Can Students Fix the Ivy League?

Three weeks ago, we suggested that Occupy Princeton should drop out of Princeton. Because it’s a little silly to protest Wall Street—or the present economic order, or income inequality, and so on—if you attend a school which both perpetuates all of those things and benefits from them. A school which, arguably, is less a university than a finishing school for bankers. (And which employs Jeffrey Eugenides and Joyce Carol Oates for the same reason Goldman Sachs installed a Franz Ackerman mural in the lobby of its New York headquarters.)

Here’s how one commenter answered:

No. That would be dumb. That’s like saying “If you don’t want Romney for president you should totally just leave the country if he’s elected.”

It’s like retreating. Giving up! White-flagging! Total pussy move.

It’s totally OK for people to criticize something they’re part of if they’re asking it to change for the better and they themselves are working to be better.  

And later:

 Also there’s SO much more to Princeton than its stereotypical role as a feeder school to Wall Street (and no I’m not one of the protestors or a conservative). It offers one of the best educations in the nation, exceptional resources for undergraduates, more money per capita than any other educational institution in the US (I got to study in Italy over the summer for almost nothing!)

[...]

This place is giving me the credentials I need to go out and get a job, and hopefully a job that I can use to actually make some change in the country. More of a change than I could make by transferring to Hamilton College [Ed: we suggested Hampshire College!] in protest. Honestly, anyone who would transfer from Princeton in protest of the select few assholes who are obsessed with making it big on Wall Street would be an idiot and I would never take them seriously anyway.

First, Princeton’s “role as a feeder school to Wall Street” is not “stereotypical.” In 2011, 36% of Princeton grads went into finance. In 2006, it was nearly 50%. These are not “a few select assholes.” When between a third and half your classmates enter the financial industry, it’s almost kind of generous to call your school a “feeder school for Wall Street.” There are several far worse and more accurate epithets to choose from.

Second, nobody doubts that Princeton is wonderful. (Except everyone at Yale.) Nobody questions that it provides an excellent education. Everybody is aware that Princeton lavishes money and resources on its undergraduates! But it’s dishonest to claim that you can benefit from Princeton without benefitting from Wall Street capital. All of those bulging endowment dollars—all of those little things which make your life easier—come from the generous donations of hedge fund managers, venture capitalists, and Goldman VPs.

Princeton’s subtle encouragement to enter finance (a legitimate grievance of Occupy Princeton!) is the secret sauce which makes those study-abroad trips possible. It’s what makes Princeton’s peerless financial aid program possible. But having “more money per capita than anything other educational institution in the US” requires Princeton to educate, and graduate, a lot of people who will make a lot of money. Where else, except finance, can the smart but inexperienced go to make bank, and easily? (Ask Ezra Klein!)

And yet, for Occupy Princeton—for a lot of people—the financial industry has corrupted the Ivy League. This is wrong. The financial industry basically made the Ivy League what it is.

We’re still curious if you, IvyGate commenters, think it’s possible to maintain what makes Princeton Princeton, Harvard Harvard, Dartmouth Dartmouth, and so on, without the huge sums of money necessary to do so. That would seem to answer the question of whether you can attend Princeton and still fight the system that funds it.

  • Please

    Hey, the first quoted comment is mine! haha awesome. But anyway, I think this article makes a great point. As much as bankers are criticized for their greed and uselessness, and as much as the finance industry is called selfish, maybe the fact that it turns out they actually do quite a bit of good by financing (therefore creating?) the best institutions of academic propagation in the world is just another example of the invisible hand at work. 

    Or maybe, instead, the occupy movement isn’t misguided because 36% of your class going into finance, even if it has the positive externality of allowing Ivy to be Ivy, just seems like overkill. I think it would be interesting to see what the percentage of past HPY classes going into finance was. I think it would be an interesting thesis or something to try and figure out what the growth rate of money (or maybe the growth rate of the growth rate?) for these schools needs to be in order to keep them finding new knowledge at the rate they do. I wonder if the marginal return of knowledge to money for schools is decreasing or if schools are still at the point where there’s exponential or linear return to the input of capital. Too back I fucking hate Economics. Fuck you, Mankiw. 

    • CitizenWhy

       Thugs and exploiters and destroyers of worlds have always taken good care of “their own.” So what?

      • Kasdfa

        Well, “their own” are doing good this time.

  • CitizenWhy

    One possible mission for an elite school is to civilize the future owners of us all. This actually happens in some cases, not in many more.

  • um

    Well at least the money’s going to something good. I fully support Wall Street giving their money to educational institutions. Better than it going to most anything else they would spend it on….