At a party in New Hampshire last week, one Dartmouth undergrad relayed a story to another about Bridgewater Associates. Apparently the former had chosen to abstain from the annual recruiting session that takes place over the summer for rising juniors and as a firm committed to probing the depths of any situation until they find the truth, Bridgewater wanted to know more. The hedge fund offered to pay the coed “$100 to write a statement explaining why she didn’t participate,” she told her friend, a proposition that sickened him.
The sheer arrogance and senselessness of this anecdote made me sick to my stomach, partly because, as planned, the exercise made her second guess her choice. But I had to admit there was a certain conceited logic to it — if this company can pay her $100 just to explain why she did not want to work for them, it’s easy to imagine how much cash she could rake in if she decided to pursue the job.
The exercise also got him thinking.
After I was done vomiting in my mouth, thinking of all the people who desperately need that hundred dollars, I began to think about the depth to which the recruiting culture has permeated our College. It has siphoned off some of our great minds into a dead-end field that sanitizes the intellect, offers almost nothing to human society, and conditions people to act in ways that are decidedly inhuman.
The whispered promise of recruiting stunts many undergraduates’ intellectual development at square one, commodifying their academic experience, papering over all other possible life paths or making them simply financially infeasible in contrast. It attempts to render insignificant the essential elements of a liberal arts education. Dartmouth is not a vocational school for investment bankers, nor should it be. We came to this school to probe big questions about why the world is the way it is — not to conform to a withering ideal of wealth and virtual power that we have been manufactured to hold dear.
There are a few paradoxes about Dartmouth culture that I have always found deeply troubling, chief among them the cognitive dissonance between the brilliance of my peers and their complete lack of intellectual curiosity. Most of them are ambivalent at best, and at worst antagonistic, to the very concept of posing the hard questions about power, equality and history that we should be examining as undergraduates of a liberal arts college. They seem aware that doing so will not help them land a prestigious 16-hour-a-day job at some faceless hedge fund, where they’ll learn about manipulating capital instead of imagining a freer and more just world. To think about inequalities would be a distraction from their manufactured task of perpetuating, rather than questioning, class-based systems of power and dominance. Is this what it means to be ambitious in our culture? Should this be the goal of the valedictorians of Ivy League institutions? No matter how hard I try, I cannot think of more pathetic ambitions.
It’s glaringly obvious that there is an inherent connection between the tragedy of wasted minds at Dartmouth and the proliferation of corporate, consulting and “financial services” recruiting on our campus. And it’s a process that the College has a hand in, allowing or disallowing various corporate and financial entities access to its undergraduates. In supporting the recruiting culture, the College has undermined its credibility as one of the bastions of elite higher education and free thought. Compare the composition of our Board of Trustees with that of our peer institutions and the picture of the private equity, investment banking and the corporate stranglehold over the College’s affairs becomes more obvious.
While debating with friends about the merits of recruiting, one argument reappears without fail: “Dude, it’s so much money you can’t say no.” The excuse seems uncontestable. Who doesn’t want to make a pile of money to do basically menial work?
But is this system of labor ethical and concomitant with a broader view of a just society, especially when our College has a hand in foisting it upon us? Could we, as College President John Sloan Dickey said “make the world’s problems our own”?
Why has higher education bent away from its highest aims to pull its youth into what is essentially a vulgar and extortionate system of lending and predatory capitalism which is increasingly underwritten by what remains of the public’s coffers, as large banks and investment groups fail left and right? Dartmouth men and women can do better; Dartmouth should too.
If anyone here would like to take a break from manipulating capital to explain yourselves, he’s listening.
A Corporate Stranglehold [The Dartmouth]