In case you were too busy to read the Wall Street Journal on September 18, you missed a story about something that 22 percent of college students have: a tattoo. What you missed is equally relevant to the 22 percent of you who have a tattoo and to the 78 percent of you who do not.

I estimate that there are a minimum of 528 tattoos (some of you may have got carried away and have more than one. Maybe you were in the parlor the day the two-for-one special was running) currently being displayed (or not) on campus by students. An undisclosed number (which generally stay that way) are “owned” by faculty and staff.

So what, you might ask. As an economist, I believe that markets work well when consumers have the information they need to make informed decisions. I do not believe this is the case with tattoos. I think that anyone considering getting a tattoo should be in full possession of the facts before they take the plunge.

OK, here is the study: based on a 15-year study of tattoo wearers recently published in the American Medical Association’s Archives of Dermatology (and reported in the Wall Street Journal. I don’t habitually read the Archives of Dermatology but, for my sins, I do read the Journal), at some point about half of those on campus sporting tattoos will decide that that remarkably cool tattoo that looks so good today doesn’t quite have the staying power you anticipated (buyer’s remorse). Now, today’s tattoos are not as easily removed as the ones you peeled off as a kid. Today’s beauties take at minimum often laser treatments to remove. Each treatment costs $2000 and is not covered by insurance. But even worse news is that after you spend $2,000 more than half of you will still have a tattoo but it will no longer look so cool.

You will have a partially removed tattoo with prominent greens, yellows and blues remaining because they are much harder to remove. In fact, according to the study, the chances of removing yellow, blue and pink are near zero. If you are lucky, you chose basic black which can be successfully removed in 58 percent of cases. Those pretty colors just want to stay with you forever to remind you of your lost youth … or lost dollars. If 10 treatments don’t separate you from your tattoo, shelling out $3000 for 15 laser treatments increases the percentage of successful removals to 75 percent. But what if you are in that persistent 25 percent? Get ready to wear long pants and long sleeves, forever.

So what is a tattooed student to do? First, quit smoking, because smoking decreases by 70 percent the chance of successfully removing your lovely body art. Second, decide how much you love that tattoo. The longer you keep it, the harder it is to remove it. Third, pray for new technology and that it comes soon. Some new experimental lasers can remove tattoos in fewer treatments.

So, that’s what they didn’t tell you in the tattoo parlor. And that’s why you have a university president. My job (in part) is to tell you stuff you don’t want to hear or that your parents or ex-hippy Uncle Nate would have told you if they had the opportunity (which they didn’t because what college student consults their parents about something so personal as body art?). So hear this: if you don’t have a tattoo, think long and hard before you get one (and reread the above) or get one of those terrific paste -on ones that looked so cool when you were six years old. If you really can’t live without a little ink, remember, small is beautiful, and basic black has a lot going for it. Also putting it where a future employer can’t see it is wise.

Dennis Ahlburg is the president of Trinity University.


  1. Maybe I am missing the sarcasm but how in the world did you estimate that there are 528 tattoos on campus? Also is your job really “to tell you stuff you don’t want to hear or that your parents or ex-hippy Uncle Nate would have told you if they had the opportunity” I thought it was to run the school… I hope your job description doesn’t include “providing weird hippy uncle type advice”

  2. Please proof-read your work before publishing. Your sentence structure errors make you and the Trinitonian look unprofessional.

    • I was thinking the same thing. Obviously his degree(s)is (are) not in english. (Sorry, just trying to use as many brackets as he did)

  3. I respect President Ahlburg quite a bit; He is a good man. I disagree with this writing however, it stigmatizes body art in ways society doesn’t look at it today. Since the 80-90’s body art has gone from the depths of counter-culture to mainstream. I personally have zero tattoos, but I plan on getting a tattoo of a symbol that is important to my family’s history, which three of my uncles/aunts all have as well as their children. This writing falls short of an actual analysis because it fails to consider the context of the body art and instead makes the assumption that there is no logical reason for someone to get a tattoo. Part of the reason I left Trinity in the first place, is because I felt like it was a homogenous culture with values I didn’t agree with – this writing makes me feel confident that I could not truly be myself at Trinity..

  4. I like how this entire column is assuming that I will want to remove my tattoo at some point in my life because it “has stopped looking cool.” Uhh….what if I’m always happy with my investment and will always enjoy having made that decision in college to get something as beautiful as my small piece of body art. I think at the VERY least this article should have had a preface that said something along the lines of “THIS IS FOR ALL YOU STUDENTS WHO WILL REGRET IT IN THE FUTURE, all of you who get a tattoo and continue to love it – good on you for being aware that body art is permanent.” I would hope we haven’t lowered the standards at Trinity to include morons who aren’t aware that body art IS permanent and will never be removed (successfully). That’s kind of why I got a tattoo, by the by. It’s a permanent reminder. If i wanted a cool anchor on my arm for a brief period of time then I might find a stick on tattoo like a 6 year old would have.
    President Ahlburg, why do you feel like you need to be a parent? Shouldn’t you be an educator concerned with the minds of your students rather than what’s on the outside? Acknowledging the concerns of future employers about inappropriately placed tattoos would have been a much better article rather than a quip about how moronic they are because I will (according to you) DEFINITELY want my tattoo removed in the future. If you really want to lecture me, and students, about the significance of tattoos, why don’t you emphasize the LOCATION of tattoos? They’re tattoos. They’re permanent. I’m not a dumbass.
    By the way, I’m usually in support of what the Trinity administration puts out – in this instance, someone should have mentioned how alienating this article is to all of your students who have tattoos. You’ve just turned off 22% of your campus (if we assume Trinity is like every other college across the nation, which it is not) to your “advice.”

  5. Your job is the dean of students, that job does not include trying to impart wisdom on us that our parents should have before we came to college. You seem to particularly enjoy babysitting college kids as if we were not mature enough to make our own decisions. Perhaps some freshman out there has benefitted from your hand holding and alcohol policies but the rest of us would prefer if you kindly removed yourselves from our lives. Everyone like thats “ex-hippy” uncle but no one likes that creepy uncle who watches over your shoulder and asks personal questions all the damn time.

  6. Actually, Lawdog, his job is the presidency of the school and that scope gives him the prerogative to talk on a wide variety of issues. As someone who hires people, I can very definitely tell you that in some positions large, visible tattoos don’t fly. If you’re certain your career revolves around those where tats are no concern, or as another poster says, are smart enough to keep them out of public display, have at ’em.

    That said, I do find the tone of President Ahlburg’s article to be surprisingly snarky for someone in his position, and think that he could have handled this in a more professional manner.

  7. That’s why I asked him to speak on the location of tattoos rather than the assumption that Trinity students are dumb enough to have giant inappropriate tattoos – and assuming we’d want them removed later in life.

  8. Bwahaha. I’m glad I graduated. This was an entertaining thread. All points are valid. President’s article was quite uneccesarily condescending. The agenda was well-intentioned, but the tact was nil.

    I’ve had three tattoos for 3-6 yrs now. I love them! They are wisely concealed on my torso (fortunately, I was educated well enough after high school to make that decision). I have a degree. I have a career. And I have no regret. 30 years from now, I may feel differently, but I’ll worry about that in 30 years, when we will have developed the technology to refill your empty Bic by applying it directly to your undesired tattoo.

  9. As a proud owner of a tattoo that I plan on keeping for the rest of my life, I am offended. I do not particularly like being stereotyped by my President, “So what is a tattooed student to do? First, quit smoking.” Thank you for assuming that I smoke cigarettes, because I don’t. Trinity University does not need a President who judges and stereotypes the Student Body.

    I am not only offended by this article, I am also embarrassed by it. For a school that stresses academics so much you would think its President could construct a grammatically correct sentence. If this was some attempt at using the Student Body’s vernacular to connect with us, like “Uncle Nate”, it failed. Instead, it’s a public embarrassment of our University’s administration.

    This article is clearly written by a President who does not know the student body at the Trinity University whatsoever. If he did, he would know that we are a group of educated young adults who are well aware of the permanency of a tattoo and what effect its visibility could have on our employment future. My tattoo is not only for myself, it is also for my mother and my grandmother, both of whom are dead. Please don’t tell me that someday I would like to remove the tasteful ink on my body; I can make these decisions for myself. I don’t have an Uncle Nate and I won’t be needing one anytime soon.

    Next time you have something offensive to say, please have one of the students in First Year Writing Workshop proofread your article before you post it on the Internet for the World to see.

  10. I don’t have a tattoo. I’m never planning on getting one. That said, I found the presentation of the information in this article horribly condescending. I found it so riddled with unabashed bias that, by the conclusion, I felt compelled to find the argument void of legitimacy because of the way in which it was written. A serious lack of editing notwithstanding, I did not find it funny in the least. I was shocked and dismayed by the way in which you seem to view your students. It is, of course, fine to have opinions. In fact, open discussion of differing views is one of the reasons a liberal arts education is so desirable. However, to present your thinly-veiled opinion as superior by brazenly degrading those who do not share your inclinations is, as any current professor at Trinity will surely tell you, completely unacceptable.

    Your judgments and advice, whether good-intentioned or not, come across as incredibly insulting. As someone who had no real knowledge of what you were like before this article, you have successfully made yourself known. You’ve presented yourself as arrogant, condescending, and, above all, no better than those six year-olds you referenced so many times. I will be, from now on, embarrassed and reluctant to tell anyone I know that you’re the kind of man who is the president of the university I attend.

    I hope you read the comments on this and realize that you’ve made a mockery of the thoughtful, considerate, and serious debate that our institution so thoroughly endorses. I suspect that if you had merely changed the tone of your article, there may have been students that would have internalized your words. As it stands now, I would be shocked to see any attentive student take your advice seriously.

  11. Like the other commenters, I’m genuinely shocked by this article. I have no tattoos, but I can certainly see plenty of valid reasons why someone would want them and to assume that all tattoos are spontaneous, ill-informed, regrettable decisions is both naive and offensive. One of the reasons I loved Trinity so much was the open-minded and tolerant attitude that generally pervaded the campus and faculty, and this, especially coming from the President, really makes me question that. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but to preach them as fact is an irresponsible abuse of position. Perhaps President Ahlburg is the one who should have thought more before acting?

  12. Actually he makes great points in this article. On the flip side, he sounds like my dad. His tone is way off base though, like the know-it-all kid with his hand always up waving frantically in the classroom. College is a time for experimenting and it’s best to get all the facts before you take the plunge. Whether you want to try something kinky or get your hoo-ha pierced, then at least do your homework. I have seen some regrettable tattoos on women and I think most of them are tasteless. Except, I will admit I do like the tramp stamp for aim.

  13. This is why I am ashamed to say I ever went to Trinity. When the President of the University takes the time to write this or brag to alumni about hanging out with the very people trying to remove funding to institutions of higher learning, all I can think is how my degree has no value.

    It’s good to know the the only economic value my degree is simply the very large debt I have been stuck with since graduating. I think it is becoming clear the board of trustees made a bad choice hiring Dr. Ahlburg. Until they rectify that decision, Trinity will be simply a beautiful campus in San Antonio and not the Harvard of the South – as is constantly claimed.

    I am glad to see you are concerned about people expressing their freedoms to get a tattoo and studying the science of laser removal. I hope you will transition this focus and attention to detail to your writing and improving the value of my degree. I suspect you have picked your priorities though and the students (past and present) are not top among them.

  14. As a former faculty member of Trinity University, I was admittedly put off seeing this article pop on on my radar. I served my department, my students and my university with pleasure during my time at Trinity. I’m confident that I represented the Trinity community positively, and was thrilled to work at an institution of higher education committed to diversity, tolerance, and inclusion among other core liberal arts values. I took it as a given that this extended to visual markers of diversity as well. In light of this, I find the original article and the values espoused by President Ahlburg appalling. As someone who has worked in the tattoo industry before entering academia and grad school, and as someone who is heavily tattooed, I, as well as other members of academia have been working towards tattoo acceptance. Seeing this article in print, authored by a member of Trinity’s administration, unfortunately illustrates that we, as visibly modified faculty members, have a long way to go. Why not lead by example, President Ahlburg, and put those liberal arts values into practice? Furthermore, how does this article deal with the larger, more pressing issues higher education is faced with right now?

    -Dr. Kristine Weglarz

  15. As a recent Trinity grad, I’m pretty sure that Trinity students are intelligent enough to understand the implications of getting a tattoo. We are also intelligent enough to generally avoid the Wall Street Journal and read the Economist instead, so yes, maybe we missed that little study. It just seems like the Pres. could write about a lot more important and less offensive subjects.

  16. As a current faculty member, I am appalled. This article is not only insulting to those people who sport tattoos. It also undermines the values that the faculty tries so hard to encourage in our community. We tell our students to look beyond the surface, to not take stereotypes for granted, to think critically about their attitudes towards those who are different, and to embrace diversity. However, what does our president do? He goes on a condescending rant about buyers remorse, and rehashes all the old stereotypes about body art. This is not the type of campus culture we are trying to maintain here, and it is one non-issue in which I am proud to say that my president does not represent me.

    Moreover, I personally ask my students repeatedly to not quote rehashed research. I tell them that if they want to know what an author said, they should READ WHAT THE AUTHOR SAID, rather than READ WHAT A NEWSPAPER SAYS THE AUTHOR SAID. This is standard in my classroom, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who does that. Thank you, sir, for that!

  17. As a first year student, I’m fairly offended by this article. The majority of my week long orientation was stressed on acceptance of diversity. This came from numerous members of the faculty and students. Having three tattoos of my own, I am curious that Trinity would have denied my acceptance had that known about them, since the university is cautioning me of my inability to be professional based on my tattooed appearance.

  18. As a former student and the proud owner of several tattoos, I am offended and appalled by this article. I loved my university and my time there but this is incredibly condescending and rude. I would have never expected such bigotry and hostility from the President of a University that prides itself in acceptance. This is embarrassing.

  19. As someone whose job it is to deal with thousands of people, sometimes at once, that make up an institution that proudly boasts its international percentage, it is difficult for me to see how Ahlburg can be closed off to so many individuals and perform it successfully. I’m deeply disappointed by how this article represents my university and my degree and can only be grateful that I never witnessed any professor express this kind of physical prejudice. Why does he care if someone decides to put an image on themselves? One of the most beautiful parts of college is that it gives you choice and choices. For me it is an institution designed to nurture intellectual independence and codependence, where one can learn from the surrounding others rather than put them down.

    Most tattoos I am well-acquainted with were extremely considered. Sure, I knew a guy or five who got drunk on spring break and came home with a tattoo on his ass. But that person laughs about it, and he sounds way more fun to be around than Ahlburg does in this article. I was surprised because I had never doubted his charisma before, but I’d only seen him a scant amount. In his dealings with people I never heard of anything negative, and I took note of his immediate and active presence on campus, even the smaller corners. The few times I interacted with him, I found him to be a warm and engaging individual.

    Why do faculty tattoos have to be undisclosed? Why does it matter if they have one? There must have been a misunderstanding, it doesn’t affect their brains. Tattoos have been present for a long time, and they mean all sorts of different things. To speak so broadly about a mark with such a rich history and varied culture seems a disservice and a dismissal.

    When Ahlburg wrote this article, he seemed to have forgotten one crucial point: no one wanted him in the tattoo parlor in the first place.

  20. It stuns me that, amongst the dozens of important activities going on throughout campus, our distinguished president took time out of his busy day to lecture students on the merits of tattoos. This solidified my belief that Dr. Ahlburg is completely ignorant when it comes to the pulse of the current student body. He yells at us perched atop his amplified soapbox, can’t keep his composure at supposedly open town halls, and belittle our personal choices because he “cares”? If I were an alumni or professor I too would embarrassed about the current state of your prestigious university, seeing the president cannot seem to put even the simplest decisions into perspective.

  21. I really hope Dr. Ahlburg consults the writing center the next time he decides to write an article. Also, it disturbs me that he views us as nothing more than snot-nosed, imbecilic children in need of constant scrutiny. “In case you were too busy…”? What kind of an opening is that? Yes, President Ahlburg. We ARE too busy to read the Wall Street Journal everyday. We have classes that demand every minute of our day and a campus that does not proliferate the WSJ as much as the New York Times or US News and World Report. We are also adults; though you may not see us as such. I hope that our positions as students of this “esteemed” college would garner us some respect–especially from our own faculty. I attended the International Studies Colloquium last semester in which Ward Churchill raved about your ineptitude and corruption as a university administrator. And at the time, I was outraged and offended that any individual could come to our institution–invited I might add–and rant about our President. I now see that what Mr. Churchill had to say, though inflammatory, was largely true. The general transformation that this university has undergone within the last two years is appalling. Newer classes fail, on a whole, to meet the scholastic demands that Trinity once held. Sports have become more important that academics. Student life is now taking a back seat to construction and the general “image” that Trinity presents to the community. And yes, Mabee. We’ve all heard about it, and ranted about it. And while the quality of Mabee is the source of many complaints, the reaction of the Ahlburg administration to the problem is the most troubling. Rather than address the concerns and complaints of the students, the school instead throws up its hands and refuses to represent the students in any way, shape, or form. We have now become numbers. ATM’s for the university to withdraw money from. Tuition rates have increased, and yet our scholarships remain the same. We are not the individual students that we once were. Trinity has become a factory–an institution in which minds are molded into predetermined shapes. We are not challenged to think, but rather to regurgitate. This university was a place of learning my Freshman year. I don’t know what it is now.

  22. Ahlburg writes like a 10 year old cigarette addict covered in body art. Take the freshman writing class at Trinity, it would help.

  23. I would really like to get the five minutes of my life back that it took for me to read this. Please tell me that you have something better to do with your time then to tell people that tattoos are permanent and expensive/painful to take off. Maybe a well informed discussion of not talking with one’s mouth full or why helping old ladies across the street is a nice thing to do? I thought part of college is the transition from adolescence into adulthood….so please stop talking down to the students like they are a bunch of kids. If you can do this, then maybe people will start to respect you.

  24. Gone are the days when Trinity University students are treated like adults – instead they are being reprimanded like children – I am embarrassed for the current students. You should be fostering good relationships with all students – even tattooed ones – not alienating them.

  25. Sadly, President Ahlburg continues to alienate both current students and the alumni with drivel like this.

    Unfortunately this article continues my already negative impression of a man out of touch with the students he is supposed to be leading.

    Hopefully his tenure at the helm of Trinity will be short lived.

  26. As a recent alumna with one (small, basic black, unobtrusive) tattoo, I was not offended or surprised by this article. I found it to exactly echo the sentiments of the generation from which Mr. Ahlburg hails. If I had a nickel for all of the times my father has stared down at my tattoo, looked up at me with discomfort, and said, “You’ve got something on your foot,” I’d have at least enough for a Subway sandwich.

    That said, I do find these thoughts disappointing because of the fingers from which they flew. Mr. Ahlburg is the president of a university that prides itself on diversity and acceptance. Moreover, he interacts every day with a generation of students who do not see body art in the archaic way that their parents do.

    Ignoring obvious plot holes in this article (i.e. the potential to work in creative industries where heavily tattooed employees are the norm), I’ll just say that this article is an embarrassment to Trinity. But, more than that, it’s an embarrassment to Mr. Ahlburg, because his remarks here serve only to illustrate just how out of touch he is with the students he’s leading.

    The subtext of this article very simply says this: “The world will judge you based on your appearance, and I’ve begun the process now.” Shame on you, Mr. Ahlburg.

  27. I’m late to reading this, been pretty busy keeping up with class and you know important news items – you know like the election and Syria. I mean Ahlburg is right, my parents never gave me a condescending rant about how I shouldn’t get a tattoo because I will inevitably regret it. Granted, both my parents have tattoos, and my dad and I have been working on a design for a tattoo he’s been talking about getting for years. Furthermore, last I checked, body modification is much less of an issue with our generation. And I know this is hard to accept, but the boomers won’t be in power forever. Someday, gasp, we may be making the dress codes at work.

    Personally, I take tattoo placement and content very seriously. Particularly when thinking about future careers. I’m no idiot.

    But since you’re so concerned by what I do with my body, don’t worry Dr. Ahlburg, I quit smoking, my tattoo is just black, no one will see it in a job interview, and you won’t see it when I graduate with honors.

  28. Thanks for the heartfelt scolding, Dad-er, I mean, Dr. Ahlburg. As a current Trinity student with several tattoos, I feel extremely undermined by this article. For a university that supposedly encourages campus diversity, it is safe to say Dr. Ahlburg just marginalized a significant portion of the student body.

    The arguments in this articles are based on outdated notions that assume that all tattooed people being some sort of criminal or dissident class. Unfortunately the world has progressed since your childhood in the 1940s and tattoo prejudice is no more acceptable than judging a person based on the color of their skin, sexual orientation, religion, or gender.

  29. Sorry there, cat, but your choice of tattoos is EXACTLY that, a choice. You’re accountable and responsible for the choices you make, unlike things like your skin color, sexual orientation, or gender. Some people are going to judge you on your choices, like it or not. If you put a swastika on your forehead you can bleat about ‘tattoo prejudice’ all you like but you’re going to play h*ll finding gainful employment. Go ahead, feel free to take that ‘discrimination’ case to the courts and not even the most liberal judge will rule in your favor.

    Ahlberg is way off base here. So are you.

  30. Give the guy a break. Obviously he meant this as a joke and just a way for him to needle students in a way that he thought was funny. None of this can be taken seriously.
    He arrived at his 500+ student number just from percentage guesses. He did not say everyone with a tatoo smoked. Smoking causes changes in the skin which does indeed make it harder to remove a tattoo. it was a good suggestion.

    For all of you that truly think he was serious about all of this lighten up.. It’s obvious he was unable to convey this in a way that could be understood.

    On a side note, I disagree with the prez on many things and think his moves have cost the university hundreds of thousands of dollars and possibly millions. His treatment of alumni has been ridiculous and his condescending attitude is recorded throughout his time as the leader. His treatment of the Greek system and Greek alumni makes no sense. If the Trustees were paying attention, they should strongly consider firing the bozo. As I said, his moves have cost the university thousands in donations.

    I do think he was trying to be funny. It’s only a tattoo. Why he thought he should comment on this is a mystery. He does a great job of creating enemies.
    At least he is good at something.

    Bold and Strong.

  31. Dear Dr. Ahlburg:
    I am dumbfounded by your recent editorial vilifying tattoos. Beyond the pejorative tone, I question its necessity.
    As a student in 1997, I chose to get a tattoo without any consultation from the university administration. Of my own free will, I happily put three, green, Greek letters on my left ankle, permanently. Never once have I regretted it, nor have any of my similarly tattooed brothers. Actually, I am considering having it touched up. It its my only tattoo, and I want it to accurately represent me, my fraternity, and the ideals for which we stand.

    The issue here is not my tattoo, nor the tatoos of any students. If the university president wants to offer advice through his bully pulpit, maybe he should council students on finding and keeping employment in this challenging economy. Perhaps, as final exams approach, the student body would welcome personal advise from the president about coping with stress. Above all, I think the recent election definitely affirmed that no one wants ANY president telling them what to do with their bodies.

    Chris O’Neal ’99


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