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Sunday, March 03, 2024 — Houston, TX

Rice just a business; donations purely optional for graduates

By Falan Mouton     10/7/10 7:00pm

Tonight, as I sat down to unwind after another hard day as an anesthesiology resident in New York, I received a phone call. I didn't catch her name but she introduced herself as a sophomore at Rice. Immediately, I was thrilled to be connected, however tenuously, to my alma mater. I wanted to ask her what college she was at, what she studied and how she liked that new coffee place with the glass walls I had seen during a visit last year.But she was focused. After confirming my contact information she got straight to the point. Would I be interested in donating to the newest Rice alumni fundraiser?

"That's interesting," I thought. If I learned anything at Rice it was to question my world. So I will exercise those skills now: Rice, why do you think I owe you money?

That parchment degree hanging in my parents' house is the receipt for the education I purchased. As we all know, Rice won't award you a degree until you settle all accounts. So why do you ask me for money? Is it because you know that I enjoyed myself? You would be right. But Nike doesn't ask me for sentimental donations because they know I like running in their shoes.

So why should I donate? Am I investing in the education of future Owls? This is scarcely true. The Rice endowment has swelled to $3.61 billion. It increases by 11 percent each year. This is not money that goes to education. This is money that sits and hopefully collects interest. Meanwhile, tuition costs have increased. Was it really written in the original constitution that tuition was to be free? Regardless, it was free in 1912 when the school opened and its endowment at that time was a mere $4.6 million.

Perhaps you will say, wasn't Rice good to you? Not really! It never escaped my attention that Rice was a business. Rice's parking policy in 2004 remains one of the strictest I have ever encountered. Passes were expensive even though spaces were plentiful. They installed new gates that cost a million dollars just so they could collect more. One week before graduation my car got booted: except there was no boot, just the ticket for the charge of a boot. The university booted so many cars so frequently that they ran out of boots and still had the nerve to charge me for one.

They charged a high rate because they could: because we were college students with no options other than finding a way to pay the fees and the fines. Rice employed a staff of ticketers not because of some sense of parking justice, but because ticketing a kid who ran into a building to hand in a paper in a pinch was a sure source of revenue. It was pure exploitation and now they ask for generosity in return!

I don't plan on donating to Rice, but I do intend to give to my medical school whose alumni organization promised on the first day that they would not approach us for donations until 10 years after graduation. The school also has a long-term plan for providing free medical education for everyone who is accepted, not just the economically underprivileged. Just think: My medical school accomplishes this level of generosity without the endowment of a developing nation's GDP.

Rice is not my parent. It made no sacrifices for me. I carry my undergrad experience with me daily, but I feel no more indebted to Rice than I do to Steve Jobs for my Apple hardware or computer. They sold a good product and I bought it. Our contract is satisfied. I will not be donating to Rice because I have already paid for it. But take comfort in the fact that I am not asking for a refund because Rice had the pleasure of being the ground I tread upon during my undergraduate career. So, please stop calling me.

Falan Mouton is a Sid Richardson College alumnus.

Editor's note: According to Rice's website, the endowment is currently $4.67 billion.

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