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Show me the money: Alumni giving begins with undergrad fines

When I don't return to school next year, it's not because of the tuition increase, the rate of inflation or the resulting economic strain. It's the fire inspector.

No matter how careful I was about covering my halogen lamp with those oily rags or how cautious I was not to tape highly combustible paper to my dry-erase board, it was the mirror on the back of my door that got me my second violation — $50. Plus, the fire inspector now keeps a copy of my room key on his own personal key chain and stops by each night before heading home to his wife and kids, sometimes in the morning if he wants to use my coffee maker or hang out. Yesterday, he borrowed my black pants.


My question is, what exactly are they doing with my hard-earned cash? Between my freshman year suite and now, I think I single-handedly financed Princeton Stadium (though what I really wanted was the Adams Detox Center, but fire-code violators can't be choosers). I actually might have paid my own scholarship.

But the fire inspectors aren't the only ones to charge these fees. Let's talk about the residential college dues. While living in Butler, I paid something like $300 a year so I could get tight orange Butler College Princeton University (BCPU) shorts, rice-krispie study breaks "a la dining hall" and replacement bricks for those missing from the walls. Suspiciously, when I would go up to Rocky, I would notice that they were redoing their stained glass windows while Papa John himself baked pizzas made-to-order. Hmmmmm.

And class dues definitely give me my money's worth and more. When I forgot to turn my add-drop form in on time last semester, I forked over $30. Apparently, the Registrar's office staff didn't budget last year's Christmas party well enough, so they're saving up to buy a permanent registrar. Joseph Greenberg is just doing it now for work-study.

I lost my key again — then again, so did Housing, so I guess we're even. Yet another $30 forked over. My guess is that it goes straight to the Dentyne cups. If enough of us lose our keys, then we can afford to have another 180 fluid ounces added to the volume of the cups, making it more suitable for Ramen-making and swimming. That is, after they take out the purse for the winner of the golf cart Olympics.

Firestone late fees automatically go to paying off the administration's gambling debts. Each time you buy a copy card, there's a Dean of Something who is silently thanking you because he knows that's another finger he's not going to lose. I also suspect Mafia ties with Cotsen Children's Library, but I can't prove those yet. But let's just say my books are always in on time.

What happens is that we get so used to paying up that we just instinctively reach into our pockets when someone asks us to. The donations box at the front of the art museum works on reflex. We see it "suggesting" a donation, robotically deposit that amount, and then we come to our senses and realize that the box is meant for people whose tuition isn't large enough to purchase a Renoir. Of course the Art Museum is smart enough to know that we will eventually start thinking lucidly and has the box operating on the 7-11 drop safe scheme, where every 30 minutes the money falls into a giant tube which is fed directly into our endowment. But we still fall for it. This is why the art history department is so small.


On the other hand, maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe all of my fees and fines are going to save the rain forest, or maybe there's a gigantic Princeton University pool in which the employee who has the best NCAA bracket predictions wins all. I think the destination of our "donations" to the University should be posted on the Web with our phone bill, like when you agree to sponsor a child in Somalia for 73 cents a day. That way when I'm reeling with anger over having to pay for scuffs on my walls, I can look and see that I've just paid the Provost's Christmas bonus or something. Or I guess I could just take the mirror down. Jen Adams is a psychology major from Ogdensburg, N.Y. She can be reached at

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