I repeat: the University of Colorado will never get another penny of my money

Earlier today I got a call from the University of Colorado, where I earned by doctorate. It was one of those periodic fund-raising calls that probably every alum gets, and the young woman on the other end of the line was incredibly polite and winning. She asked a few questions about how I was doing, what I was doing, had I been back to campus lately, and so on. You can’t just pass the offering plate right away, even though everyone knows the ritual.

Eventually she worked around to asking me for $500. Which wouldn’t be unreasonable under most circumstances, I suppose. Even though times are tight out there I do have a good job and it would be easy enough to argue that my degree from CU certainly didn’t hurt me any in getting the job or in the performance of my duties there.

But there won’t be a check. I told the nice young woman that I’d explained the situation in the past when the school had come calling, hat in hand, and that I’d explain it again and she could pass it back up the line if there were mechanisms to do so.

Here’s the issue. I entered the university shortly after the goddamned state passed the Douglas Bruce-inspired “taxpayer bill of rights” legislation (may Bruce die soon and rot in Hell for all the damage his malevolent bullshit has wreaked on the citizens of Colorado) that made it impossible for the school to make even critically necessary operational cost bumps in tuition. So they had to resort to the widespread use of “fees.” Which was fine, in some cases. But there were also other fees, like the athletic program fee. Even if you never went to a game, played a sport, watched a game on TV, or knew that there was an athletic program on campus, you were compelled to cough up the fee, which I recall being at least a couple hundred dollars a year.

Even though I’m a sports fan, this griped me. More importantly, though, it illustrates the prevailing philosophy that the school had during those years. Put simply, it went something like “we’re going to take your money because we can.” And they did.

There are two cases that led directly to what I told the student who called me today. The first was an insurance fuck-up. There was a time, in 1999, if I recall, when I needed to cancel my university insurance. I had secured coverage elsewhere and no longer needed the student policy. In order to do so, I had to fill out and submit a form by a certain date, which I did. My mistake was not doing so by registered mail, because they went ahead and billed me for the coverage (which was maybe $400 or so). I went to see them, said no, I sent in the form. They said we don’t have any form. And away we went. Those familiar with the workings of state university bureaucracies will recognize the process.

I appealed and lost, surprising nobody. To my way of thinking I was able to prove my case pretty conclusively, but you just got the sense, as the proceedings got under way, that there was a certain predestination about the verdict. Short of producing Jesus as a witness, my money was gone.

I wrote a letter to the U – can’t remember who all I sent it to, but it was designed to make a point for those interested in my future donor status – and explained that there was nothing I could do about this case since they had me by the balls. But I was giving them a choice. They could have this few hundred dollars, but it would be the last cash they would ever see from me. No response.

The second case came a few years ago when I was on campus for a picnic (my wife is a CU employee and her department has a get-together every year). Somehow I guess I parked illegally – in an empty lot, on, I believe, a Sunday afternoon during summer. Literally, the only car in the lot, the only car as far as the eye could see. I sent another letter, mainly on principle. Again, no acknowledgment – just the implied “STFU and send us the money.”

(If these cases didn’t antagonize me enough, they then decided to make an anti-intellectual climate disruption denier president of the damned place. But that’s beside the point.)

Okey-dokey. They made a liar of me and got a few more dollars, after all. But since then I’ve been rabid in making sure that I’m parked legally and violating no rules when I’m on the campus.

This is the second or third time that some unfortunate student has had the misfortune of drawing my name during a fund drive. In all cases I’ve been polite and made clear that I wasn’t upset with them. Not at all. But there won’t be a penny for CU. Not now, not ever, not even if I hit the Powerball and I’m the only thing that can keep them from having to shut their doors.

Perhaps, you might argue, there’s no way for an institution to build working policies that account for students getting pissed off and threatening revenge. If you did, you might say, they’d never be able to regulate parking or collect on any justly owed debt. That may be, but you’d have fewer irate alums if your policies and enforcement procedures didn’t border on taunting. There may not be a perfect answer, but there are damned sure better answers.

In the end, the ever-polite young woman said she was sorry I’d had such a hard time with the school. I laughed and told her that it had actually worked out pretty well, because over the last decade CU’s arrogance had saved me quite a bit of money.

If by some slight chance this post finds its way into the hands of some administrator charged with revenue-gathering and enforcement policies at some university or another, do with it what you will. Ultimately the choice between extracting short-term cash flow from an impoverished student and fostering a profitable relationship with a well-educated professional is yours, isn’t it?


  • I refuse to ever give money to any college because I thought that was the whole point of tuition. I’m sure any college employee could go off on how important it is towards keeping the cost of tuition down, but it still blows my mind that it’s a common practice. It’s like going to a restaurant and 2 years later having the waiter call you up and ask for more money. I don’t know of any for profit business that does this, but I guess it’s tolerated because it’s “Education”. I found it funny that Colorado seems to have the same issues with parking as the University at Buffalo. I went to a huge bicycle event last month, that happened to be for charity. Something like 50k participate. UB some how could not manage to open up the faculty parking lot that was closest to the school (It was a Saturday, in the summer, and empty) We actually still had to walk our bikes through the parking lot, but you could hear the disgust when people walked through the lot. Everyone who’s visited, attended, or took a class there, has gotten a ticket at one time in this lot. It’s pretty much a trap. I think they figure that if they can get each freshman or new student a ticket once, then they win.

  • Sam….Sam……

    That one’s better than “The dog ate my homework.”


  • Terry Hargrove

    It has been suggested that in this age when we have lost newspapers, magazines, and seen television become more irrelevant, perhaps colleges and universities are the next dinosaurs to go. I hope not. I’d miss football..

  • Might I politely suggest you consider approaching this issue slightly differently?

    I checked with the lovely Enid Ablowitz, Vice President for Development at the University of Colorado Foundation, and if you were to make a gift of $5,000,000, she will arrange for you to receive a lifetime parking permit — which can be used at any parking lot on the Boulder Campus. Enid was coy about the required donation for parking privileges at the other campuses, however.

    I hope this helps….


    Rocky Humbert.

  • Pingback: The University of Colorado provides a handy how-not-to lesson in re-branding

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s