It’s with extreme disappointment in which I write my latest post, this one on Carnegie Mellon University, or as the locals and attendees call it, CMU (sorry, Central Michigan University folks). But I feel I have little choice, given the amount of crap I’ve received over the past few months from my doctoral institution. The alumni association and the fundraising people at Carnegie Mellon ask me for money at least twice a week, and don’t seem to get it when I say “no” or “never” or even “when Hell freezes over.” I’ve known creditors less persistent about getting money out of people than the fundraising arm of Carnegie Mellon.
The last straw for me, though, was last week. I received three emails on the same day, not to mention a letter in the mail, all asking for donations. One also included an alumni survey, which I dutifully filled out and rated Carnegie Mellon at the low-end of every category in the survey. “Not only do I not mentor my students or aspiring college students about Carnegie Mellon,” I said. “I go out of my way to make sure that they do not ever consider applying to or attending Carnegie Mellon,” I added at the end of the survey.
I don’t think that the alumni association or the fundraisers really understand the depths of my disappointment regarding my four years at CMU between ’93 and ’97. I found the university culture about as welcoming as going to a Mitt Romney fundraiser in Boca Raton, and with many folks from the same crowd as well. Anytime your campus refuses to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday, or insists on having Dinesh D’Souza give a two-hour talk on race without an opposing viewpoint, it’s a stifling place. A campus in which the College Republicans stage marches while not having a strong College Democrats or progressive group in place is a bastion of conservatism, not just politically, but socially as well.
In four years, I became friends with a very small group of students and professors. I would’ve made more of an effort, if I hadn’t been told practically from day one that my master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and my other achievements meant little because, well, I had a degree from Pitt. And these sentiments came from my professors!
From my fellow students — who often walked by me as if I were a ghost until I forced them to say “Hi” — there was the impression that I must’ve gotten into the History program under some “special dispensation,” as one White guy put it. Yeah, my M.A. — earned in two semesters with a real committee examination — and a year of PhD work had nothing to do with my ability to write rings around my fellow students!
All in all, my Carnegie Mellon experience only worked out as well as it did because I reached out beyond my department and beyond the university to maintain connections and friendships with real people. My list of good folks at Carnegie Mellon is pretty short. The late Barbara Lazarus (see my post “Ladies and Gentlemen, Dr. Barbara B. Lazarus” from July ’09), Susan McElroy, John Hinshaw (who himself didn’t talk to me for two years after I’d gotten a Spencer Fellowship), and “My Friend Matt” (September ’12). The Black Graduate Student Organization (or BGSO), the graduate students of color/women graduate students working group that Barbara headed, and our group of fourteen doctoral students of color (the total number of non-White and non-Asian PhD students at Carnegie Mellon). That and playing intramural and pick-up basketball as much as three times a week were the sum total of my positive people and experiences at CMU.
I spent the majority of my non-classroom time on Pitt’s campus hanging out with friends there, working on my dissertation, meeting with some of my former professors, or otherwise enjoying my status as an alumnus. If anything, I needed to walk across that bridge between Carnegie Mellon, Schenley Park and Pitt as much as I did in order to keep my sanity, to make sure that I was essentially the same person I’d been while going to grad school with comparatively less uptight folk.
Of course, I could also go on about how my experiences with Joe Trotter as my advisor (see my “Outrage, Maybe” post from May ’10) turned me into an anti-Carnegie Mellon advocate, or how the sanitarium look of the university buildings could leave Polyanna depressed. But for those involved in alumni fundraising and related tasks at Carnegie Mellon, get this. I will never, ever, ever, give CMU one penny of my hard-earned dollars. I’d sooner give my idiot ex-stepfather a penny at his grave before you could pry a cold copper piece out of my hands, alive or dead. As far as I’m concerned, you owe me for four years of unnecessary anguish in the midst of my determined success.