The Wesleyan Fund recently sent me yet another exhortation to contribute to my alma mater.  I’m sure you’re getting them too, or perhaps you are still counting the days until writing checks to Wesleyan becomes optional.  My lack of donation thus far has not dissuaded them, however, so I’ve decided a more public response is necessary.  Perhaps afterwards they will stop wasting my time.  Here’s why I’m not giving a dime to the Wesleyan Fund: not now, not ever.

No current underclassperson was at Wesleyan in 2003 when President Bennett banned chalking, presumably in an effort to make our campus “prettier” for tours, or perhaps simply to shut down one avenue of student activism.  I wasn’t there either.  But like me, you’re probably peripherally aware of it, because chalking has remained an occasional hot topic on campus.  Similarly, when the current senior class graduates, no one but a few graduate students who happened to once be particularly cool freshman will remember the police brutality on Fountain Avenue in the spring of 2008 that sent three students to the emergency room with dog bites and left countless others desperately washing pepper spray from their eyes.  In two or three years, no current student will remember that time the University deemed a cartoon character too subversive to provide even his name to a storied and harmless festival. That Zonker Harris Day has since regained its name, only after Roth and co. were mocked by Gary Trudeau on a national stage, does nothing to redeem the University.  (Their capitulation was also tarnished by the new requirement that the festival include a “community service element” — apparently it’s no longer politically correct to throw a festival for art, music and fun). And in two years, no student will remember what it was like to sit on Foss Hill, legally drinking a beer.

The point is that Wesleyan University has proved time and time again—under the leadership of President Bennett and the leadership of President Roth—that it is willing to abuse the short institutional memory of a naturally transitive student body.

I watched President Roth take his oath of office, and I watched a few weeks later when he declared chalking to be graffiti.  I watched the police dogs savagely attack fellow students, and took a punch to the stomach for my trouble (thanks, Officer Clark).  I watched as Roth called a 30-old festival “stupid,” as though that were sufficient explanation for the University’s flagrant suppression of speech.  And then, my senior year, I was sent to the SJB after an incident at Senior Cocktails.  I was intoxicated and certainly in the wrong.  But my transgression of Connecticut law was not a violation of the Code of Non-Academic Conduct.  And I watched as Scott Backer and Dean Rick Culliton simply ignored the University’s judicial procedures and used the SJB, a puppet body, to sentence me to 30 hours of community service. I refused, and still do not have my diploma.  I realize that not all will agree with me that both the letter and the spirit of the law are violated when the former is ignored ostensibly in service to the latter. Far worse was the case of 1 Pearl.

A few weeks after my run-in with the “justice” system of Wesleyan University, the seniors living in 1 Pearl had their own encounter.  They were required to pay about $2,000 for damage that unknown others had caused, across campus, during an event that had begun outside their house, and for which they had provided nothing but a Facebook invitation and a list of campus locations.  They chose to pay rather than forfeit their diplomas—I don’t agree with their decision, but I can understand it.  The school’s decision to abuse its position of power and hold them liable for the actions of others was as shocking as it was immoral.  Never have I heard of an institution of higher education similarly debasing its lofty purpose.  The ruling was also illegal under Sec. 53a-119 of the Connecticut Penal Code.

Chalking continues, occasionally, but it is few and far between.  The culture of chalking that once existed is now gone.  After the incident on Fountain, steps were supposedly taken that will ensure the Middletown Police do not abuse students when they are engaged in legal activities.  Steps were also supposedly taken after a similar incident in 2002.  And as for the hypocrisy of a university that champions critical thinking while shamelessly repressing the speech of its students—well, that remains an open question.

These are the actions of a university that does not respect its students, its traditions, or itself.  Small wonder, then, that the rate of alumni giving, especially among recent alums, is but a small fraction of our peer institutions’.

This is not the letter of a bitter, resentful alum.  I loved my time at Wesleyan, a fact I attribute entirely to the amazing students that populate its halls.  Kudos to the Admissions Office, for consistently selecting a blend of incredible talents, interests, and passion from an enormous applicant pool.   And I do not find it difficult to reconcile my disappointment with the Wesleyan administration with my love for the student body.  But—wait!—you say: donations from alumni are what enable this place, administration or no.  You’re right, and here’s the solution.

First, if you are still a student: keep doing what you’re doing.  Keep brewing beer and writing songs and saving the world.  Keep creating subversive art.  Continue chalking in front of South College and dancing in Exley.  Keep punking tours: if the Captain Makeout prank hasn’t happened yet, it’s definitely time. Don’t spend all your time on classwork — be a part of your community.  Keep building things bigger than yourself, and believing that you can make it happen if you really want to.

And if you’re an alum or a parent: remember what it is about Wesleyan that you loved, and give your money directly to it.  Don’t worry, it will still be tax-deductible.  If it’s a scholarship, contact the trustee.  If it’s a course of study, seek out the professor.  If it’s a club or a cause, find the students who are as passionate as you once were, or still are.  And don’t trust the Wesleyan Fund to forward your money. I spent months during my senior year tracking down donations made to the sailing team, and I’m still not sure I found them all.  It will require more effort on your part, and there won’t be a polished website that accepts your credit card.  But it is an investment that will come with a greater return.

We can best honor the spirit of Wesleyan and the liberal tradition not by blindly donating to an increasingly imperious administration, but by carefully targeting our support: by funding the experiences that shaped us when we were students.  As for me, I’ll be giving my money to the sailing team and a few other special student organizations.  And I’ll be sending a version of this letter to student-run campus media every year, because incoming students deserve to know just how their university has treated those that have come before them.


Mayer is a member of the class of 2010.

  • John Wesley

    Every single person can find ten reasons about something somewhere they don’t like, and if they did, not one person would ever donate, and Wesleyan would not be the school it is.

    Or we can remember that no institution is perfect, but that ours strives to be so. President Roth’s administration has worked very hard to be a progressive one, increasing financial aid by 11% next year, and that is possible only because alumni donate.

  • David Lott

    All about you, eh?

  • Here’s the thing though…

    During your time a Wesleyan, you received the benefits of alumni donations in countless ways, but most direct and clear-cut example is through the silent scholarship. Even if you didn’t receive financial aid, every student’s tuition was subsidized by the annual fund by 1/3. So regardless of the beef you may have with certain elements of Wesleyan, I would argue that until you’ve paid that amount back you have a moral obligation to give back. It’s inconsistent to have accepted the benefits of alumni donations and then rail against them.

    (In case you’re wondering, I volunteer as a fundraiser for WAF as a class agent, so that’s my bias, but what you’re advocating for sounds like a recipe for Wesleyan to wind up like Antioch, and I personally think that would be a travesty.)

  • Here’s the thing though…

    Ooops, I meant to put my name on that comment.

    -Estrella López ’07

  • S0

    Who is “John Wesley” : any one care to guess?

  • Wesleyan doesn’t want your contribution. You don’t have the sense to get your diploma.

  • Anonymous

    Jacon, time to grow up… it’s not all about you.

  • Zach Lazarus ’06

    Dear SO,

    John Wesley was a classmate of mine that I didn’t know very well, though I certainly remember his name.

    With love,


    p.s. yay chalk! yay scholarships!

  • ok

    While I don’t agree that my right to public drunkenness needs to be vigorously defended, I think the idea of targeted contributions is a genuinely original and effective one. If everyone were as scrupulous with their donations, we could shape Wesleyan into a vision of what we want it to be.

    Re: the silent scholarship. Important point, but I think Jacon already covered how one might go about donating to specific scholarships anyway

  • Estrella López ’07

    Wesleyan doesn’t offer that many specific scholarships. All students get money from the silent scholarship and most students get money from Financial Aid. Those are funded from money from the annual fund. You can also specify when giving to the annual fund that you’d like to give your money specifically to financial aid, though personally, I’m generally against earmarks, as I think it prevents the institution from administering the money in the most efficient manner. That said, if you’re more comfortable giving to the fund by designating where you’d like that money to go, do so. Finally, if you feel like you’re not being heard and want to be, get involved. Get in touch with the alumni counsel. Get in touch with trustees, administrators, etc. Run for alumni elected trustee. I’m not saying Wesleyan is perfect, nor am I saying that one’s grievances shouldn’t be heard, but what I am saying is that not donating to the fund after having received so much support from it is a cop-out at best.

  • Law Student, Wes ’05

    You are not alone. I also was bitterly disappointed with my experience at Wesleyan. Wesleyan is diverse? Bullshit. Fuck you NYC hippies. Lady skinheads? Fuck you. Hate straight white men? Fuck you more.

  • Get Real

    @Law student: not sure about all that much copulation, but quite right about the massive Wes double standard that nullifies any claim to diversity. If one is white and straight, much less Christian, run screaming to another school before the Mind/Culture/PC Police at Wes sink their close-minded hooks in to you – – ridiculing and then dismissing your very existence.

  • med student, Wes ’08

    As a student who benefited from Wesleyan’s generous financial aid. I plan on giving every year so future students can also enjoy the Wesleyan experience.

    Wesleyan is a fantastic institution, perhaps you’re too spoiled to notice. After working for another university before my foray into med school I can assure you that Wesleyan is world class. You didn’t get a diploma after 4 years of hard work because you got drunk at senior cocktails, did something stupid and received 30 hrs community service? I understand that you are protesting the principle of the punishment, but sometimes life is not fair, you have to adjust and suck it up so that you can reach your goals. In 20 years when you look back at your life and realize that you gave up a prestigious and expensive diploma over 30 hours of community service you’ll realized what a stupid mistake you made.

  • John Kowalko ’10

    I wish this article has also mentioned the vilification by the administration of the Bon Appetite workers, the secretaries, and the Physical Plant workers when their union contracts were up for renegotiation in 2008. The administration repeatedly engaged in bad faith negotiations, and then, to top it all off, Michael Roth stated in a blog post: “[I]t is disturbing to see students enlisted in a protest (“No contract, no peace!”) that seems aimed to make up for the failure of the physical plant employees to agree with their own representatives.”

    Not only was this a dishonest misrepresentation of the status of the negotiations (the failure was the administration’s to actually consider a realistic renegotiation with physical plant workers), but it is also an incomprehensible, and frankly disgusting, comment about the student protesters. Wesleyan has long been known for its student activism (as one would think an alum such as Roth would know…), and, indeed, student activism was tremendously responsible for the initial rights those unions achieved in the first place. To denigrate such activism by young people, especially during a time when such activism, which used to characterize younger generations, is so absent from our political climate (as well as absent from Wesleyan culture in large respects), should make Roth ashamed of himself and Wesleyan ashamed that it could produce such a selectively-forgetful alum.

    Additionally, I wish this article had mentioned the Board of Trustees’ complete lack of consideration of student protests against our school’s investment in weapons contractors. This event, too, happened during the period of the Fountain Avenue police assault on students, the ban against Zonker Harris Day, and the resurgence of protest against the chalking ban. When I think back on the abuses and arrogance of the administration during the 4 years I attended Wesleyan, I join Jacon in his mistrust of the Wesleyan Fund and the administration that oversees it.

    As for people who criticize the author of this article for not donating (or for being somehow “inconsistent”), I would mind them to reread his final paragraph, where he expressly states his intent to donate money, albeit not through the Wesleyan Fund. As for Estrella, under your theory, I doubt most people donate over $100,000 to the Wesleyan Fund. Also, Jacon never railed against donations; he expressly endorsed them through targeted donations. The ridiculousness of your argument I hope results from your bias and not your Wesleyan education (as for my bias, I never knew Jacon). I also would recommend John Wesley to rethink his use of the word “progressive,” as he is obviously largely ignorant as to what should constitute “progressive” or just blind to many of the actions of Roth’s administration. Finally, for the brave “Anonymous” who posted, “Jacon, time to grow up… it’s not all about you,” I would suggest that maturity is shown by thoughtful discourse and reasoned actions, and not by snide dismissals of another’s beliefs. Further, I think Jacon’s post thoroughly demonstrates that he is acutely aware that it is not all about him, and I once again suggest rereading the article if you have misunderstood it so greatly.

    I will end by highlighting my agreement with Jacon’s belief that the actions and attitudes of the current administration at Wesleyan are responsible for the decline in alumni donations, especially by recent alums. Unfortunately, I believe Roth and his administration will continue to favor the business aspects of the the school over respect for its students and staff, thereby exacerbating the distance between students and our pride in our institution.

  • A few quick thoughts from an ’09: as someone who was allowed to watch the police and public safety tapes from the Fountain incident of ’08 (I was on the ‘Fountain Commission’…remember that shit?), I’d dispute some of your claim of “police brutality,” especially with implication that the use of pepper spray was unnecessary (although those dogs were horribly, horribly unnecessary). As someone who also had his senior year shaped by the SJB (banned from a few senior cocktails, almost deprived of my diploma), I broke the rules and took the punishment that I was given, and I can honestly say that most violations of the CNAC are usually in line with violations of CT law (although I don’t know the circumstances of your punishment). The banning on chalking was inherently stupid, agreed. But every university is willing to abuse “the short institutional memory of a naturally transitive student body” to make changes to protect it’s image. That doesn’t make it OK, but it doesn’t make the university Stalinist Russia. This reads like a letter from a bitter, resentful alum. And personally, I’m not giving any money because I’m poor as fuck.

  • John Kowalko ’10

    it’s weird they deleted so many comments…