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I do not specifically remember my first encounter with a higher education institution employee giving program.

It was likely at Clemson University. If my behavior then reflected my attitudes now, after retrieving the solicitation form from my campus mailbox, and after confirming that contingent faculty were not one of categories to which I could direct my giving, I tossed it in the garbage.

Later, I might’ve wondered if that was a mistake. Wondered if these things were tracked and given even a little weight when it came to determining whether or not I should be retained. My name was on the form, clearly some office somewhere would note its non-return. That I even briefly entertained these thoughts give a little insight into some of the psychology underpinning contingency.

I was reminded of these programs when Tressie McMillan Cottom remarked on Twitter, “One day someone is going to have to explain to me, slowly, how and why employees of a university are supposed to donate to said university.”

I thought it was a good question, and it triggered a memory of the last time I received an employee giving request, after I had failed to secure a tenurable position at the college where I’d been working for five years, and was playing out the teaching string with a single course as an adjunct making $2650 for the semester. I might’ve startled the administrative assistant when I said “eff this crap” (except utilizing the full vulgarities) and shredding the form into pieces over the garbage.

On Twitter, an interesting discussion over whether or not such programs should exist surrounded Prof. Cottom’s tweet.

If it isn’t clear, I have never donated money to my employer as part of an employee giving program. One reason is my employers have never reached the threshold I apply for choosing charities to which I do donate: that I support their mission, and that they be sound stewards of the money.

Why would I give money to support the academic mission of an institution that puts the bulk of its fundraising weight behind football

Why would I give money to support an institution that wasted $100,000 on an outside firm for a presidential search with a pre-determined outcome? 

Another reason I have not given money is because as contingent faculty I was a member of an exploited class which was underpaid. At Clemson, where I was being paid $25,000/year while teaching a 4/4 load, while advising a student organization and publishing two books and co-editing another, the ask was particularly galling.[1]

The ask even came in a year during the recession when all faculty and staff were already furloughed for a week without pay. I was tempted to scrawl, “I gave, and gave, and gave, and gave at the office” on that one and send it back with a picture of me, middle finger extended, but I didn’t.

I have also worked exclusively for public institutions. I well understand the financial precariousness of these places, but I also believe we must resist relying on employee money to fund that which should be maintained by the public. It’s like schoolteachers either spending their own money or starting a GoFundMe for classroom supplies. That should be recognized as a sign of a diseased public, not a feel-good story of people coming together to support a good cause.

A number of people on Twitter offered that they do donate to their institutions, which all employees should obviously be free to do, and deep down, I may be envious of those who have a relationship to their employers which makes them feel good about that choice.

Upon deeper consideration, though, I maintain my objection to the direct ask for donations from employees.[2] To me, the direct solicitation meets the threshold of Prof. Cottom’s “supposed to” donate, as opposed to a purely voluntary act. The form arrives with my name already filled in. I am reminded that the donation can be taken directly from my paycheck, no fuss or muss. By ignoring that request, I'm opting out, and this is not an appropriate relationship between an employee and their employer.

It is a request predicated on a longstanding problem with higher education institutions, that they ask, or even demand loyalty from employees without giving any in return

In that context, the ask is not a question of loyalty built on allegiance, but of fealty. It is coercive, perhaps mildly so, but coercive nonetheless.

I resented it every time.

Maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe the ire of employees like me is worth whatever the campaigns bring in.

Either way, it’s part of working in higher ed that I definitely do not miss.


[1] As far as I’m concerned, Clemson still owes me $200k as the minimum market value between what I was paid and a starting salary for an assistant professor, times my six year tenure.

[2] At the least the offices in charge should set some kind of salary threshold for which employees get the request.

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