Guest Editorial: In praise of thrift

Peter Gillette

Despite last week’s cold spell I am afraid, because when it gets warm, the llama petting-zoos and the inflatables and the binge of cardswipe-bacchanales that becomes May at Lawrence must be, sadly, right around the corner.
You know how it is. The Hall Council put on the “Lord of the Rings” marathon during midterm reading period first term. There was that little minigolfing trip some time in the winter that everyone who wasn’t watching basketball or listening to Trivia thought about attending. Once somebody remembered to buy finals food.
Lo and behold: $700 left over. And from the midst of the RLA meeting, from the midst of the Hall Council meeting, from the midst of the LUCC-recognized organization, some person – it’s always the same person in each group – reminds everyone else:
“You guys, if we don’t spend this money in two weeks we’ll lose it.”
By George, s/he is right! And so we spend. We have our three dozen block parties, root beer kegs and all, hire a campus band almost at union rate, rent the grills, table for card swipes, buy some kitchen utensils for good measure, and — some groups are smart like this – we fill the basement with foam or sand and clean it up all in the same weekend.
And if there’s a hundred bucks left over, hell, let’s blow it on helium balloons.
Last year an RLA in Plantz – since he is managing editor of this newspaper, he shall remain nameless — spent about $250 of floor money on renting a backhoe. Now, this is clever, and I took more than a couple trips around the block on it and enjoyed it very much, but in its brilliant absurdity, I believe it proves my point:
Too often, groups or dorms program precisely because they have the money. Sure, we need some programs, and yes, those ought to be funded, but at the end of every third term, the truth tends to leak out, as there is simply too much to do. The glut of programs, then, causes each to be under-attended, in a cruel irony of the system.
So, when there’s money left over, what is a group, a dorm, or LUCC to do? First of all, honestly note that to whoever dispersed the money. Second of all, think of what an endowment of leftover student moneys could do: you want cable? You want your weightroom? You want more flowerbeds, vegan options, piano benches, books, microscopes, course offerings, parking spots? OK, maybe not more parking.
Well, each of these fall under a different departmental budget, but imagine the kind of power students could have by, outside of the yearly allocations of LUCC but perhaps organized by it, there was a fund where students would, by virtue of our responsibilities, be able to sit down, say, once a decade with the administration and suggest a capital improvement that we, the students, would be able to bankroll. This would be kind of like a multi-class gift.
That would be difficult to set up and involve some substantial restructuring of finances, but it would be a way to engage Lawrence students and their groups into a sort of – pardon the phrase – “ownership society.” You’re less likely to pee in a hallway you helped to carpet.
While we have a senior gift committee, there are limits to students’ disposable incomes. (At least there are limits to mine.) And while we can give money to the Lawrence Fund, the effect, despite the orange signs, is less tangible than a fund that would result in a single project bankrolled by a group of future alums.
There are much more modest ways to go about this: allowing or encouraging leftover hall moneys or organizational moneys to help fund junior faculty research or scholarships to summer programs for a deserving resident with a stellar GPA and a compelling plan.
Or, of course, we could realize that when Lawrentians travel between dueling block parties in a rented backhoe at the same time that – as happened last spring – administrators threaten a pay freeze for faculty and tuition – once again – rises, something has gone terribly, hilariously wrong.
And then, we allocate accordingly.