A wise investment

Nina Brown

I am a traitor. Raised amid the white columns and red brick of the University of Virginia, I jumped ship (or continent) and came west to the University of California, Berkeley for my undergraduate education. I forsook the comforting, dusty depths of UVA’s ancient Alderman Library, the smooth marble floors of the academic halls where I used to roller-skate clandestinely with my brother on rainy afternoons, and the deans’ gardens where high school kids would to chill on Friday evenings, before being chased away by a campus guard.

Although I occasionally miss being a townie, I would never give up my Berkeley life. That said, there are a few facets of Californianism that drive me up the wall.

Aside from their tendency to queue up a good 20 minutes before the bus or BART train is due to arrive, and their love of drifting along five miles below the speed limit in the left lane, I find Californians to be — at times — slightly unhinged; while demanding full services from their state government and excellence from their public universities, Californians refuse to pay for such luxuries.

To me, this constitutes a special breed of entitlement. It is not the sort spotted around UVA, where over-tanned trust-fund babies abound. Rather, entitled Californians — Berkeley students in particular — demand four (or six) years of top-quality education for a relatively slim fee, and then graduate without a backwards glance.

The numbers speak for themselves: In 2010, just 12 percent of Berkeley’s alumni gave back to the campus. Over the course of their lifetimes, only 40 percent have donated, according to Jose Rodriguez, campus endowment campaign spokesperson. At UVA — which tied with UCLA for the second best public school in the nation, just behind Berkeley at number one — 20 percent of alums gave back last year, while the lifetime giving rate is 60 percent, according to Emma Edmunds, public affairs officer for UVA.

This culture of contributing to the next generation’s success is missing at Berkeley. Too many of my friends have responded to questions about the university’s fiscal future with the apathetic one-liner: “I’ll have graduated by the time Berkeley goes under.”

I’m not advocating mandated fee hikes or a vertiginous spike in taxes. And sure, I understand that the campaign to boost UVA’s endowment also contributes to bloated sports funding and an unhealthy fixation on the football team. And I am well aware that not everyone can donate. But I also have no doubt that at the nation’s top public university, a plethora of successful graduates go on to lucrative careers. They would do well to remember those who come after.

Nina Brown’s column appears in The Daily Californian every Thursday. Follow her on Twitter @NinaBrown296.