Wall Street is fed up with Harvard – DIGIWIZ CENTRAL

Wall Street is fed up with Harvard

There’s a growing generational rift between elite schools like Harvard and the banks and law firms that employ their graduates.

Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images

There’s an old joke that goes: The hardest thing about Harvard is getting in. But simply being on campus this week has put that idea to the test. 

It started when dozens of student groups issued a statement holding Israel’s government “entirely responsible” for the violence that Hamas unleashed in Gaza. That, in turn, prompted billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman to demand that his alma mater disclose the names of students who are members of  the signatory groups — even those who didn’t know about the statement — so Wall Street firms could avoid hiring them. Adding to the tension, a truck roamed campus displaying the names and photos of students alleged to be involved with the statement.

It was a strange position for Harvard to find itself in. The university has long enjoyed a place of honor among the power elite. It sends more graduates into the bulge bracket banks than any other school. Large law firms also love hiring from Harvard, and Silicon Valley loves to place big bets on the university’s graduates. Over the past three years, according to Crunchbase, about one of every 10 dollars invested in early-stage startups went to Harvard alumni. 

But Ackman’s broadside exposed a deeper rift among conservative industries like Wall Street and Big Law and the campuses they’ve historically recruited from. As a new generation of graduates has emerged, they have found themselves and the campus culture they’re a part of increasingly at odds with the values and expectations of the big banks and white-shoe law firms they’ve been trained to staff. In the past week, for example, an NYU law student lost a post-grad job offer over their statement blaming Israel for the Hamas attacks. A petition to oust a Yale professor who posted pro-Palestine messages on social media, meanwhile, has garnered 40,000 signatures. And Marc Rowan, the CEO of the private equity giant Apollo, called for leaders at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, to resign for failing to condemn antisemitism to his satisfaction.

Ackman, in his initial tweet about Harvard, said that “a number of CEOs” shared his desire to publicly out the Harvard students who condemned Israel. Other business leaders were quick to echo his calls, winning plaudits on social media. “Members of these Harvard clubs should not get a pass tomorrow for being bad decision makers today,” Meyer Davidoff, CEO at Invictus Pharmacy, declared on LinkedIn. “Book smart does not make you life smart.” 

Pranjit Kalita, founder and CIO of Birkoa Capital Management, likewise cheered on Ackman. “Great job calling these institutions like Penn and Harvard out!” he wrote on LinkedIn. “I think it’s important that people understand free speech doesn’t mean free from consequences societally or politically or culturally.”

Such comments represent a sea change in the cozy relationship between Harvard and the elite institutions where its alumni have traditionally forged their careers. An investor at an asset management firm in Silicon Valley privately told Insider that he recently spoke to a hedge-fund founder who made no bones about how he approaches hiring. When a résumé hits his desk, the founder said, he skips over the sections on experience and education and instead races to the bottom of the page, where applicants list their “activities.” Then, if he sees something he doesn’t like, he will simply “rip up” the résumé and reject the applicant as a “bad cultural fit.” 

For Harvard students — especially those in the business and law schools — having prominent leaders in your chosen profession openly declare that they won’t hire graduates who hold political views they disagree with is not an academic issue — it’s an existential threat. In a visit to Harvard, Insider spoke with a range of students about the backlash to the statement on Israel. Many expressed qualms about the tone of the letter, or the way it was handled. But even some who opposed it felt that the threats against its signatories had gone too far.

One MBA student, who thinks the statement was “too strong,” believes it is unfair for companies to demand the names of students who signed it. (Like most students, she spoke on the condition of anonymity, given the potential for reprisals.) Similarly, a Jewish graduate student in Middle Eastern studies said he is “frustrated and angry and sad” to see the truck circling campus branding signatories as antisemitic.

“My take is everyone is free to hire or not hire who they want,” he said. “But I don’t think anyone’s personal information should be made public. I don’t think a 19-year-old who feels something right now and decides to put their name on something should have the rest of their lives decided in this moment. We’ve all done things that we would rather we hadn’t.”

Several students argued that it is understandable that employers might refuse to hire someone who continued to support the letter’s stance on Israel. Eden Mendelsohn, a first-year MBA student who is Jewish, viewed the statement as supporting murder. “If I walked into a job interview and I said, ‘Oh, I think all men deserve to be murdered’ or ‘Oh, I think all people from the Midwest deserve to be murdered,’ no one would even think twice about saying, like, that’s not a stance,” she said. “That’s just evil.”

That’s precisely how many business leaders viewed the student statement. To them, it’s a question of sensitivity to others — a value they have come to feel is missing in what they see as the “cancel culture” environment of elite schools like Harvard. 

“It’s important if you want to be involved in a small, high-performing, high-stress firm, that your brain is formed sufficiently and you’re socialized enough that you can actually maturely handle people who don’t agree with you,” the private-equity investor said. “The real world is not college. And they’ve been coddled in college, where anyone who has a dissenting point of view is silenced.”

It’s ironic, of course, to accuse students of silencing dissent when Ackman and other business leaders are seeking to do exactly that. One of the original purposes of a liberal arts education, after all, was to create a space where students and faculty alike could express dissent without fear of reprisal.

But now, some Harvard students fear that the backlash from the business community will have a chilling effect on student speech. Like it or not, they say, students have to think about how expressing their views could affect their financial and professional prospects. That’s especially true when Wall Street billionaires are posting on X, formerly Twitter, and professional network LinkedIn has become a home for all kinds of sharing. There’s every chance today that what’s said on campus won’t stay on campus.

A first-year law student told Insider that students would be wise to think through what voicing their opinions could mean for their future employment, especially in a buttoned-down field like law. “The general advice,” he said, “is to keep your opinions to yourself for the most part.”

A second-year law student, who was appalled by the letter, likewise sympathized with fellow students who were unnerved by having their words provoke such ire beyond the campus. “There is a real employment consequence for people — and that is a scary situation,” she said. “We are all here with a lot of student loans, and we need to work.”

Melia Russell is a senior correspondent at Insider.

Tim Paradis is a correspondent at Insider.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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