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Wall Street's Ivy League pipeline faces growing criticism

December 2, 2011 |  8:33 am

The battle for the hearts and minds of America's best and brightest is heating up.

As The Times reported earlier this fall, students and professors on elite college campuses have been criticizing the high proportion of smart students who go to work in the financial industry (at Harvard last year, 29% of employed graduates did so).

Since then, the debate has only grown more fierce. At Yale and Harvard, students affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement have stood outside recruiting events for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and chastised students in attendance. Outside Harvard's Office of Career Services, a few dozen students chanted, "Goldman Sachs, you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side," the campus newspaper reported.

Thursday, at an event sponsored by Bloomberg, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Arthur Levitt, said that the anger is likely to have a long-term impact.

"No longer will financial services be the companies of choice of college seniors," Levitt said. "There is such vast disillusionment."

While individual students on these campuses had previously written articles critical of the flow of talent toward Wall Street, Thursday the editorial board of Duke University's Chronicle took up the cause:

If more smart people pursue jobs oriented toward creating socially-valuable products and services or commit themselves to developing solutions to educational or environmental problems, society will improve in ways that trading in mortgage-backed securities will never achieve. We encourage students headed for Wall Street to stray from that tired road, but recognize the institutional, parental and social pressures that compel many to pursue careers in finance and consulting. Although these careers promise security, wealth and status, we believe that Duke students can do better. Those who choose another path have the power to improve society in lasting and meaningful ways. We hope that they will.

The editorial was careful to note that not all the members of the editorial board agreed with the stance.

Meanwhile, at Harvard, the students paper's editorial board questioned the tactics of protesters trying to shame students interested in finance -- though it was anything but an endorsement of the banks.

Perhaps it is not ideal that so many of us go on to Wall Street, but targeting individuals looking at career options in this way is hardly the appropriate remedy.  Many students who enter these fields are not the scions of banking families but rather hard-working students looking for a challenging job that lets them experience a newfound financial prosperity.

At the end of the day, the protesters may get what they are hoping for, not thanks to a change in opinion but rather due to the recent retrenchment in the financial industry. As Bloomberg recently reported, Wall Street is set to lay off 200,000 employees this year and hiring is slowing to a trickle.


BofA layoffs: Bank of America to cut at least 40,000 jobs

Getting brilliant students to seek jobs beyond Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street's message hits home with some on Wall Street

-- Nathaniel Popper

Photo: Yale students argue with a fellow protester at Occupy New Haven in October. Credit: Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters