Editor’s Column – Freakonomics: Was it Worth it?

Jeff Fein

The Global Leaders Lecture Series is great for Colgate’s reputation, but I wish we were putting all that money towards the health of the globe.

I couldn’t make it to the Freakonomics lecture (I had to fulfill a PE requirement), but I heard it was a real hoot. Many students I interviewed said that Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner were engaging speakers who found ways to make economics fun as they switched off lecturing throughout the talk.

My peers, even econ majors, were also impressed with Levitt’s out-of-the-box approach to issues like abortion and crime rate. Some went so far as to call the talk “inspiring” in its presentation of unconventional academic methodologies.

Yet those who read Freakonomics before the lecture seemed less complimentary than those who did not. The reason? Levitt and Dubner presented the same material that they had already read.

The cartoon drawing on the senior class gift contribution form promises to follow up the Freakonomics duo with the likes of Bono, Condoleeza Rice and Tiger Woods, all very accomplished individuals in their own rights.

There is something to be said for the enthusiasm that such high-profile lectures could generate for these celebrities’ various areas of expertise — belting out pop hits/fighting global poverty, American foreign policy and … golf. But realistically, none of them will offer Colgate students any information that can’t be acquired by reading the speakers’ books (and there’s always a book) or doing a quick Wikipedia search.

No one on the Senior Class Gift Committee could tell me how much the Freakonomics duo cost to bring in, but it’s a safe bet that the price tage was at least 50 G’s. (Rumor has it that the lecture cost us up to 150,000 dollars). A member of the committee did say that the contributions of an anonymous donor and the Class of 2007 will set the lecture series in motion with a two million dollar endowment.

Incidentally, it would have cost Colgate 50,000 dollars to buy 3,000 copies of Freakonomics on Amazon.com and give them to every interested student and faculty member to keep on our bookshelves for the rest of our lives.

To help celebrate Earth Day, a hodgepodge of concerned students are selling carbon offsets in the Coop. Basically, they’re raising money to donate to carbonfund.org, a non-profit organization that invests in alternative energy sources and buys carbon credits off the market so that companies can’t trade pollution.

I sat at that table today with senior Beth Weick, who’s heading up the on-campus effort to fight global warming. I was surprised to see just how little money it took to offset our daily carbon dioxide emissions. A five-dollar donation covered a car ride from Hamilton to New York City and back. 38 dollars accounted for a round trip to Australia.

Imagine what a two million dollar endowment could do.

Weick told me that elite colleges like Middlebury have invested in sustainability coordinators, people whose very job it is to make campuses greener. Such a position does not exist at Colgate, but perhaps it should. That would be one way to earn some real prestige instead of the more superficial variety that Colgate tends to pursue.

76 percent of seniors have donated to our class gift. The lecture series will bring great thinkers and leaders to our campus, hopefully inspiring students to acheive great things themselves. Our gift is way better than a bench or a water fountain.

But I hope the class of 2008 considers a green gift, one that makes a bona fide statement about our values instead of offering name recognition to high school seniors.

And if you’re part of the 24 percent of the class of ’07 that hasn’t contributed yet, think about opening your wallet … and giving money to the kids at the Coop table who are thinking big and doing what they can to improve the lives of everyone on the planet.