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Will Ivy League Schools Trade ROTC Bans for Bans on Wall Street Recruiting?

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In 1969, Columbia University voted to ban the ROTC from campus in what marked the culmination of over a year of protest. In many ways, ROTC bans by Columbia and other top private universities stood as a defining moment in a decade characterized by student and anti-war activism.

In that vein, a different sort of activism is quickly coming to define this decade as people express their anger at the finance industry. In the past few months, at some elite colleges -- which have long been breeding grounds for bankers and traders -- students have taken on the OWS spirit, and protested against financial recruiters on campus.

Early in August, in what turned out to be the beginning of a trend, an op-ed in Dartmouth University's The Dartmouth called upon students and university administrators to move away from jobs in the financial sector. Students at Yale, Harvard, and Stanford quickly followed suit and wrote articles challenging the preference given to the likes of Bank of America and Citigroup.

The articles range from bilious, like this from the Dartmouth op-ed:

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.

... to confused and slightly less furious. From a great cover story in the Yale Daily News' weekend edition:

I'm JUST SCARED about this industry that's taking all my friends and telling them this is the best way for them to be spending their time. Any of their time. Maybe I'm ignorant and idealistic but I just feel like that can't possibly be true.

But they all share the same common idea: that most students don't go to Ivy League schools, or other bastions of enlightened thought, to end up working for JPMorgan Chase or Wells Fargo. This is accompanied by the generally unspoken belief that those who do go to elite schools to become bankers perhaps shouldn't. Students, according to these articles, go into finance because of the vast sums of money and effort put in by Wall Street's campus recruiters to maintain tight relationships with schools' career offices.

There's data to back up these assertions. An article in the Chicago Tribune last week points out that many university career services offices rely on financial companies for a lot of their funding. At Stanford, for example, companies can pay $10,000 to be "platinum level partners," which allows them "privileged access to students at career fairs and … [to] send an unlimited number of emails through the center."

Stanford's partnership with financial companies was a major source of ire in a recent Stanford Daily op-ed. The author cites Goldman Sachs' designation as a "Gold Partner" while it was under federal investigations as indicative of the system's corruption.

At this point, no one is really calling for a full ban of financial services recruiting on campus. Likewise, even though some students are protesting the overwhelming influence of the finance industry, a ton of kids from elite colleges still succumb to its temptations. According to the Yale Daily News article, a full quarter of employed students from last year's class are in finance. And 20% of Harvard's class of 2009 is in finance or consulting.

Still, these articles do point to a change in the air. In Liberty Plaza, at least one student is getting class credit for his role in the protest. With Ivy League schools finally bringing back ROTC programs, maybe they'll soon be looking to trade one recruiting ban for another.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.