Students As Pets: barking up the money tree

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Written by Marty Williams

“No matter what else you can say about students, you have to admit that they’d make great pets.”

That, or some sentiment quite like it, must have been uttered at the brainstorm session at Concordia University in Montreal when they came up with the idea of letting folks “buy” their very own student. True story: the big push in the fundraising department there is not for building new buildings, or to fund well-endowed Chairs, but rather to “sponsor” an undergrad to the tune of $7500. And it’s working.

When you think about it, the plan isn’t so far-fetched. It just personalizes giving the way those foster children ads do. And rather than throwing your money onto a big pile -- like the tsunami relief effort last winter -- you target your generosity and help out a specific person. In this case, rather than giving money to the university, or to scholarships and bursaries at that university, you have the chance to pay the tuition and other fees of a student of your choice. You get to help somebody directly; you get to see your money at work. For those reluctant to give just give because it’s a moral imperative, because it’s simply the right thing to do, buying a student provides them with the satisfaction of knowing that student X would not get an education without them. You get to play the big shot in a way that wouldn’t register before, and student X gets humbled directly.

But even with all that rationale, I’m surprised that it has proved to be so popular. (Reports say that Concordia has over 200 “sponsored” students, so you just know that this scheme, this modern twist to indenturing, is coming to a campus near you. And soon.)

I guess the sponsors hope to be warmly embraced by the student they are shelling out for, but lest they be disappointed I would suggest that they ask somebody who has children attending university or college to tell you how this actually works.

In most cases, it goes like this:
Students take your money and in return they disappoint you with their course selection, dress, choice of friends and choice of lovers (note the plural), work habits, and (if they bother to have them) life plans. They bring home the laundry for you to do, sleep past noon, demand that you feed them whenever they have a pang, and act as if you exist for no other reason then to serve them. Thankfully for all involved, there is some chemical in the parental brain that will tolerate most – if not all – of this sullen posturing. For most moms and dads, even getting a mumbled “thanks” once in a while (like after every 22nd act of selfless generosity) is enough to make them practically pee their pants with joy: what a wonderful kid I have, they think; what a miracle of the universe, what a joy to behold.

Now maybe I’m wrong, but that scenario sounds a lot like living with a cat. One party gives, the other takes; one party works for a living, the other party operates a hidden agenda that, they assure you, is damned important but one that they can’t share; one party is hopeful and optimistic and wishing the other well, the other fairly exudes the phrase “go fuck yourself.”

It’s not easy to live with a creature that is always dragging home half-dead rats, coughing up on the carpet, and licking themselves at inopportune times. It’s not easy living with cats either. But we do it; oh yes we do. And apparently there is a market for even more punishment. Apparently, there are a few people who haven’t had enough of the pleasure of forking over large dollars to their own ungrateful progeny – or who can’t remember the ten Big Macs™ in your gut nausea that lasted for the duration of their post-secondary parenting – and want to get in (or get back in) the game.

The only reason that I can think of for doing this, is that some people believe that students are not like cats at all, but rather more like dogs. This is an important distinction to make. A dog theorist would say that students are, loud, dirty, obnoxious, and promiscuous – but at least they are loving and loyal. This sort of “thinking” comes from the glass is half-full school. They claim that instead of being a sullen lay-about, your average college Jane is full of energy and optimism. Why else, these folks reason, would they go to all the trouble of stealing our 15 piece patio furniture set on the way home from the bar? They will claim that if you train students properly, their companionship can be just as rewarding as any Rex or Rover; that, like dogs, students are a lot of work – and you’re going to pick up a lot of shit either way - but if you show them love and keep them on a short leash, they can be a very satisfying purchase.

Now I am no psychologist (though I have taken a few tests) but if this adopt-a-student program is actually working it must be because the people willing to pony up the cash believe that students are – at heart – “good kids.” This notion can only come from the toxic mixture of advanced age and nostalgia, from the “well, when I was an undergrad, we were lucky to have a typewriter to share between fifty of us,” school of dementia. These same doddering old fools tell tales of good nature pranks that in today’s climate would have landed them in jail rather than as partner in a prestigious law firm.

In order to reinforce their delusion of the good-old-days, these people must believe that current students are amassing good-old-days tales of their own. And so it disturbs them to think that some students will have to drop out because of the high fees (never mind that they themselves have caused these high fees by electing governments who have grossly under-funded the post-secondary system so they could cut taxes to partners in prestigious law firms like them).

So you see the problem: if they just give money, who will they tell their stories to? If they just give money, how can they live vicariously through the shenanigans of today’s students? It’s a brilliant solution on Concordia’s part to offer these reluctant benefactors their own pet students.

I just wonder if they have a catalogue to pick them from like they do for email-order brides.

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  1. Posted by: on Nov 15, 2005 @ 11:38am

    This is the awesomest idea ever!

    Just give it a little bit of time to become institutionalized. Before you know it, students who "can't afford" to go to school will be characterized as merely too lazy or selfish to find a "sponsor" in the press, and our beloved government ("liberal" or conservative, whatever) will boldly claim that every hardworking student in Ontario still has access to a quality education.

    At that point, "sponsors" can begin to make certain gentle requests of their sponsorees - minor things like how you dress, what degree you should pursue, what extracurricular activities you can participate in, what political opinions you can express - and the entire post-secondary education will be fully commercialized. Students (or at least those whose parents aren't rich or MPPs) will be owned by private citizens (and, of course, corporations) during their undergrad degree, and companies like Monsanto and McDonalds who foot the research bill will get to decide what grads and profs study.

    Here's to the rebirth of court culture and patronage!

    Now if you'll excuse me, I better go get a haircut and scrub myself of unpopular opinions.

  2. Posted by: Trish on Nov 17, 2005 @ 5:49pm

    I'm just incredibly curious to know how Marty knows that mail order brides come from a catalogue...

  3. Posted by: Marty on Nov 20, 2005 @ 9:37pm

    Where else could they come from? That's what makes them "mail order." But -- in case you are suggesting that I met my own lovely wife that way, let me assure you, I did not. We met the old fashion way: drunk at a U of G party.

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