The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Letter to the Editor

The term alma mater—nourishing mother—has great significance. When we leave this university, we will be left with much more than a prized degree. Social and political activist Gloria Steinem, Tuft University’s commencement speaker in 1987, said it best: “I am terminally sentimental about graduations. They are more individual than weddings, more conscious than christenings…they are almost as much a step into the unknown as funerals—though I assure you, there is life after graduation.” And our lives will be intimately crafted by our time at SMU. Much of what we achieve—economically, socially, and intellectually—is owed to the experience and education facilitated during our time as students.

The question becomes: Do we owe this university more than our tuition? Do we owe it anything beyond our time here? Many critics of alumni giving believe that they do not have a duty to SMU post-graduation. They say SMU gave them nothing during their time on campus. They say they worked to earn their triumphs and graduate as stronger individuals with a career and purpose in life. Yet there is a certain tension in their argument wrought with individualism. Surely one’s professors, scholarships and support system were instrumental in their success.

In this letter, we seek to isolate why we owe our alma mater something.

All of us who attend this university are privileged in some way or form: we have the financial support to attend; we graduated from high school; we have access to a degree; we are taught by world-class faculty. SMU, through its financial support for students and its openness to criticism and pluralism—values protected by tenure—promotes openness over closeness, inclusiveness over exclusiveness.

There are two ways to tackle the question of giving. One comes from the corner of self-interest, the other from the arena of collective interest.

When alumni give, it is a vote of support and confidence for SMU. The US News & World Report tracks the percentage of alumni giving, and major foundations look at the metric to gauge a campus’ culture. Over 62 percent of Princeton University’s alumni give back, and many of our peer and aspirational schools outpace us. No matter what happens within the walls of the university, the world will not count SMU in the upper-echelon of universities until we give it a vote of confidence ourselves.

But the more powerful argument for alumni giving comes in its virtue. As a whole, is the institution’s purpose worth promoting? One fact is clear: If all giving stopped, SMU would have to shut its doors.

Giving to SMU does not mean that SMU is perfect, just as giving to any non-profit does not mean that one agrees with every function and process it performs. But if you agree with the core values of an institution and you agree with how the institution exercises those values, it is a responsibility to give for future students. In SMU’s case, our values are “Veritas Liberabit Vos,” translated from Latin as “the truth will make you free.” An alumni gift is an affirmation to the university and future students that we believe this to be true. SMU, in particular, makes this ethical dilemma easier: alumni can donate to specific offices and purposes that impacted them as students.

Many have already made this choice. Since 2006, a time period in which alumni giving dropped nationally, the number of SMU alumni donors has doubled as a result of both university efforts and peer to peer solicitations. And giving goes beyond monetary donations: Since June 1, nearly 2,000 alumni have volunteered their time through the Alumni Office to mentor students, host one-day externships, provide resume assistance, recruit local prospective students, raise money for affinity-based scholarships and participate in community service events around the country. Even 147 first year students, who have just started their undergraduate experience, have given to SMU.

There is an old proverbial phrase—a seat at the table—that carries with it a heavy truth. To truly work for change, one must have voice. For those who can afford to give money or time—the request is typically five dollars or volunteerism in the community—giving is not just a choice. It is a sacred obligation.

Rahfin Faruk, Student Trustee

Ramon Trespalacios, Student Body President

Elizabeth Dubret, Student Representative to the Board of Trustees Development and External Affairs Committee

Katelyn Hall, Student Representative to the Board of Trustees Academic Affairs Committee

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