More professors, fewer buildings

So as I transition from Tech student to Tech alumni, now might be a good time to talk about alumni giving, since Tech will not wait long before asking for even more money from me. Ha, jokes on them — I’m going to graduate school. I have no money!

Let’s suppose for a moment though that my vow of poverty proves impermanent and I somehow end up with a couple million dollars which triggers the Spidey senses of everyone at the Alumni Association. I would probably make a donation to my alma mater, but how would I ask that it would be spent. I know how I won’t be spending it — on a giant building named after me.

I guess I shouldn’t be looking a gift horse in the mouth, and Tech should take all the donations it can, but I don’t think buildings are the best use of alumni funds. Sure, the building might do a lot of good for the students and faculty who get to use it, but I doubt that it’s going to add much to students’ learning overall.

I understand why people want to build new buildings. A new building is symbolic, representing progress and new beginnings. It is something tangible that you can see and touch. You can also memorialize yourself with one. Students for decades or even centuries will remember your name, if only as the place where they have their chemistry lab. But especially lately, universities have been on a building binge with more dollars chasing less and less value. That money is by no means wasted, but certainly it could be better spent.

No, what I’m going to spend my hypothetical fortune on is an endowed chair. One of student’s constant (and correct) complaints is that their classes are too large and their professors are too busy to given them any of their time. Despite Tech’s ever-increasing undergraduate population, the flow of faculty has been more of a trickle than a flood (even as the number of administrators has ballooned, but that’s another conversation). A big reason for this is that professors cost money. A lot of money. So I would set up an endowed chair that would allow Tech to hire one more professor.

That’s a good start, but one professor is barely going to tip the scales. Okay, so what’s one of the other biggest things students complain about. Ah, tuition, my old nemesis. So my next act will be to set up a scholarship fund or two. Let’s get a few more bright students to come to Tech and not have to worry about how they’re going to pay for it.

Anyway, this whole exercise where I have millions of dollars (which is ridiculous, obviously) is a long way of saying this. How you donate money to your alma mater matters. When you leave Tech, think about how your donation will affect the students who come after.

My time at Tech has been life-defining and has helped shape the person I am today. I would want to make sure that I give the most I can to the place that means so much to me.