Friday, March 11, 2011

Duke University—an evil institution?

“There is a strange interdependence between thoughtlessness and evil.” –Hannah Arendt

"Goldman Sachs." "Hedge fund." "CitiBank." For the past two years, I've eavesdropped many a conversation at Duke, and I've heard words like these uttered over and over again. That's because many students at Duke have, for years, been populating the ranks of highly dubious Wall Street firms.

Duke takes pains to sell itself as a liberal arts school, and while they don’t—like most schools—offer an undergraduate business major, "economics"—a close cousin to business—is the most popular major year after year.

While there are plenty of English and history and philosophy majors at Duke, one could make the case that it's becoming a business or vocational school (as Duke has instituted loopholes for students to get around gen. ed. requirements like writing). Not only that, but there are another 1,500 MBAs enrolled in the graduate business school, and the undergraduate Markets and Management Studies is the most popular of all certificate programs at Duke.

This is nothing out of the ordinary. Business is, by far, the most popular degree in the country. Nationwide, there were 335,000 business degrees given out in 2007-08 school year, more than double the next most popular degree.

But why are there so many students majoring in business or business-like programs? Perhaps these students mean well. Perhaps they have dreams of starting small businesses or creating jobs for people. Or, maybe they have more selfish reasons.

While I do not have the statistics, I wouldn’t be surprised if—like at Harvard—as many as a third of Duke’s graduates wind up in the financial services industry. Every May, it’s as if Goldman Sachs and companies like them position a giant vacuum at the end of Duke’s commencement stage, sucking up many of Duke’s cap-and-gowned grads to be emptied out on Wall Street.

Our best and brightest are not going out to save the world; they’re going out to make money. (I have a friend who’s a Rhodes Scholar who told me that her fellow scholars, similarly, were flocking to the financial services industry, lured by the high salaries.)

Whenever I come across a student who’s going to Wall Street, I've always wanted to ask: “You actually want to work for one of THOSE companies??? Aren’t they largely responsible for a not-so-little economic meltdown? Aren’t they, uh, kinda evil? Don’t you care about any of that?"

One day, last fall, I had my chance. In fact, I got to pose my question to a whole classroom of undergraduate economic students.

“Do economics students major for idealistic reasons?”

For several moments, there was nothing but silence.

“You mean to ask: are we going to out and save the world?” asked one of the students.

“Yeah. I guess,” I said.

“No. Definitely not.”

That was more or less the end of the discussion. My professor, at the end of class, leaned over with a smile and whispered, “You know why they’re all economics majors? Because they’re all going to Wall Street.”

What’s so wrong with going to Wall Street? Aren’t consultants, investment bankers, and Wall Street-types good and useful? Aren’t they necessary for the health of the planet and people alike? I have a hunch, but I’m no expert or insider, so it's impossible for me to answer such questions in a responsible manner. (Though this person poses and answers the same questions.)

Regardless of whether or not these Wall Street-types provide a useful service, I think there is something very, very wrong when a graduate takes a job without thoughtful introspection. When a graduate goes out into the world without character and principles, and with the sole purpose of making a fortune, he can be a very dangerous human being. And a college degree is no longer a flimsy roll of parchment—it's a weapon.

I’ve learned that it’s not just economic or business majors eager to sell their souls to Corporate America. I’ve made friends with a few grad students in the Nicholas School of the Environment—a department, I figured, that would be a surefire hotbed for liberal do-gooded-ness. I imagined a group of dread-headed, tie-died hippies who loved scrubbing oil off sea turtles and fornicating in wild, body-painted orgies. But this friend told me—much to her disillusionment—that “about half of the environmental majors are taking environment courses so they can get jobs in the oil and gas industry.” I was shocked. When I asked a Nicholas School professor if her students had “sound ethics,” she said, point-blank, “no.”

Goldman Sachs? The oil and gas industry???? What the hell is going on?

I thought college students were supposed to be ambitious and idealistic, helpful and hopeful? What is the point of Duke if many of its best and brightest are taking jobs that—to borrow the colloquial—fuck shit up?

Hannah Arendt, author of Eichmann in Jerusalem, said “There is a strange interdependence between thoughtlessness and evil.” She noted that the people who committed some of the most shocking atrocities in the Holocaust were not psychopaths or extremists; rather, they were “terribly and terrifyingly normal”—just everyday people who followed orders.

I don’t think Duke is evil. And I certainly don’t think Duke’s students are evil. (My economics classmates were all very likeable, intelligent, and generally—from what I could tell—good people.) But I think many students are morally vacuous—especially those who’ve spent their four years doing little but creating models and punching numbers. Among them, there is a startling unwillingness (or is it an “inability?”) to ask themselves the necessary ethical questions.

A college should be a place to question everything; to dream up radical and revolutionary ideas; to reevaluate our economic and social institutions (especially those that tend to rape the earth and funnel power and money to the super-rich). Yet, the consumer-capitalist model not only goes unchallenged in most curricula; rather, it’s quite literally taught. We’re taught—as Carnegie Mellon professor Jeffrey Williams sardonically puts it—that the “ordering principle of the world is the capitalist market, and that the market is natural, inevitable, and implacable.” Duke is not a place to question the dominant institutions; it’s a place to support them.

Of course Duke produces many great people. Every year, Duke students become innovators, doctors, professors, journalists, and there are probably even a few do-gooding businessmen and women.

But I can’t help but wonder if places like Duke might be doing more harm than good. There’s clearly something wrong when graduates are aiding and abetting criminal institutions. There’s clearly something wrong with the business-heavy, liberal arts-light education a school provides when many of its graduates don’t think about the consequences of the product they produce (if you can even call it a "product"). And there is clearly something wrong when they enroll in classes, not to become better people, but to buy bigger homes and flashier cars.

I once read somewhere that if, hypothetically, we removed all the ants from the world—in one fell swoop—the food chain would be disrupted, there’d be massive extinctions, and the world as we know it would end. But, if we removed human beings, most everything else would thrive. What would happen if we removed the financial services industry? What would happen if we removed parts of Duke and places like it?


Michael said...

But I've been so bombarded by similar losing issues with my work on the very worthwhile film GrowthBusters that I accept the predictions in Revelations. Overpopulation is just another form of over-consumption. Our mammalian brain jacks our neo-cortex and tells us how wonderful it is to have a warm cozy family. I have and enjoy this myself. If we want to fix these problems we have to voluntarily reduce population. But we wont. So the modus operandi will simply be, "how loving will we treat each other as everything turns to crap an exponential speed.

mOOm said...

I think you are painting a too black and white picture here. I'm an economics professor and did an undergrad in econ and geography. I studied econ because I thought it would help me understand how the world works which fascinated me (and I was mainly interested in third world development economics then) and because I thought it was a fairly practical discipline which could teach me some useful skills (data analysis stuff mainly). I think the majority of students studying business are doing it because they think it is practical not to get rich per se. Where both business and econ majors are offered the econ majors are likely to be more intellectually inclined and interested in understanding things as well as wanting to do a somewhat practical major.

This might be different at an elite private university like Duke, particularly if there is no undergrad business major. But it is not the picture everywhere.

Right now I am teaching intro economics to public servants from Asian developing countries (Indonesia, Nepal, Vietnam etc.) and do research one energy efficiency and climate change policy.

Josh said...

Awesome. Post.

Totally, 100% agree. Though I do appreciate the points made by mOOm -categorizing the major as evil is certainly an overgeneralized label.

Nevertheless, my stomach turns over in disgust at how schools churn out these profit-making corporate drones with no sense of community or civility.

Awesome. Post.

Louise said...

a great thought provoking post! In Australia our higher education institutes are having to focus more and more on becoming commercially viable.

It's changing the educations landscape as schools are having to develop industry based courses that lead to employment and in career growth areas.

In order to get funding they are having to design courses with a bit more focus on the working world, rather than the value of education for it's own sake. I think we're losing a lot of the classics, the liberal arts, the philosophical courses, the critical thinking skills that I believe are crucial to developing people who are open minded and ready for the future.

I see it a lot in my work, parents often won't support kids who want to study a course that doesn't come with a job description attached!

I guess it's trying to find the balance between the commercial world and the real values of a free thinking education. I worry that we'll end up with a society that has lost the art of thinking, debate, reflection etc.

good on you for raising the issues!

Anonymous said...

I majored in economics and political science.

I studied both because I wanted to "save the world," so to speak.

Mike said...

Hear Hear!

It seems most colleges are business schools now. It's a disservice to the students to let them study for 4 years and not get them to seriously consider their motives, ethics, principles and thinking. Liberal education ought to better the lives of free men, not turn them into corporate slaves.

Harvard Business school started asking its graduates to give an oath to be ethical and do good in the world in 2009. I happened to be graduating from my undergrad that same year and wasn't seated more than 40 feet from them, and was looking forward to the refreshing stance of the HBS grads.

But, rather than witnessing the sincerity of oath takers at a sacred ceremony, I saw snickers, smirks, nudges, eye-rolls and winks to one another as the lines of the oath were repeated. It was one of the most pathetic and despicable things I have ever seen.

Ken said...

I should add that the recently-released documentary, “Inside Job,” about our financial meltdown, is great. If you really want to see some disturbingly morally vacuous people, check it out.

Michael—I’m curious how overpopulation applies, but I’m the last person you need to convince that overpopulation is a bad thing. Good luck on the film!

Moom—Nice comments. I hope I didn’t make the post “black and white.” (I always take pains not to.) I certainly don’t believe all business and economic majors are greedy, and of course several of them probably did pick their field of study for more than self-interested reasons. In a nutshell, this is my point: I think it’s bad when graduates—especially those graduates armed with degrees that could affect lots of people—enter Career World without considering the potential ill effects of their work. That’s all. (Again, thanks for the insights about the differences between business and economic majors.)

Josh—Thanks. I should have emphasized more that I don’t mean to demonize a whole discipline. There are just lots of morally vacuous people out there, and I have reason to believe that they’re more concentrated in disciplines that generally lead to higher paying jobs that don’t exactly serve the public.

Anon—I can totally see how one can use economics (and political science, of course) to save the world. But the multitude of students in business-like majors heading to dubious companies has led me to the conclusions I’ve underlined in the essay. Hope I didn’t offend!

Mike—Awesome… When liberal arts requirements are removed, colleges are no more than drone factories. It’s like giving people guns without telling them how to distinguish the good guys from the bad. We need a Harvard snickerers post from you!

Ken said...

Louise--sorry I missed your comment. Somehow it ended up in my spam box. I agree, of course. Some graduates justify their career choices by arguing that—in order to “support themselves”—they had no choice but to declare a major that leads to lucrative jobs (as if they’d be wearing tattered rags and living in ditches if they didn’t take courses on "corporate finance"). What they mean to say is that they’ve decided to accept a morally-ambiguous job so they could maintain or enhance their standard of living. To survive, we don't need to "sell out." We just need to "cut back."

Ken said...

Also, just to emphasize how in cahoots Duke is with Wall Street, I should point out that Duke has a "Duke in NY" program in which students spend a semester in NYC--a program they laughingly call "liberal arts based."

The following are the events Duke students participated in in Spring of 2010:

Bank of America/ Merrill Lynch- visiting lecture
Barclays Capital- site visit
Citi- visiting lecture
Deutsche Bank- visiting lecture
Federal Reserve- site visit
Goldman Sachs- business lunch
McKinsey- evening event
Moelis- visiting lecture
McKinsey- site visit
Morgan Stanley- site visit
NYSE-Euronext- site visit
Royal Bank of Scotland- site visit
UBS- lecture series
Warburg Pincus- visiting lecture

Constant Writer said...

Right on. As usual, you've managed to nail down a difficult topic and discuss it clearly, coherently, and amusingly while still getting the point across. Well done. And thanks: I think this is something that needed to be said.

tooMuch said...

I attended a public University in Texas that turns out a ton of business majors. It is unbelievable how many they turn out, but now in fact there are so many that came out during the economic downturn that the market was saturated and only the top half or so really seemed to find jobs (some of them quite crappy at that). What I found troubling was that I was an engineering major and I learned next to nothing of applied engineering! Other than maybe 5 classes tops + a senior capstone project (which was all self taught) I learned nothing in my entire curriculum that would help me build and design anything in the real world. Instead we spent all of our time trying to keep up with a foreign professor babble endlessly about his/her theory on research area X. Great, I have no interest in that and definitely won't be going into that field because it is a snooze fest. So much for preparing the youth to be American Innovators. On top of that most engineering corporate structures are so mismanaged that they pretent the young engineers who work there couldn't possibly have a good idea because they haven't been doing something the same way for 10 years, when these kids are the ones coming out with fresh and interesting approaches to solving old problems! Beyond that I was stunned at the average intelligence of those who were studying to become educators. I can think of a few who I knew personally that will go on to be great teachers, but I would say there was definitely a scary amount of mostly women would fall into one of two categories of either floozy sorority chicks, or conservative self-righteous women hell bent on getting married, buying a house, getting a dog and having 2.5 kids by 28. These are the people who will go on to teach the next generation? This means that the majority of our kids will learn from someone who is, or was either self-interested, bent on the status-quo, or both. I was interested in your talk of a "liberal arts" education as well. While that may be important on some level for our society, after going through honors programs through High School I would say I was "well-rounded" enough for the most part. I spent all my time in my required history, english, chemistry, statistics, and an unreasonable amount of math just trying to get by so I could focus on what is important. I guess what I am trying to say is that if someone really knows what they want to do when they are 18 and have the background and money to go to College, who are they to tell them what classes to take? Why can't the advisors sit down and actually help people design a curriculum that will benefit them the most? I guess the answer here could be technical college, but apparently a lot of those are scams, and worse than that, the industry thinks they are a joke! Who wants someone who could say, build a circuit, when you can have someone who could wax poetic about theoretical feedback loops in an op-amp. Who cares, the work is done in a computer program which they never showed us. For all the progress that has been made in these fields the curriculum still hasn't been changed. Don't even get me started on doing graduate level engineering "research." It's basically an exercise in kissing everyones butt who came before you all so you can add 2% of information to an already super specialized subject matter. What a joke, let's go back to apprenticeships already.

Katia said...

Great post. I think it is fair to say that the uncertainty that comes with graduating in this economic climate causes people to go for the safe option, where the money is, regardless of their ethics. It takes a strong character to turn away from a secure job with a high salary.

kenavo said...

The world is waiting for a new kind of people, who don act like mafiosie, criminals never punished.
Why can't we be happy with a simple life?
I know some of them are, that's giving me hope.
Thank you for posing the question.

Ken said...

Constant—Thanks. I’m guessing it’s already been said elsewhere. Here’s an article on a similar issue among Rhodes Scholars:

tooMuch—Interesting insights about your schooling as an engineering student. I sympathize with your frustration about being forced to take liberal arts courses. (I certainly resented having to take an algebra course when I was an undergrad.) But I will defend them because sometimes a liberal arts requirement is the only time in college when a student is exposed to subject matter the requires critical thinking, argument, and debate about social, global, individual, psychological, etc. matters. College must make us into responsible citizens before competent careerists. Obviously there are students who don’t need to take these courses to be responsible citizens, and perhaps for them it really is unnecessary, but I think as a general rule they’re a good and useful thing.

Katia—A strong character, indeed. I think a lot of people use the “tough time” or “responsibilities” excuse when taking jobs with shady companies. I think that’s just a bunch of BS… If your kids are starving that’s one thing, but if you’re trying to pay your mortgage when you ought to be in an apartment, that’s another.

Kenavo—You’re welcome. That post has been incubating in my head for too long. It was a relief to put it down.

Brie said...

tooMuch’s words leapt out at me:

“(graduate level engineering "research") it’s basically an exercise in kissing everyones butt who came before you all so you can add 2% of information to an already super specialized subject matter. What a joke, let's go back to apprenticeships already".

I recently completed a journalism internship at a bluechip media organization overseas. Let me tell ya, the grass ain’t greener as an intern. I realized that you are talking about graduate level engineering whereas I am a journalism student. But, as things turned out, your words were prophetic even in a different context – I had to kiss everyone’s butt at my internship, especially, those who came before me. I stood up against a male intern, who had been interning there for months before me, and I had the weight of the patriarchal establishment bearing down on me. Never in my life had I wanted so badly to be included in the all boys’ club – to be a tall (according to some Pop Psychology article: tall men enjoy more success; btw, my antagonist is tall too), white, young man. Statistical chances are you’re probably a white, young man too. Dude, I am not being sarcastic when I say that I can really understand your pain; just count yourself lucky that at least, you’re a guy.

Pburg said...

"It may sound noble to say, 'Damn economics, let us build up a decent world'--but it is, in fact, merely irresponsible." - FA Hayek

In a world of scarce resources, studying economics can always be a noble pursuit. It might even do you some good, Ken.

Ken said...

Brie—Don’t even get me started on internships.. I’ve had internships with two great (and cash-strapped) organizations, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything… But internships—generally—are little better than indentured servitude. I’d say the great majority of internships are unpaid (as were mine), which forces students to plunge deeper and deeper into debt. And some of these companies, get tons of labor hours from well-meaning students at no cost… I’d be in favor of a law that requires such organizations to pay their interns minimum wage.

Pburg—When did I damn economics? In the comments section, I’ve acknowledged that economics can be a noble pursuit, and in the post I’ve said there are probably some “do-gooding businessmen and women.” Hell, some of my favorite people are economists: J.S. Mill, Aldo Leopold, Thorstein Veblen. Even Thoreau was an economist in his own sort of way. I’m not damning economics; I’m damning people who thoughtlessly work for shitty companies. You say studying economics might do me some good. That’s why I said I took my economics course last fall…

Pburg said...

Sorry if I came across as snide when I said studying economics would do you some good. I threw in the quote just to illustrate that economics may be among the among the most responsible of subjects for idealists to study. I just think a lot of idealists (and I'd probably count myself as one) are too quick to dismiss economists when they take defend sweatshops or take issue with the minimum wage. I just returned from a service trip, and the problems were fundamentally issues of economics. Others would casually propose solutions that I felt would only exacerbate the problems. So when you say you'd be in favor of a law that requires internships to be paid one must account for the losses/costs as well as the gains.

I obviously don't know your entire background and can't criticize you directly, but of my fellow students that question the consumer-capitalist model, I find it's often out of ignorance and a little Naomi Klein reading. I'm an economics major, and can't say there is no truth in the observations you've made. But I draw a line between capitalism/free market economics and the corporatism you criticize which is enabled only by an expansive government.

Ken said...

Pburg—No worries. It’s good to know the “economics” of an issue, but you don’t need to be an economist to see that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. You lost me on how expansive government enables corporatism.

bandett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brie said...

Alright, people before we split up into dodge ball teams, (I want Dennis on my team), let me see if I can help clarify matters.

For some of us, capitalism and morality may appear to be mutually exclusive. Capitalism does not preach morality. It only identifies a niche which it can fill while making a profit from it. Whereas, morality dictates that there should be displays of some form of restrain in an activity to make sure that no one gets hurt. I know that my explanations are way too simplistic... But, bear with me; this is how I see things...

We are disagreeing over what the most ‘moral’ or ‘ideal’ course of action is... the focus is on an economics education versus idealism and good civics.

But, we forget that ‘idealism’ is not universal. E.g. In some countries, they eat what we consider to be pets. Is that wrong? Ok, I know that I am getting away from the economics education versus liberal arts, but the point is that we forget that we are all very diverse individuals - conditioned to follow the convictions of our traditions and practices of how we were brought up. Sure, some of us may choose to rebel against our internal moral compasses. The problem is that there is just no universal moral standard of behaviour that is applicable for everyone. Especially, when it comes to making money. Ultimately, whether we like it or not we all bear the consequences of all our collective actions. We are all in the same boat here, people. I just think that the contents of our characters are determined way before we begin choosing our subjects in college. Some of us are more accepting of liberal arts than others. In the meantime, the trick is to think creatively in navigating these hostile waters - not swaying too much to the extreme right or left.

Anonymous said...

It is really hard to choose to help the world when you know you can go out and earn a big salary. I recently left a very good job at a big 4 accounting firm to stay home with kids and I still question it. I didn't like the job but the pay was excellent, my health insurance was the best, we had four weeks vacation, 5 other holidays paid, nice lunches in the office, 401k match, concierge services and on and on. You get kind of trapped in the lifestyle and it took about five years of me debating quitting before I went ahead and did it, and people still tell me I am crazy.

Ken said...

Dennis—Please be nicer to me.

Brie—I don’t think the focus was ever about an economics vs. liberal arts education. (I very much see the point to the discipline—I certainly wouldn’t want my country run only by philosophers.) And I understand that morals vary from culture to culture, but I don’t see your point. You say there’s “no moral standard of behavior” as if to condemn any sort of strong moral stance. I have no issue calling slaveholders, Nazis, and psychopaths bad and wrong—even if they consider themselves good and right.

Anon—I can definitely see the lure… I remember I was once tempted to spend an extra summer pushing carts at The Home Depot because I was offered something like a 50 cent raise. I thought about staying at a place I hated for 50 cents! If I were offered a five-figure raise, I know it would be all the harder to turn down… It’s hard for people to give up security and stability and it’s really hard to voluntarily downgrade one’s standard of living. It would take a lot of character to accept a lower paying job.

tooMuch said...

Found a good solution to a lot of this. Guess where it came from? The internet, and social media. That is what is going to get us through these times and turn people back to actually caring about other people (After a lot of governments collapse freaking out about great and speedy change). No, I am not talking about 3% of twitter being devoted to Justin Bieber, that is a side effect of social media. I'm talking about the positives of networking with the entire world and building a name for yourself. When I dropped out of my Master's program, I also decided to turn to turn down a job making $60K+ a year (To be fair I have wonderful parents who have some money so it is not like leaping into certain doom). It was a good company with good morals, but at the end of the day it was an IT job at a company who's business was not building or designing new computer stuff, just implementing other's solutions, and had a schedule (I like exercising in the middle of the day and lunch with cool people till we are done talking). I have decided to make this site where I do work instead... ... What a cool idea! I can be a tech guy, an inventor, a fitness instructor, and a teacher/tutor all on the same site! It's like a portal to making money doing what you love for the rest of your life. 9 to 5? Keep it. I'm going to work when I want, with who I want, and party with my friends in moderation when I feel like it. Viva La Revolution.

tooMuch said...

@brie I am sorry your internship was a bad experience. I actually got lucky and that job I turned down paid me for my internship, AND I had an awesome mentor who finally spent enough time with me so that I could really learn linux (A daunting task without someone to walk you through it). Just depends on how things work out and what the people are like that you work with. Corporations work for those that like schedules if the people inside of them are cool. Clearly you had to work with some lemons :( A lot of this comes from internal politics and overly competitive environments which is VERY hard to curb in large groups of people (See: governments, most corporations, banks, fed reserve, most large organized religion, etc.)

@ken You are right about the liberal arts stuff being important, but it would actually work if the curriculum was ~20 students and a teacher who LED DISCUSSIONS. I got plopped into freshman and sophomore level classes for the masses, forced to buy a book and listen to someone yammer on 3 hours a week so I could take 3 tests. Thats not learning.

Brie said...


Look, I don’t want to fight because ultimately, you’ll win – it’s your blog. And, I know better than to bite the hands that enthral me with beautiful prose and interesting insights. Even Dennis acknowledged this sentiment too when he softened by asking you about the gardening question.

Retrospectively, I realised that my fence-sitting centrist position was obtuse and made it appeared that I condoned evil acts. However, standing up against genocide should not be confused with exterminating everyone and everything that run counter to our personal beliefs and ideology. Dennis could hardly spell and his comments were a little bit rude and offensive; but, shouldn’t we at least allow his comments to be read even when it hurt?

I concede that the discussion wasn’t entirely about economics versus liberal arts education but perhaps, a deeper reading of the conducts of institutions. Whatever. The education grasp was just my first impression of events.

tentaculistic said...

Your post is about a trend you notice at Duke in specific, but as a more general statement, I wanted to point out that Business can be no more and no less than a good generic degree, able to be applied to pretty much any career.

I work in emergency management - hard to get more idealistic than that - but I chose to go back to get my grad degree in business because it could be applied to whatever career I may have over my life. A degree in something too specialized would limit my options, while not having a grad degree would limit my income. So not every b-school degree is a route to corporate skulduggery.

p.s. A family member went to Duke, and knowing the school and how he struggled with prevalent attitudes toward money and class, I'm wondering why in heck you ever went there?! Other than the mild winters that is. Doesn't seem like your bag of donuts.

Ken said...

Toomuch—I certainly can’t disagree with you if the liberal arts courses are inadequate. Good point.

Brie—I didn’t delete anyone’s comments in this post, and I’ve probably only deleted comments on 2-3 occasions since I’ve had this blog—and each of those times has been solely because of flagrant incivility. I can see how my “ants” paragraph may have seemed a bit extreme. Though it would be interesting to see what we would lose if the financial services industry were to vanish.

Anonymous said...

Comment deleted
This post has been removed by the author.

March 14, 2011 2:54 AM

This is probably what Brie is referring to. Perhaps you don't see it signed in??

Ken said...

Anon--Yes I saw it. I didn't delete it, as I'm not the "author."

WakingSun said...

It seems that one of the basic ideas of Marxism is that the parts within the system exist to further reinforce the system of power. We live in a capitalistic system, so the educational system, including Duke University exists to further the capitalistic structures such as big oil industry and wall street. Duke University and the individuals who buy into the current paradigm aren't evil, they have just bought into the image and beliefs of what consumer culture frames as life. We are all at a loss because of this. We must begin to seriously question our internal structures as well as our external environment. The greatest concern in my mind is coming to grips with the fact that the current system exists within our own minds, and is not something to rebel against only in the physical world. It gives our journey a transcendental quality which I'm sure you appreciate, as do I. For the largest part of our challenge will be re-engaging with our own being.

teacherken said...

I recently went back to my alma mater, Haverford College, for a reunion of my final class (I started with 67, graduated with 73). Haverford is a Quaker based liberal arts institution, where economics has never been the most popular undergraduate major. And yet it also has a close connection with Wall Street.

One major presence on the campus, John C. Whitehead, who headed our board of Managers, had helped run Goldman Sachs, so it was not at all unusual to see students from Haverford wind up there or elsewhere on Wall Street. Among other people well known in financial services among more recent alumni is Howard Lutnick of Cantor Fitzgerald, who has been one of the more generous donators to the College. Barry Zubrow, who held a number of major positions on Wall Street, was the chairman of our Board of Managers for a number of years.

And yet, despite that, we have traditionally seen a large number of our alumni go into service in one fashion or another. One reason the College was not wealthier in its endowment is the relatively small percentage who had gone into business as compared to law, or medicine, or ministry (Christian and Jewish), or education (K-12 and university).

I think it is possible to be involved in business and be ethical, to make a great deal of money without necessarily having to mistreat others. I have known people in ministry and in education who totally lacked ethics. I also know successful businessmen whose standards of ethical behavior I admire.

One question in judging an institution is how it is governed. That is, who winds up with the power in the institution. If the faculty retains a fair amount of power in shaping the institution, as is the case at Haverford, there is less likelihood of the institution becoming more of a preparatory institution for elite business and financial institutions. Also, how much say is given to large donors, do they have the ability to shape part of the mission in return for their contribution.

I do not know Duke well as an institution. I have friends who teach there whom I view as quite ethical. I am also aware that Duke takes great pride in its D-I basketball program, and am aware of the potential that has for driving a university, although Coach K as far as I know is as ethical as any successful coach in the US.

I think it is appropriate to question how an institution functions. That its students choose to follow a pattern that the author of the post finds troubling does not in and of itself make the institution "evil." It may be as much the qualities the students admitted to the institution already bring with them. In which case if troubling patterns are seen, perhaps the faculty can get more involved to ensure a broader representation within the student body.