Monday, October 24, 2011

Giving something back to the alma mater

TLOML and I spent this weekend at a Stanford Alumni weekend, in sunny Palo Alto, CA. For him it was a chance to reunite with his law school classmates. For me it was a proper eye opener.

I've never really got involved in Oxford's Old Member programme. I did go to a couple of Trinity College's drinks receptions for Old Members, back when I was just a few years out of college and would pretty much attend anything involving free booze. Even if the booze was warm Blossom Hill straight from the box. And last time we were in College doing Wedmin we stopped into the Old Members office to use their photocopier, and they gave us a couple of free postcards of Trinity. Oh, and a nice shy student called me once during a 'Telethon', and let me ramble on about my college days before I rang off without donating. That's about as far as Trinity's courting of me for funds has gone, and I like it that way.

I have certainly never made it to a 'Gaudy', which is the nearest equivalent to the Alumni weekend. Based on my limited experience of Trinity's alumni relations, I'd guess it involves the Domestic Bursar opening a packet of twiglets and some Freixenet while a very old Old Member gives a talk on Medieval brass rubbings. Then the College president will do a big shout out for Trinity retaining its prized mid-table position in the Norrington Table and pass a mortar board around, exhorting his audience to 'dig deep' - and a shower of coppers and Werther Originals will rain down into said mortar board.

I'm just guessing, but that's how I think it goes. Maybe when the income from the vast college estates starts to dip, and their incredible wine cellars run dry, they will get a little more aggressive in their fundraising. When they do, they could do worse than adopt the American model.

The American university system is oiled not only by massive tuition fees, but also by the generosity of very wealthy individuals. Such as the former students who will give a lot of money in order to have an auditorium or a courtyard named after them. The courting of such benefactors is an elaborate dance of spending: Stanford splash out on a fancy Alumni weekend in the hope the Alumni will reciprocate and splash out on an auditorium or two.

The Stanford Alumni weekend was pretty impressive. A number of important and learned speakers gave interesting lectures on a wide range of topics. They had golf carts to shuttle old or lazy alumni around campus.

The interweb was provided free, as were soft beverages and Stanford branded bags.

There was a big jolly picnic, with quality food, including a taqueria van and lashings of icecream. Much networking was done. Comments like 'Wow, he lost his hair pretty fast' and 'She must have gained forty pounds' peppered the air.

And, most importantly, pledges for donations were made. Apparently the Law School class of '01 contributed $110k to Stanford funds over the course of the weekend. Rather more impressive than that mortar board full of coppers.

And after all the networking was done, TLOML and his old law school buddies attacked a few of their favourite drinking holes. A drink known as the Moron Bowl was consumed. And another 7 followed. Then late night drive around Palo Alto in search of a Denny's ensued. It was as if they were still dissolute 20-something students, which I suppose is what a reunion weekend is all about.
Moron Bowl

The next day we took our 30-something hangovers for a walk around campus. Stanford is just gorgeous, and the facilities are incredible. Year round sun and palm trees help too. TLOML and I talked about sending our future offspring there. Then again, with tuition fees running at $40k, we're thinking... maybe an Oxford education will do just fine. They'll save a fortune on alumni weekends too.


  1. I never worry about donating to the LSE - they've got all that dirty money from the Gaddaffi's. However, now that particular dynasty has been truncated somewhat they may have to start rattling the tin. BTW that Moron Bowl looks only marginally less gay than the Mahiki Treasure Chest which i was once forced against my will into 'sharing'.

  2. Yes, Moron Bowl consumption is perhaps not Stanford's glittering alumni's (alumnum's? alumnex'?) finest achievement. Stopping at one would have been the Stanford-smart thing to do...