to Northwestern’s ‘We Will’ campaign)

I have the unique experience of being on both sides of these issues. I am a student representative of the University to incoming students and parents and to donors and alumni, a Wildcat Welcome peer adviser, a Phonathon caller and a Class Gift of 2014 executive board member. So, I know what it means to have to speak and represent the University. I have also had the fortunate experience of being part of many student activism movements in these past four years. I say this because I mean to offer a student perspective to this campaign, particularly from a student who has fought for and against this university.

I first want to dispel some misconceptions about the fundraising campaign. There is a misunderstanding of exactly what the endowment represents, and my best way of expressing this is by stating that it is the closest equivalent to NU’s savings account. It’s a crude comparison, but it works. The endowment is supported by large gifts from donors who give to specific areas of interest – these can include anything from infrastructure and buildings to scholarships and research grants. All donors who give to the endowment give a restricted gift, meaning that they designate exactly which area they want it to benefit and how they want it to be spent. A good chunk of the building developments come from the endowment, that is true, but endowment spending is not unrestricted. As regulated by law, most universities spend only around 5 percent of their endowment in any given year, after it has accumulated interest.  Mr. Reif pointed out the example of Princeton, which spends between 4 to 5.75 percent. NU’s spending rate was 4.35 percent during the 2011-12 fiscal year. So, we seem to be spending comparably to other institutions. Whether or not we should be spending more for more areas is a different issue.

There are, however, areas that alumni can give back to without giving back to the administration, and instead focusing on students. The letter emphasized three areas of campus life that I think should become the focus of funding: providing support to victims of sexual assault through the Center for Awareness, Response and Education, providing stronger psychological support through Counseling and Psychological Services and offering stronger financial aid packages that ensure students graduate with a lessened debt burden. I agree that these areas are severely underfunded and in great need of our attention. There is an even greater number of areas which also need support, such as student life and student groups, research grants and infrastructure that directly affects students, such as shuttles and SafeRide. These are all areas of campus that desperately need funding and are not always supported by the endowment. Withholding donations to make a statement makes the greatest dent on these underfunded areas and serves no purpose.

I point all this out as a plea to Mr. Reif and to other alumni and seniors who were considering giving back to the University but are disenchanted by the University’s responses to different situations. I, like you, am also upset. I love this place, and it breaks my heart to see these things happen. This is why I am giving back. I must give back to the areas of campus that I know need my support and the support of other donors, bypassing the administration’s spending plans. This is the message we portray with the Class Gift of 2014. We each get to give back our $20.14 to an area of campus life we think needs our individual support. I can assure you those gifts go to areas such as CAPS, which was the second most popular area of giving among seniors last year. I must give back to this university if I want to see these changes. I want to see more scholarships being provided so we can lessen debt for more students, so I am giving back to the Scholarship Fund. I want to see more support and funding for student mental health, so I am giving back to Counseling and Psychological Services. I want to see change at this university, so I WILL.

Anthony Guerrero is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at anthonyguerrero2014@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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