Blame Harvard for Cold Hearts
Recruiting seniors who enter consulting or investment-banking are often charged to have somehow entered a Faustian contract and sold their souls to the devil. Sure, I have met people upon whom I wish the proletarian revolution, but on the other end of the materialist spectrum sit social-justice advocates who attack recruiting seniors with a vengeance that makes the Intifada look like a bunch of PBH counselors. Hearing some of the charges waged against recruiting seniors makes me grateful for the fire codes which have prevented those social justice advocates from holding candlelight vigils in front of their dorm rooms.
If the entire world consisted of 100 people, 67 would be poor.
In any case, most of us, I suspect, fall between these two extremes. "I have no clue," said one of my recruiting senior friends when I asked him what he wanted to do after Harvard. "I want to do something useful. Something where I can help people."
Fifty-five would have an annual income of less than $600.
If my friend is any indication, Harvard students are not selfish. The Phillips Brooks House Association logs 1,700 annual volunteers. HAND and City Step also draw many volunteers. By the time they graduate as seniors, well over two-thirds have entered some type of public service activity or another. Harvard students generally want to leave their mark upon this world and public service is perhaps one of the most meaningful ways to do that.
Still, too many seniors recruit. Why?
By examining two main rationales seniors use and then looking for the underlying structural cause, I will argue that the high level of corporate recruiting is based in the shortcomings of the University rather than the greed of individual students.
Fifty would be homeless or live in substandard housing.
First, a little terminology for convenience. Fervent social justice advocates will henceforth be referred to as "Birkenstocks." Recruiters will be called "Guccis." That will make the following discussion easier, I hope, and more fun.
The first justification for corporate recruiting is individual. For most students recruiting this term, social justice and corporate recruiting are not mutually exclusive and so going into the private sector is not necessarily blameworthy.
In one sense, a consultant in Michigan may devise sound and efficient management strategies which will save thousands of jobs. Guccis help more people than a Birkenstock comforting a dozen battered women. Isn't saving the jobs of several hundred garment workers through streamlining management akin to a Birkenstock ladling soup to 40 homeless clients?
In another sense, Guccis plan to give back to the community. They plan to volunteer on weekends. The most ambitious ones plan to first achieve financial security, cultivate connections in the business world, and then make a break for public service by pulling strings in high places to attract funding for their own non-profit.
Forty-seven would be illiterate.
The flaw with the mutual exclusivity argument lies in intent. Guccis do not and cannot enter a corporate job with the intent of bettering the lives of others. As a result, if efficiency called for layoffs, Guccis must recommend that path. In this sense, social justice and corporate employment may not be mutually exclusive like oil and water, but it is not complementary like peanut butter and jelly.
The second justification deserves more examination. Guccis plan to give back to their community in their private life. But very few actually end up breaking out of the private sector because doing so entails a massive pay cut. By the time most Guccis consider such a move, they have responsibilities to their children, their spouses. They have a mortgage and their spending has risen to match income. Luxuries become necessities. As Jerry Seinfeld says, "You can't go back to coach once you've flown first-class."
Thirty-five would be hungry and malnourished.
The other main reason individuals give for entering the private sector over the public sector is a matter of convenience. It is so easy, my friends tell me, to get a consulting-type job. It's the money, the prestige, New York. If someone walked up to you and handed you a $50,000 plus annual salary not counting bonuses, wouldn't you take that too?
In a way, this ease of entering firms is self-perpetuating. At the career forum, I met up with old friends who were working at A.T. Kearney, Bain, Goldman Sachs. It's tempting to work in a place where you already know people. The machinery of placing students into the private sector is a well-oiled machine.
This convenience argument is one I cannot argue with. I cannot argue with it because it's true. Look at the OCS newsletter and you will find private sector classifieds vastly outnumbering public service jobs.
Thus, the disproportionate flow is understandable but regrettable. I don't consider recruiting seniors selfish or greedy, but it is a shame that the men and women most qualified to enter the public sector are the same ones who are least likely to do it. Perhaps it is because recruiting is safe.
Six would be Americans and would hold 33 percent of the village's entire income.
Ultimately, the problem is structurally rooted in the University. Harvard's diversity of curriculum and concentrations is immense. Students are free and encouraged to pursue whatever academic passion they harbor. But this academic freedom vanishes when it comes to what exactly students are supposed to do with that education.
Harvard students can explain anything from the Kantian moral imperative to the Gram-Schmidt reduction of linear algebra with the fluency of a matriarch's Yiddish and the passion reserved for TV evangelists. But ask them what they want to do after graduation and responses stall and stutter.
For all of its empirical and intellectual vigor, the Harvard education most receive is utterly empty in normative content. The emphasis of education here rests on how and where to acquire knowledge, not where to apply it or to what end. Social justice becomes an issue relegated to optional extracurricular activities such as PBHA and ethnic groups to address.
At the career forum, over 60 tables were dedicated to corporations, roughly four to public service. The overwhelming majority of organizations interviewing at OCS is in the private sector. Now Harvard may argue that the demand for a Peace Corps presentation is not there and only banks can afford to rent the Faculty Club for a panel discussion.
This argument is fallacious, because Harvard has a responsibility to offer diversity not only in the field of education, but also in terms of what students can do with that education. Although statistics, classics and VES departments are relatively smaller and less popular, the University, justifiably, felt it worthwhile to subsidize them for the sake of variety and diversity. The same argument ought to hold when presenting career options, especially since it is where they will end up spending most of their lives.
By offering an impoverished menu of career options, the OCS and the University provide a disservice to the vast majority of students who have a vague notion of "helping people" and "be successful" but still are unsure about career.
One would have a college education.
As college students, the privilege and power we all command is immense. We have the duty to help others because we have the ability. John F. Kennedy '40 said that "to whom much is given, much is expected" and we have been given a lot.
I do not believe seniors entering the private sector are greedy and selfish and lack a social conscience. I do believe they may be a little risk averse and the College could do more to ameliorate qualms about entering public service. I think it's important to realize how, relatively to others, if the world were a hundred people, how really fortunate and how much we could do.
Francis Bacon described a useless person as a vessel that travels the sea and leaves no trace. May we all--Birkenstocks and Guccis--get off the boat and into careers and callings that will make a difference.
Alexander T. Nguyen '99, a Crimson editor, is a social studies concentrator in Pforzheimer House.