Yesterday was the start of what I've been calling "The Great Fuller Chair Trade." Fuller purchased a number of new ergonomic chairs to replace office chairs that have been in our offices for many, many years now. Since the chair I've been using is not only very old, but has a few parts loose and some screws missing, I'm rather glad to have a new, substantially more solid chair to sit on. Many of the old chairs will still be used, finding homes in other departments and in other ways, while some of the worst (probably including my old chair) will be thrown out.
While walking around Fuller distributing mail yesterday, I ran into one of my professors, and asked about the new chairs. The reply was somewhat less than enthusiastic: "I wish they'd spent the money on student scholarships instead."
Having not only been a student at Fuller myself, but also being married to a person who has already gotten one degree from Fuller and is currently pursuing another, and having gotten financial assistance for all three of these degrees, I can certainly see the professor's point. More scholarship money would be nice. And I suppose that it's pretty easy to see spending money on chairs as "wasteful" if so many of the chairs being replaced are still usable (and I've no doubt that many are).
It's also hard to hear comments like that without thinking beyond just the specific issue of money for chairs vs. scholarships at our particular institution. For example, I just recently got back from a holiday visiting family members in the mountains of Northern California. The issue of how people spend their money there was the subject a fair bit of discussion. Most of my family members keep their financial heads above water, but it's certainly not without some difficulty. On the other hand, most of them do own their homes, rather than rent, and most of them (including some of the renters) have homes of fairly decent size with absolutely amazing views of the mountains. To say that such people are struggling may seem unfair if they're compared with people who can't even pay their rent and live in homes too small for their families. But things aren't that simple. For example, they may own their home (which may have been in the family for decades now), but they may not be able to find work sufficient to pay bills and put food on the table. Or they may have unexpected medical costs that threaten to drain all the resources they've saved up over the years. Different people have different struggles, and how we prioritize our spending is, in many ways, our own business and nobody else's. So when the discussion turned (as it occasionally did) to disapproval of how a particular family member has spent his/her money, I didn't think it was at all fair. That's not to say that we shouldn't be accountable as Christians to be good stewards of what we have. But there's something about these comments that seems to cross a line, and I think that we may jump to conclusions and judgment far too quickly.
But back to the subject of chairs and scholarships. I don't pretend to know what Fuller should have done, but I just can't bring myself to agree that chairs is automatically the wrong choice. For one thing, Fuller gets its chairs from a company that used to be run by one of our trustees, and so we get really good prices on them. It's a one-time expense that, while probably not cheap, certainly wouldn't amount to enough to endow any kind of perpetual scholarship (You'd need an amount approaching a million dollars to yield enough interest to pay for one student's yearly tuition costs). So, we're talking about chairs that will serve many staff members for several years (at least!) vs. a scholarship that helps only one (or a few) student(s) for only a single year.
I could also argue that it's fairly easy to imagine that Fuller may well save money on worker's compensation payments made if someone has an accident by using a chair that should have been replaced earlier. Or perhaps an employee doesn't have to pay so many medical expenses for back problems because they're using chairs that do less damage to one's posture (that could also be a worker's compensation issue, but need not be so easily). Or maybe that trustee (assuming he makes money off the deal) is more likely to GIVE a scholarship as a result (I kind of hope that's not the case, given the potential quid pro quo that would be implied).
In any event, Fuller has done something good for its workers here. It may even be that staff members here, being happy that Fuller has done something nice for them, work harder or more effectively at their jobs. Morale is often ignored when it comes to the "real" issues of checks and balances, but can have concrete benefits for everyone involved, including students.
But most of this is just speculation, and I suppose that I could be accused of arguing in my own self-interest. Still, there was something about the comment that Fuller should have used the money on scholarships that just felt wrong. I just can't bring myself to agree that Fuller should not have spent its money on such items of obviously legitimate office use. I can't see this as a case of Fuller being irresponsible with the money that it has, but rather a case of Fuller making a decision to do a particular good thing. Perhaps there's room for debate about which good thing should have been done, but it's a fait accompli now. I, for one, am glad for my new chair, and hope that Fuller can still find a way to give more scholarships to its students. After all, it's not like this expense used up all the resources Fuller has had at its disposal for the whole year!