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Op-Ed: Perceptions of higher education

The etymology of “university” is “institution of higher learning.” University does not mean “institution of higher profit.” Unfortunately, this latter meaning is an apt description of some practices at universities, including Stanford. For instance, the University sells corporations access to students based on how much money a corporation is willing to pay the University. The Career Development Center’s Employer Partner program explicitly states on the CDC website that “Platinum” level employers (corporations that pay $10,000 per year to $25,000 for three years) receive unlimited email distribution, premier double table location for Fall and Spring Career Fairs in White Plaza, up to twenty Cardinal Recruiting interview rooms per day, a campus-wide flyer distribution team and much more. This contrasts with the crumbs non-profits receive, which are allotted just one email distribution per academic year, participation in workshops and career events, and a table at the Silicon Valley Non-Profit Career fair in the upstairs of Tresidder.

 

As a result, rich corporations like oil companies, financial institutions, consulting firms and tech companies enjoy tremendous advantage over employers with smaller pockets. If you’ve ever used the CDC’s job database as a student or alumnus, you’ll notice the jobs listed mostly come from the four mentioned industries. Students who don’t want to work for those companies receive little assistance from the career center in finding alternatives. The CDC’s duty, however, is to serve the students, not leverage them for profit.

 

The CDC’s role raises deep questions about the University itself. The perception that the sole purpose of higher education is to train students to acquire a lucrative job is prevalent. This serves the University’s coffers well because alumni with lucrative careers pay back the University with larger donations, but the real purpose of institutions of higher learning is to expand and strengthen students’ minds and intellectual prowess. It doesn’t matter that Stanford is a private university; it doesn’t excuse the University’s (subtle) attempt to funnel its students into a narrow career pool on a monetary basis.

 

Students are not blameless for fostering this false perception of higher education. As students, we need to evaluate if the wealth we gain by taking a job with Goldman Sachs outweighs the substantial social harm this company inflicts upon innocent third parties. For example, Goldman Sachs created an oil speculation bubble in 2008 that caused food prices to soar, forcing 100 million people into starvation. We need to ask ourselves if the only purpose of our education is to make an unnecessary amount of money at the expense of others. We live in a culture that sets profit maximization as the most important goal. We ignore who is harmed in the process. Profit maximization through the exploitation of others is not natural, ethical or rational. Humans are social beings and depend on one another. There are other cultures and societies that equate collective well-being with that of the individual. We need to liberate ourselves from the false perception that our higher education is for the sole purpose of acquiring a lucrative job. Once we develop an understanding of happiness that is derived from more than just material wealth, it can open up a plethora of opportunities.

 

Some argue that if Stanford, Harvard, or Princeton students work for Goldman Sachs, then they can create change from the inside and introduce reforms. However, those who manage and work for such companies have always come from these elite universities in the first place. The highly educated workforce has not prevented these companies from profiting at the expense of others. On the contrary, many from these elite universities are responsible for bringing devastation upon our society and world. Because someone was a student at an elite university doesn’t mean he or she has a higher moral compass than the rest of society; it only means the person is talented and can work hard for whatever goal set by the corporation.

 

As students, we need to challenge our school to not sell us to the highest bidder and to act more like a university should, rather than a corporation. We also need to challenge ourselves and each other to think what effect the jobs and career paths we pursue will have on other people and society as a whole.

Joshua Schott ’14

Occupy Stanford member

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