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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

College fundraising should rely on student input and priorities, not college image

Last week in the CLAP I read a submission lampooning the incessant light fixture emails that have graced our inboxes at least once a week since returning to campus. The piece was funny, but even more, the truth behind it saddened me.

The fact is, the people who run Carleton College don’t really care about student interests. Well, they do, but only to the extent that those interests benefit the image of the college as a whole.

The light fixture is a perfect example. What better way is there to simultaneously show the college’s trendiness and its devotion to its students than to take their input in constructing an enormous art installation that no one asked for and no one wants?

Students may not care about a “fancy lamp for STEM majors,” as the CLAP suggests and as many conversations with peers have confirmed, but the people who bankroll our attendance sure do. Good appearances draw money to the school, provide positive PR, attract prospective students, increase rankings, and suggest a limitless array of resources.

We who attend Carleton, however, know that the school’s resources are anything but limitless. The facade of artistic tastefulness that an unsolicited installation provides covers the reality of our school’s situation.

Carleton’s coffers are not empty by any means, but not a day goes by that we cannot feel the effects of lower-than-desirable funds. It saddens me to imagine what quality of life improvements the money Carleton uses to put on airs could effect, if the school cared enough to try.

Many buildings on campus remain physically inaccessible, including academic buildings hosting entire departments (and administrators and, worst of all, Disability Services itself). Even those buildings that are accessible often lack single-stall or all-gender restrooms, adding another layer of inaccessibility.

Critical aspects of student life remain underfunded: SHAC is still underfunded, blindingly white, and in a basement, indefinitely; OIIL, TRIO, and the GSC would certainly benefit from more funding, resources, space, and staff.

Financial aid is a top priority, but Carleton remains no longer need-blind. The somewhat Orwellian “Every Carl for Carleton” campaign purports to make financial aid a top priority, with almost a quarter of the over $400 million raised to go toward this goal, but this solution seems more stopgap than anything else.

With that much money going toward financial aid, one wonders what the rest of the pot is meant for. Much of the issue surrounding Carleton’s fundraising, as conversations I’ve had with Budget Committee members has raised, is the presence of restricted funds.

Many alums donate to Carleton with a specific purpose in mind—a shiny new concert hall, a new science building, or renovations to the one building prospies will undoubtedly set foot in. Or a light fixture.

What each of these goals has in common, of course, is that they improve the image of the school without addressing the quality of life of students. They add to Carleton’s prestige and act as a kind of vanity project for alums who have the means to do so.

But none of us actually asked for Kracum, or the science complex, or Scoville, or the light fixture, at least as far as I can tell. What we as students want is what will make our time at Carleton feel happier, safer, richer, and more inclusive.

Why has the college not asked for our input? The question is a simple one, but to ask it feels ridiculous. We’re trained to simply accept our time here for what it is, without questioning the people who enable our experiences in the first place. We fast become jaded into accepting that Carleton doesn’t care about us.

But doesn’t it seem a little weird—no, very weird—that, at an elite institution that costs more than the country’s median household income to attend, the many resources hypothetically available to us matter less than simply maintaining appearances?

All schools, and all institutions, ought to support their constituents. Given that Carleton is already better endowed than most of our peers, why is the wellbeing of students, as determined by students themselves, not the chief priority of the college?

As Every Carl for Carleton marches on, as the science center continues its slow progression toward reality, as the (admittedly important) Bald Spot wells shiver in wait for spring, I can only wonder what the college’s ultimate goal is in these ventures.

Why is it Every Carl for Carleton, and not Carleton for Every Carl?

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