On Sept. 23, The Weekly published an editorial arguing that alumni donations have mostly benefited a small proportion of the student body. This opinion is both damaging to the school and factually inaccurate.
At Occidental, donors fall into two categories: capital project donors and Annual Fund donors. Capital project donors, like the Choi and Berkus families, give large gifts (millions of dollars) and create the most visible change on campus. However, the vast majority of alumni provide donations to the Annual Fund—6,061 donors contributed to the fund last year compared to 40 capital project donors. This fund supports campus in a wide variety of less obvious, but equally important, ways. By providing funding for clubs, buying light bulbs, supporting financial aid and keeping the library open 24/5 (previously it was only open till 10 p.m. every evening), the Annual Fund allows Oxy to address its greatest need at any given moment.
The editorial does highlight an important question — why are some facilities so out of date at Oxy? Our small endowment is one reason. At $356.8 million, it’s about $100 million smaller on average than comparable liberal arts schools. That number seems especially low considering Oxy’s high maintenance costs. A third party firm, ISES, recently evaluated Oxy’s infrastructure and estimated that the school has around $120 million in differed maintenance fees — confirming that much work is needed on campus. It’s also important to note that the size of Oxy’s endowment is not a reflection of this administration or recent alumni donations (some poor financial decisions were made in the late 80’s and early 90’s).
Another reason for Oxy’s perceived lack of attention to infrastructural issues is that, in line with its mission, it prioritizes financial access over other issues. Around 75 —78% of Oxy students receive some financial assistance, and of the $44.35 million awarded in financial aid, $41.45 million were need based scholarships and grants (85% percent of $41.45 million were institutional dollars, not federal or state funds).
There are issues with this administration, and there are issues with the quality of facilities on campus, but to claim, without doing any research or fact checking, that the alumni and administration need to do a better job of supporting student life is false and damaging. The truth is that this is a very complex issue, one that can’t be fixed by simply asking alumni to give in more beneficial ways — something they’re already doing, actually. I understand the annoyance of not having air conditioning in your dorm in September. I lived in Pauley freshman year and thought I was never going to A) put on clothes, and B) go to sleep ever again. But there is also a strong case to be made that the reason myself, and many of my classmates, are able to attend this school is because it prioritizes accessibility, not just amenities.
(Junior, Diplomacy and World Affairs)