In a recent edition of the New York Times I read an article that I found both fascinating and disturbing. In “At Top Colleges, Anti-Wall St. Fervor Complicates Recruiting,” Kevin Roose describes the efforts of students in the Occupy Wall Street movement to keep their fellow students from interviewing for jobs in banking and finance. Here’s how the article begins:
College students seeking jobs on Wall Street have always had hurdles to overcome — grueling applications, endless rounds of interviews and fierce competition for the relatively few available spots at top firms.
This year’s Wall Street hopefuls have had a new force to contend with: the wrath of their peers.
Banks and hedge funds have long wooed undergraduates from elite colleges with lavish dinners, personalized e-mails and free trips to New York for interviews. It’s all part of an annual courtship ritual known as on-campus recruiting.
But this fall, the antibank animus of the Occupy Wall Street movement has seeped onto college campuses. At some schools, anger at big banks has turned the on-campus recruiting process into a crucible of controversy.
“I teach financial markets, and it’s a little like teaching R.O.T.C. during the Vietnam War,” said Robert J. Shiller, a professor of economics at Yale University. “You have this sense that something’s amiss.”
At leading universities, student newspapers are making a passionate case against working in finance. Some students are protesting in an effort to keep their classmates from interviewing with finance firms:
The new recruiting climate was on display at Yale in mid-November, when a group of Yale students turned a Morgan Stanley information session into a protest site. While their fellow students, clad in suits and clutching folders with résumés, filed into The Study at Yale, a local hotel, to learn more about the investment bank, a group of approximately 25 Yale undergraduates protested outside. They held signs and chanted slogans like “Take a stance, don’t go into finance” and “25 percent is too much talent spent” — a nod, protest organizers said, to the quarter of Yale graduates who typically take finance and management consulting jobs after graduation.
The effort by the OWS students seems to me sadly lacking in vision. Let’s assume for a moment that their critique of Wall Street is accurate, that greed has taken over, and that major change in needed in the whole system of banking and finance. So, how will this change take place? Should the “Occupy” crowd seek to actually occupy the positions in the financial firms, so that they might begin to make the changes that are require? How will these companies be transformed if not by people within them who have a different vision?
Contrast the OWS effort with the MBA Oath movement that began at Harvard Business School (of all places!) a couple of years ago. According to the MBA Oath website, the movement’s mission is “to facilitate a widespread movement of MBAs who aim to lead in the interests of the greater good and who have committed to living out the principles articulated in the oath. The oath is a voluntary pledge for graduating MBAs and current MBAs to ‘create value responsibly and ethically.’” What began at Harvard in 2009 has now spread to business and finance graduates from over 250 schools throughout the world.
I’m not quite sure how the OWS folk would respond to the MBA Oath movement. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are skeptical. For example, a member of the OWS group at Yale noted “that Yale students often go into finance expecting to leave after several years, but end up staying for their entire careers. “People are naïve about how addictive the money is going to be,” she said.
I think this student has a point. And I’m sure that some of those who signed the MBA Oath ended up putting aside their high ethical standards when they became possessed by Mammon. But, there are others who are seeking to bring change within the corporate and finance worlds by working on the inside.
Now, I am not suggesting that all the students who interview for corporate finance positions are doing so out of some commitment to the public good. Surely many have already been smitten by the mighty buck. But I find the vision of the students in the OWS movement to be sadly lacking. Why not use their extraordinary cultural power as students of the most elite universities in the world – the academic 1% – to work to bring transformation to the world of finance?