Several weeks ago, the media went into a frenzy when a Harvard student escaped a final exam by feeding school administrators a fake bomb threat. Disrupting an entire community to avoid an exam is clearly going too far for the sake of one’s GPA. But this incident was just one symptom of a much wider trend. It is part of a trend that concerns Yalies as well, as much as we’d like to dismiss the bomb hoax as yet another Harvard flaw.
Coming to Yale, I was shocked at the ruthlessly competitive attitude many of my peers had regarding academics. Discussing grades was taboo. Sharing notes was not common courtesy. My friends from some private schools said they couldn’t even celebrate when they got into Yale, because so many of their peers had bitter feelings. At my public school in the ex-hippie town of Berkeley, California, my friends threw me parties when I got in.
And enter the Ivy League finals week — a novel experience for me. Friends of mine who had gone through similar exam periods at their boarding schools appeared to have finals-induced PTSD. Some kids became chronic drug seekers, sending mass texts looking for study meds. Certain friends become reserved and cold, refusing to study with me for the same class and the same material. Everyone had a dose of stress. And yes, the human stress response is a useful thing. But only in moderation and in context.
And in some situations, that human stress response can even be dangerous — just as worrying as a bomb threat. That’s particularly true at elite universities, where our entitlement complexes can make us feel that we’re at the center of the universe. At Yale that manifests itself in borderline sociopathic isolation and Adderall binges. At Harvard, that manifests itself in the now-notorious bomb threat, a hoax that disrupted an entire city for an extra day studying. It should be noted that the hoax comes on the heels of a similarly disruptive cheating scandal.
In today’s Yale and Harvard cultures, students forget to distinguish between deserved and undeserved success, using any means available for an A-grade. They succumb to stress and place the marks of achievement above ethics. And they go on to internalize these values in their careers. These school scandals are precursors to corruption and financial crises that do much more damage than a simple hoax.
In fact, sometimes the connection between school and financial scandals is very direct. Matthew Martoma, an ex-SAC Capital trader currently on trial for federal insider-trading charges, was expelled from Harvard Law School for forging his transcript. These sorts of school scandals cannot be overlooked — they are indicative of a snowballing problem, one that grows more serious with time. Classroom stress develops into an unethical culture, creating larger crises down the line. I’m sure you’ve seen the type of person at Yale who wants to be the next “Wolf of Wall Street,” who thinks that drugs and manipulation are acceptable. I know I have.
Sometimes we think that the way to avoid stress or escape an exam is to pop another pill — or to even fake a bomb threat. But it really comes down to humility, understanding that we’re not entitled to disrupt others simply to ensure our own achievements. That’s an especially important lesson to remember around this time of year, as recruiters from J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs descend on campus, and as applications for selective seminars go out. But the ethics that we practice now will shape our future careers. If we want to end the populist clamor that demonizes elite institutions like Yale and Harvard alongside hedge funds like SAC, the first step is to stop exhibiting the megalomaniacal behavior that drives their critiques.
Alborz Yazdi is a freshman in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.