Friday, April 11, 2008

Untarnished, She Shines With Honor?

I love Wofford College. My wife does not understand the special connection I share with other alumni when we gather at clergy meetings or when we see each other in various places. She went to USC and did not experience the education I had “on the city’s northern border.” My middle son likes to watch football in Gibbes Stadium, and hopes to play for Wofford someday. I have always been thankful for the opportunity to receive a Wofford College education. My time at Wofford prepared me for the life I lead now. I had excellent professors who taught the importance of critical thinking, reflection, and problem solving. I learned to examine my own thinking and the ways of the world around me from people like Dr. Lewis P. Jones and Dr. Clarence Abercrombie. As I look back, I see how the professors taught us to wrestle with our own ethics (even if in subtle ways) in the midst of the course work. Wofford offered me a chance to learn about the world as my own ideas about right and wrong developed further. Doing the right thing was as important as doing a thing right. I found in that place a call to be better, to learn, to serve. The College's motto, Intaminatis fulget honoribus, untarnished she shines with honor” is certainly apt for the place and its mission.

I love Wofford College. Yet, I find myself at odds with some of what I see happening there. I guess it started a couple of years ago, when I took the youth group from India Hook to a Wofford football game on UMYF day. When we went into the Benjamin Johnson Arena for lunch, there was a prominent banner promoting the SC Educational Lottery; later, when we went to the football game, ticket attendants handed out “church fans” with lottery advertisements on it. A couple of the youth asked me why a college affiliated with the United Methodist Church would do that since the Church had worked so hard to oppose the lottery. That was a good question then; it still is now. Several alumni said something about the lottery church fans to Wofford officials. The next year, the fans were available but not handed out by attendants.

This past football season, there was a promotion whereby a person could exchange used lottery tickets to gain admission to a Wofford football game. Thankfully, that promotion was pulled before it was implemented. I have also noticed that there have been several significant contributions from payday lenders to the college. Payday lending is seen by many as a questionable business that takes advantage of those near the poverty line with exorbitant interest rates for small loans. Quite often those seeking loans are people who cannot get loans from other mainstream sources; as a result of their contract with the payday lenders, they often end up much poorer. The lottery’s track record is no better. Statistics show that a majority of the money raised by the lottery comes from those who can least afford to play the lottery on a regular basis.

The lottery is legal in this state as is the payday lending operation. Wofford students receive lottery money for tuition assistance (although it seems ironic that a tuition increase seemed to kick in at about the same time as the college started receiving lottery money). What bothers me is the tacit approval Wofford College seems to give to these enterprises by accepting their money and promoting their products. Deluxe Liquors gives money to Wofford, but we don’t see their advertisements at Wofford athletic events.

Wofford College President Benjamin B. Dunlap has appeared before the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and spoken eloquently of the historic and continuing strong bond between the college and the church. Ironically, often during the week that President Dunlap appears, the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church has repeatedly voiced its opposition in no uncertain terms to the lottery and to the payday lending practices that prey upon the poor. However, in this era of lessening denominational influence, perhaps the church's strong stance is not enough to invite Wofford to reconsider its promotional practices of the SC Educational Lottery Corporation (at the very least, but not accepting lottery money would be even better). The United Methodist Church’s financial offering to Wofford probably pales in comparison to what Advance America and other payday lenders give to College. Maybe the Church's lone but prophetic voice and meager dollars are not enough for Wofford College to review its partnership with the Lottery and the payday lending institutions.

Perhaps what is needed is for the Wofford administration and Board of Trustees to remember the heritage of Wofford itself. At Wofford, there is a legacy of making the world, our state, and our communities better places. If Wofford educates its students on the backs of the poor and offers legitimacy to those who make a fortune in that way, then Wofford needs to change the College motto---for the tarnish will soon come. Honor will not be the bulwark for the College, but financial expediency will take its place.

Because I love Wofford College, I have hope. I hope the current motto will be more than some ancient, empty words on the College's seal, but an ideal that serves as the foundation for everything the College does. I hope Wofford will always be a place that teaches the importance of critical thinking, reflection, and problem solving---even about its own policies and practices.

I love Wofford College.

Intaminatis fulget honoribus.


Stephen Taylor said...

She only continues to shine when polished. And as you've seen when it comes to Conference's institutions, we like the shine, but not the responsibility.

Alex said...

I can understand your dislike of fully supporting the state lottery through advertisements. However, not accepting SC Education Lottery money entirely would be complete folly for the institution and ruin for those who hope to attain a Wofford degree, like you yourself already have.

Tuition and comprehensive fees for the '85-'86 year (the year after you graduated) summed to $7,920 or $15,614.69 in today's inflation-adjusted dollars. Next year Wofford's total sums to $37,655. Students like myself cannot afford the cost of private college alone. My SC Education lottery contribution is $5,000, which is more than 13% of the total cost of tuition.

If Wofford did not accept this money from the state, I (and MANY of the other in-state students) would have elected to go to Clemson or USC where I would have had no out-of-pocket expenses or worse-yet Furman. As a student who will graduate with Honors next May, I consider myself a competitive and serious student who simply could not afford Wofford without exorbitant private loans above and beyond my presently maxed out federal loans.

So, as a student and fan of Wofford, I implore you to consider the impact your proposal would have on present and future students who desire a Wofford education before you make such rash suggestions on a Wofford forum.

Joseph said...

Alex, Thanks for the comments.

I believe you and I will agree that the lottery, though helpful to some, comes at a high cost to the poor of our state.
I also believe Wofford could do more to help with scholarships and tuition breaks than we do currently. Perhaps the answer is a lowering of the tuituin by 5k rather than raising it because there is outside money available. Maybe we can be creative about tuition assistance as we are with getting a million dollars for athletic facilities.

Maybe the college can choose not to advertise the lottery at all just as they do not advertise alcohol at atheltic events.

We can do more than just say, we cannot do this.

Kristen said...

Thank you, Joseph, for your insight, challenge, and honesty. I've just caught up on the last two months' posts. You've made me think in all of them...
I'm praying for you in the move. I appreciate your prayers, too!
Thanks again for sharing.