[Marxism] Ivy League students protest financial employers

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 12 08:04:19 MST 2012


Ivy League students protest financial employers [1]
Submitted by Allie Grasgreen [2] on January 12, 2012 - 3:00am

Most students involved in the Occupy movement can’t just pick up 
and leave for Wall Street. So some at elite colleges have been 
letting Wall Street come to them. Taking advantage of their 
special access to investment banking firms such as JP Morgan-Chase 
and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which have long sought employees 
from those campuses (and been eagerly received), Ivy League 
students crashed a handful of December recruiting sessions, 
leading the firms to cancel other scheduled visits, and making for 
some seriously awkward first impressions.

Unsurprisingly, the incidents got a lot of attention on campuses – 
even when the job market isn’t dismal, finance recruitment 
sessions are major networking opportunities for elite students. 
The tactic also marked a shift, however small, for the college 
Occupy movement, which up to this point had primarily targeted 
either their institutions or Wall Street as a whole. And while 
some non-occupiers may have found those rallies annoying, they 
didn’t disrupt valuable job-seeking time.

But the strategy of going after job recruiters is rooted in 
history – during the Vietnam War, for instance, students protested 
the Dow Chemical Company and others who produced supplies. And 
scholars say that yet again, it has raised questions about the 
moral responsibilities of universities and those they enroll, 
while spotlighting the unique role elite students can play in 
social movements.

“I don’t get the sense that they’re trying to build a consensus on 
campus about these firms so much as raise awareness of their own 
criticisms,” said Angus Johnston, a student activism [3] historian 
and adjunct assistant history professor at the City University of 
New York’s Hostos Community College. “I think that it’s a 
reflection of an awareness as students at these elite 
universities, that there’s an intimacy to their relationships with 
these powerful institutions. And they’re trying to figure out what 
to do with that access, what to do with the influence they have 
and how to deploy what power they have.”

Goldman Sachs canceled (or turned into webinars) sessions at 
Harvard and Brown Universities after a group of Harvard students, 
who had been barred from a previous recruitment meeting because of 
their clothes and lack of résumés, hovered outside the meeting 
room, chanting.

It served as a valuable lesson to 18 Princeton students, who, 
dressed in suits with résumés in hand, got into a Dec. 7 JP 
Morgan-Chase session unnoticed. But in a “mic check” – in which 
the entire group repeats one person’s speech, shouting line by 
line, to reach more people without a microphone – they put the 
recruiters on the spot.

“Princeton’s motto is: in the nation’s service, and in the service 
of all nations,” the students recited, to the clear surprise and 
discomfort of a handful of recruiters. “JP Morgan, your actions 
violate our motto. Your predatory lending practices helped crash 
our economy. We bailed out your executives’ bonuses. You evict 
struggling homeowners while taking their tax money. You support 
mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, which destroys our 
ecological future. In light of these actions, we protest the 
campus culture that whitewashes the crooked dealings of Wall 
Street as a prestigious career path. We are here today as a voice 
for the 99 percent, shut out by a system that punishes them just 
for being born without privilege. What we need is not a university 
for the 1 percent, but a university in the nation’s service, and 
in the service of all nations.”

The students then promptly picked up and walked out, leaving about 
half the classroom desks empty.

Their second attempt, the following night at a Goldman Sachs 
session in a Princeton lecture hall, was met with slightly more 
resistance – at least one student who was there for the session 
yelled at the protesters to “shut up already.” (That night, in 
fact, the protesters included a special message for those 
students: telling them they could do better for themselves and 
society, and their “talents will be wasted” if all the best and 
brightest go to Wall Street. The Dec. 8 mic check clocked in at 
close to four minutes, about double that of the previous evening.)

The protesters faced some pushback from peers who weren't directly 
affected by their actions, too. The Harvard Crimson [4] 
editorialized in defense of students seeking employment at Goldman 
Sachs, as well as (somewhat ambivalently) the firm itself. "It 
would be convenient if we could easily paint Goldman Sachs as the 
evil enemy of the 99 percent, but it's more complicated than 
that," the editorial board wrote. "To exhort students to consider 
their contribution to society when choosing a career is one thing, 
but to target those who want to work for Goldman Sachs misses the 
point; whatever negative impact the company has on our economy is 
due to structural issues rather than questions of individual 
morality. Deterring a couple dozen Harvard students from working 
at Goldman will not change income inequality nor will it create a 
more equitable society. Goldman will just hire the next people in 

Many commenters on The Daily Princetonian [5], meanwhile, called 
the protesters childish and rude, and called them out for 
targeting a demographic that includes many of Princeton's donors. 
"Drop out of Princeton and enroll in a publicly funded university. 
Otherwise, you are complaining about the ultra-rich at the same 
time as you are suckling from their teat," one person wrote. 
Another said, "Fellow students -- nobody stands in your way. Go 
build something.... You are only limited by your capabilities, not 
the system, sorry."

Princeton isn’t aware of any changes to future recruiting events 
or of any waning interest from students considering jobs at such 
firms, said a university spokesman, Martin A. Mbugua. Dozens of 
employers representing more than 40 companies host information 
sessions every semester, he said, and university regulations 
dictate that “students are free to express themselves as long as 
they do not disrupt events to the extent that the event could not 
proceed, or prevent others from participating.”

Rakesh Khurana, a professor of leadership development at Harvard 
who just wrapped up a case study on Occupy Wall Street, lives in 
one of the university residence halls and has spoken with students 
at length about the movement. (There, interest in finance careers 
has been on the downturn since the recession began in 2007, 
according to a Harvard Crimson survey [6]; 20.7 percent of 
graduating seniors last year planned to enter finance and 
consulting, marking the first year the sector was not the top 
choice among students.)

“There’s a sense among students who easily could feel entitled 
that they have a responsibility to society, as leaders, to improve 
that society, and that right now for many people that society 
doesn’t seem to be working,” Khurana said, adding that the number 
of students interested in solving the world’s problems – 
environmental, economic, social – is “amazing.”  “I think what we 
have to do as an institution is to make it easier for students to 
see the path by which they can do that. We haven’t created, in 
many ways, the clarity of the career paths in which you get to go 
do those things.”

Khurana explored these themes in his book From Higher Aims to 
Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business 
Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession 
[7], asserting that, having strayed from their original intent to 
create management as a profession in which an individual used 
knowledge to advance societal interests, business schools have 
lost their direction. But top business schools that attract 
applicants who will get good jobs still have motivation to change, 
Khurana said in a 2007 interview with Inside Higher Ed [8] – 
precisely because of the grievances aired at the recruiting 
sessions. “There seems to be a growing sense among students, 
faculty and administrators that business education needs to change 
and that business itself may be at an inflection point with 
respect to its societal responsibilities,” Khurana said at the time.

So which businesses are deserving of the students’ ire? Khurana 
says they can tell the difference between a Steve Jobs and a JP 
Morgan. “In the minds of a lot of the protesters, there was a very 
clear distinction between the kind of business that he was doing 
and what banks did and what the financial service industry is doing.”

In their second mic check, the Princeton students mentioned how 
Occupiers and non-Occupiers alike laugh about going "to the dark 
side," and making fun of investment firms' rich executives. But if 
people keep confronting the firms in this way, students might 
start taking those jokes more seriously, Johnston said.

"If taking these jobs comes to be seen as sort of ethically 
disreputable, that's a shift that's going to affect the choices 
that students make," he said. "If you are embarrassed to admit 
that you're going to go to work for one of these firms, that's an 
argument against picking that kind of a job. I think that that was 
a cultural shift you saw in the 1960s, where in 1957 if you said 
you were going to go work for Dow, that was a very exciting thing. 
But if in 1969 you said you were going to work for Dow, that made 
you a persona non grata in a lot of circles."
Source URL: 

[2] http://www.insidehighered.com/users/allie-grasgreen
[3] http://studentactivism.net/
[5] http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2011/12/09/29623/comments/?p=1
[7] http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8463.html
[8] http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/10/18/khurana

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