Zachary Bell | Digging into the crisis of OCR
Critical Playground | A brief history and critique from the On-Campus Recruited
January 31, 2012, 1:58 am·
Just a few months ago, I was complicit in On-Campus Recruiting. As suits traipse into interview rooms this week, I think it’s time to examine this tradition of competition through its history and recent critiques.
In recent months, the financial crisis and the Occupy movement have escalated the controversy surrounding OCR. In October, an Op-Ed in the Stanford Daily criticized the recruitment system and launched the “Stop the Brain Drain” campaign. In November, Yale University students protested a Morgan Stanley information session on their campus. This December, President Obama encouraged America’s best and brightest to consider jobs outside of Wall Street.
However, as with our economic landscape, OCR was not shaped in the last few months. Guiding me through this history was Patricia Rose, the director of Penn’s Career Services — 1975 College graduate and 30-year veteran of Career Services.
Prior to World War II, students were commonly nominated for top jobs in business, often through clergymen who testified to their good character. After WWII, the consumption boom created demand for managers and engineers. In the late 1940s, the forerunner of the National Association of Colleges and Employers responded to these trends by initiating On-Campus Recruiting. Companies mainly recruited students for manufacturing jobs before the service industry rose to prominence in the 1960s.
During the Vietnam War, however, students’ protests against Dow Chemical for its hand in manufacturing napalm pushed OCR off campus until 1988. The two-year banking-consulting stint that many Penn students pursue today was created in the 1970s when Harvard Business School approached top firms to provide work experience for conditionally accepted MBA students. Since then, Rose reflected, there has been enormous growth of banking and consulting recruitment at Penn such that “on Ivy campuses, they dominate.”
OCR’s history may help us refine the way we criticize it. I’ll tackle two biggies:
1. The Ivy-Wall Street pipeline maintains elitism in education. While you don’t need a clergy recommendation to get an interview these days, there are still barriers for those without privilege (read: wealth, family connections, social capital). The well-documented correlation between family income and SAT score shows how the best education is kept in the hands of the elite. So without some privilege, it’s much harder to get into a top school and consequently go through OCR.
During recruitment, privilege is still at play. Recruits must learn to speak and act according to corporate-American professionalism. Historically, the diversity within firms that recruit through OCR reflects the diversity of top colleges. This places a burden on Penn to end the rich-people-get-the-best-education-and-get-richer cycle.
2. Wall Street firms have a structural advantage when recruiting on college campuses. This leads to a brain drain away from jobs that benefit society.
Fifty-two percent of Penn students graduated into banking or consulting last year. Expert recruiters play on our deep psychological needs for status, security and opportunity. Additionally, the fact that Wall Street jobs are posted earliest and that interviewers come right to campus cause many to decry an unfair playing field and blame universities for accommodating this.
Rose dispelled this accusation, suggesting that Career Services operates under a laissez-faire approach — accommodating firms from all industries. It’s not Career Service’s fault that some firms are richer than others. It hosts career fairs for start-ups, NGOs and other organizations that cannot afford to send recruiters to campus and only hire when a position arises.
The problem is societal. Firms with resources can recruit. It just so happens capitalism allocates resources to Wall Street. However, history shows that academic institutions can be instrumental in crafting job opportunities and I would urge Penn to forge strategic alliances with non-corporate entities and temper OCR fever.
What about us? History also shows that students can have a voice in recruitment. While some students are occupying info sessions, the question for everyone else is: are you okay with OCR?
To me, the process is wildly unjust — academic and political-economic institutions need to level the playing field so that wealthy firms are not allowed to prey on worried and wearied student minds. The Ivy-Wall Street pipeline promotes viewing a degree for its monetary (not educational) value, and limited recruitment to elite schools is fundamentally undemocratic.
However, as students, we also need to recognize our ownership of this problem and scrutinize recruitment practices as well as our career decisions. As I participated in OCR this fall, I was convinced by the selling point which has its fair share of critics: “learn good skills before saving the world.” I need to express my concern now because by the time I know if it’s myth or truth, I’ll just be a part of the history of OCR.
Zachary Bell is a College senior from New Haven, CT. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Critical Playground appears every other Tuesday.