The golden (gopher) rule

Crowdfunding has the potential to improve the University.

by Brian Reinken

Yesterday, the University of Minnesota celebrated homecoming week by unveiling a six-foot statue of our mascot, Goldy Gopher. The statue, which now stands outside of Coffman Memorial Union, cost $95,000
to complete. 

I’ll inevitably be dubbed an iconoclast by Goldy’s duly faithful, but this spending seems wholly unnecessary to me. It’s true that the statue was predominantly crowd-funded, which is to say that it represents, at least in part, the voluntary contributions of the University’s staff, students and alumni, but bureaucracy was involved from the beginning of the project.

According to the statue’s web page, the Goldy idea was unanimously endorsed by the Student Unions and Activities’ student Board of Governors. Furthermore, the Office for Student Affairs and Dean of Students promised to “provide matching funds up to $50,000” to finance the project. The OSA received that money as part of the University’s beverage contract with Coca-Cola, which provides “discretionary funds” intended to “enhance student life and build community for students attending
the university.”

Truly, in these troubled times, nothing has the potential to enhance student life quite like a golden
calf — er, gopher.

Skeptical though I am, I’m no expert in the finer points of university and personal finance, so I’ll dispute neither the OSA’s nor the public’s decision to help fund the statue. However, I will express my hope that the success of the Goldy project is used to initiate other, more genuinely utilitarian, efforts to improve the school. If crowdfunding stops at the erection of a monolithic rodent, then a tremendously valuable opportunity will be wasted. Crowd-funding has the capacity to benefit the University in very
meaningful ways.

The statue, for consideration, cost $95,000. This is easily enough to cover the cost of a year’s tuition. If the University were to endorse a crowd-funding program designed to give a single, underprivileged student four years of an all-expenses- paid college education, it would change that person’s life forever. Additionally, it would give the project’s public contributors a sense of legitimate purpose and contribute more positive publicity to the University than any statue ever could.

A plan like this would be, in stark contrast to Goldy, unglamorously faceless, and it would probably require more prolonged involvement than did the statue. Yet this shouldn’t deter visionary students from attempting to raise the money. If the OSA or another organization offered to match raised funds, the idea of a crowd-funded scholarship wouldn’t be far-fetched.

The power of a mass audience should not be underestimated. Crowdfunding is truly miraculous in that it can begin with a single grassroots activist and end with a product of the people. With sufficient organization, there is the potential to actualize an almost unlimited breadth of projects designed to improve student life on campus. Scholarships are just the beginning; the end
may not even exist.

The Goldy statue — in all its gargantuan, anthropomorphic glory — stands outside of Coffman Union, a building allegedly designed to look like a gopher. Coffman Union itself is above the subterranean network of tunnels known as the Gopher Way. Evidently, Goldy and his cult have had their day. The time is now to use crowd-sourcing to craft a legacy that’s actually
worth preserving.