Last spring, the Harvard Crimson surveyed the university’s graduating seniors and recorded that an astonishing 58 percent of men and 43 percent of women entering the workforce were headed to the financial sector. In an excellent example of misguided reporting, the Crimson lamented how few women (“just” 43 percent) sought lucrative jobs as investment bankers and consultants. Instead, Harvard women gravitated toward lower-paying jobs in teaching, health and public service. For the Crimson, the absence of female investors worryingly contributed to a cross-industry income disparity. But while it is certainly important to track and highlight gender discrimination, the Crimson ignored the glaring issue of why so many people — nearly one-half of Harvard’s graduates — were entering the financial sector in the first place.
Neither of Yale’s papers has conducted an analogous survey, yet it is not difficult to imagine similar results for Yale. At Yale’s eighth annual career fair last Friday, consulting and investment firms put on lavish presentations for Yale seniors, overwhelming them with free tote bags, ping-pong balls and squishy pens. The financial sector pays a lot more than, say, the educational or public service sectors, and it is not surprising that high first-year income is a big draw in a potential job. Indeed, there are also noble and selfless reasons for becoming an investment banker. The problem is that many students at both Harvard and Yale assume that the best jobs are the ones that pay the most. When the Crimson encouraged more women to enter finance and bridge the “gender gap,” for example, it never occurred to the paper’s reporter that perhaps the career paths of Harvard’s women were already more aligned with the mission of the university than were those of their male peers.
For a university like Yale, whose stated purpose is to cultivate citizens “with a rich awareness of our human heritage to lead and serve,” it would represent an institutional failure if a majority of its seniors were educated to care only about post-graduate income. President Levin urged the graduating class of 2007 not simply to pay the mortgage (or mortgages), but to “seek fulfillment” in their lives, and to “seek the betterment of life for all with whom we share this small and shrinking planet.” Unfortunately, as illustrated by the Crimson’s premise that low-paying jobs in education or public service were less desirable than higher-paying ones, Yale’s self-reported goal of producing moral, civic, intellectual and creative leaders often flies in the face of cross-university cultural assumptions.
For a graduate to enter the financial sector is certainly not bad in itself, just as becoming a public servant does not necessarily represent high-minded selflessness; both can serve the public good and facilitate self-fulfillment. The issue is the motivation behind working in a particular sector and the assumed correlation between wealth and success. Graduates who enter any field, from technology to education, seeking only a luxurious lifestyle, are essentially acting contrary to Yale’s mission.
If students are flocking to jobs for social status rather than social meaning, the University is not providing them with strong enough incentives to follow their own callings. Many students, for example, cannot afford to live as artists or teachers while repaying their financial aid debt. Yale has tried to address this with several excellent fellowships like the Urban Teaching Master’s Program, which awards students a master’s education at no cost in exchange for a commitment to teach in New Haven public schools, but the University could do more. Indeed, in the name of its mission, Yale should continue to work toward decreasing graduate debt and admitting students based not on who is likely to get good grades while they are here or donate more money after they graduate, but on who will “lead and serve” as part of their contribution to society.
Yale’s mission is a good one, but on an institutional and cultural level, Yale needs to work harder to cultivate its principles among its students. Those Harvard women who are leading and serving have a lot to teach the rest of us. As these women apparently recognize, self-fulfillment can come from service, not just status. There are more rewarding aspects of a new career than cushy jobs and squishy pens.
Niko Bowie is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.