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A letter from an alum about University loans

February 29, 2004

Your cover article on “Tough Times” reminded me of the early 1980s when, during the national recession, I was frequently asked by classmates who had lost jobs to help them find new ones. I had been class secretary since 1962 (remained so ‘til our 50th reunion in ’99) and those ‘49ers logically hoped I knew of classmates/situations they could contact in their job search.

The agonies many were then going through – some more severe than those covered in your article – caused me to write a letter to PAW. I suggested that the University – then at the start of a $275 million capital fund drive – increase the goal by $10 million, and use those extra funds to provide loans to alumni of all classes who were out of work and in desperate need of money. (I calculated that if 20 alumni per class – a high estimate then, but not today or in the future – within 45 years of actively working classes, needed funds of say $10,000 each, that’d come to $9 million, and $10 million would cover it). The idea was that loans would be repaid to Princeton by the individual over time, or by his/her estate.

The University ignored my letter, except for a member of the administration (long departed) who said to me, “What do you think we are, a bank?” Today I would (At least in certain instances) have to say “No,” since banks require collateral, and interest on any loans. With its immense endowment, mostly from alumni gifts and management, today’s Princeton – in its continuing quest for diversity/excellence/uniqueness – grants free total scholarships, not loans, no payback required.

But to help its needy alumni, Princeton does little, if anything. Oh, certainly it “donates” freely of the time, involvement and expense borne by those alumni willing to help others – there’s no cost to Princeton in that. Yet, at the same time the University continues to seek AG support each year from all alumni. And of course it knows that some classes, including ours, develop a small fund to help other classmates in time of need – but that help can only be modest, at best, and is particularly embarrassing to the recipient.

We all know what’s fair is fair, and one hand washes the other. The very least Princeton should do is be willing to extend to alumni in their time of need the equivalent of those funds they’ve freely given to AG over the years, and hopefully a loan beyond that, all ultimately to be returned to Princeton by those alumni or their estate. Curiously, this might well spark additional giving to Princeton by alumni who’d come to recognize it as a compassionate as well as a taking institution. While Princeton proclaims itself to be “in the nation’s service, and in the service to all nations,” should it not be willing to extend some of this service to its own alumni when they need it most?

Al Kracht ’49
Chappaqua, N.Y.

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