Kerby: Cap and gown, nickel and dimed

Steve Kerby, Staff Columnist

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As the academic year comes to a close, the eyes of the campus turn to commencement. Being a fourth-year student, if all goes well I will stride purposefully across the commencement stage and then stride purposefully off this campus.

But before any Spartan can burst out of the gate toward the expanse of the future, one final hurdle remains. One must purchase a cap and gown from the university bookstore. In preparing for this seemingly trivial step, I found myself once again mired in a concentrated solution of what irks me about Case Western Reserve University.

A cap and gown are required to participate in any commencement or graduation ceremonies, according to the website describing the procedures of that end-of-semester celebration. I was shocked to learn that the cap and gown pair cannot be rented for graduation, and instead must be purchased for the exorbitant price of $62.62, with an added $10 fee if ordered after April 1. I visited the bookstore to purchase my cap and gown, only to discover they were identical to those I donned four years ago for my high school graduation which cost considerably less.

It goes without saying that the cap and gown, like anything purchased from this university, seem overpriced. Moreso, I’m taken aback that renting the cap and gown is not an option. I will never use those silly robes again unless I’m trying to dress up like Albus Dumbledore, and therefore renting the regalia is a sensible option. I wish to ascribe the lack of rental options to some benevolent impulse by the university, but I have learned better after four years at CWRU. If there’s a penny of profit to be had, the university will usually scuttle in like Mr. Krabs and take what it can.

Perhaps my insinuation that the university is a penny-pinching miser is a bit strong, but my experience at this school does not suggest otherwise. Sending a simple electronic transcript by email costs $3.50. It seems like every item in the vending machine in Rockefeller Hall increases in price by five cents or so each year. We work and live at a multi-billion dollar university, the cost of which increases by over a thousand dollars every year. If that were not painful enough, our pockets seem picked clean of loose change at every turn, trying to turn a profit off vending machines, transcripts and flimsy graduation regalia. Is the administration not happy with over $60,000 a year in tuition?

So, we go to a rampantly capitalist institution, what else is new? The shallowness of the university’s adherence to moral causes is likewise on display for students purchasing caps and gowns. The university website proudly declares that the gowns are made from recycled material. This seems an admirable effort to promote sustainability, but it would certainly be much more sustainable to reuse the gowns year after year instead of purchasing a new batch. This prioritization of profit to sustainability is the final nail in the coffin for my patience, as the university apparently cannot relent even on this trivial matter.

In a day and age in which overbearing capitalism seems to extend to every corner of private life, perhaps it is too optimistic to hope that there might be some refuge from the menace of Mr. Monopoly. I would hope that academia might be that safe haven, but CWRU has fallen short. Watching them half-heartedly chase the illusion of sustainability by taking pot shots at our wallets, I’ve resigned myself to getting my diploma and scooting away from what the administration views as a purely economic transaction.

Steve Kerby is a fourth-year physics and astronomy major who is going to Penn State University to pursue a doctorate in astronomy in the fall. His favorite musician is David Bowie.