Well-Heeled Ivy League Professor Wants Ivy League Students to Forget High Paying “Sellout Jobs”, Go Into Social Justice fields, and Then Whine On TikTok About How Underpaid They Are

We have previously noted University of Pennsylvania professor of education and history and Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Jonathan Zimmerman on several occasions. Dr Zimmerman has been very supportive of the freedom of speech, but he’s just managed to miss the point in his latest writing.

The biggest problem at Penn is matching what we say about student careers with what we do

Half of our undergraduates enter the fields of consulting or finance. Penn talks the talk of public service, then teaches young people to line their pockets.

by Jonathan Zimmerman | Friday, June 14, 2024 | 10:24 AM EDT

When I was in fourth grade, the teacher had us go around the room and say what we wanted to be when we grew up. Some kids wanted to be baseball players or firemen; others said they’d be nurses or doctors.

But I was always different. When it was my turn, I said I wanted to be a management consultant. And if that didn’t pan out, I added, I’d go into finance.

Just kidding.

Nobody wants to work in consulting or finance when they’re a kid. And nobody — well, almost nobody — goes to college imagining that’s what they’ll do.

But at the University of Pennsylvania, where I teach, half of our undergraduates enter one of those two fields when they leave here. On the first day of college, we tell them to find their passion and change the world. Then we socialize them into consulting and finance, which are unlikely to satisfy either goal.

Really? According to Penn’s website, the cost of attendance for the 2024-25 academic year is $76,076 if your family live in Philly, and you can live with them without paying rent. If you do have to pay for housing, the estimated cost of attendance is $92,288. Unless a student matriculates with a wealthy family, he’s going to be looking at a pretty large debt when he is graduated, so perhaps, just perhaps, the cost of attending that prestigious Ivy League university pushes students into those frequently lucrative fields.

Matriculating for the Fall semester in 2023 were 23,948 fulltime students, 10,610 undergrads and 13,338 graduate or professional school students.

Penn’s Wharton School of Business is the most famous particular program at the university, and the Class of 2025 has 874 MBA/MA students enrolled, along with 2,500 undergrads. A quarter of Penn’s undergrads apparently did think of ‘consulting or finance’ as one of their potential careers.

While I can’t document it, I’d bet 20€ that the number of Wharton School students who participated in the anti-Semitic, pro-Hamas ‘encampments’ was very close to zero. Wharton is a very serious place, and it has very serious students. The ‘takeover’ of Fisher-Bennett Hall was led by students people who said that they ‘renamed’ it Refaat Alareer Hall in honor of the late Hamas terrorist supporter Palestinian poet and professor who was killed in an airstrike in Northern Gaza in December. I’m pretty sure that Jewish students would see actually renaming the building for yet another Hamas sympathizer as anti-Semitism. And the deep-pockets donors to Penn, like Marc Rowan, Ronald Lauder, and Dick Wolf would cease being deep-pockets donors!

And the students know it, too. Despite what you might have read, the biggest problem at Penn isn’t political correctness, antisemitism, or racism. It’s cynicism, sparked by the huge chasm between what we say and what we do.

I would never call Dr Zimmerman an anti-Semite, because he is committed to freedom of speech, and I’ve never met him. But, whether he realized it or not, there’s a very subtle undercurrent of anti-Semitism in his column, not because of what he said, but due to the strong American Jewish cultural tendency to go into business and finance. Dr Zimmerman was, whether he got it or not, criticizing American Jews.

I endorse that vision, and I applaud the commission for articulating it. But if you listen to our students, you hear something else: Penn talks the talk of public service, then teaches young people to line their pockets.

Freshman Niheer Patel arrived on campus last fall eager to meet “passionate kids” who wanted to “make their mark on the world.” But, as he wrote in the student newspaper, Penn channels this curiosity and talent into a narrow band of uninspiring — but highly compensated — occupations.

As soon as students get here, Patel wrote, they encounter a dense network of consulting clubs that seduce them with promises of riches down the road. And the university reinforces that dream, he added, by giving consulting and finance firms pride of place at career fairs.

If you’re paying $76,075, or perhaps $92,228 every year to go to Penn, shouldn’t you be thinking about going “into a narrow band of uninspiring — but highly compensated — occupations”?

Further down, we get to what Dr Zimmerman really thinks:

Maybe that’s why so many students are anxious or depressed. They’ve been on a treadmill since middle school, designed to get them into a prestigious college. Their reward is yet another treadmill, to get them a prestigious job.

We see the same phenomenon at Harvard, where students speak — without shame — about taking “sellout jobs” in finance or consulting after graduation. To square that with their progressive bona fides, some of them imagine they can sock away a few million, and then do what they really want to do: change the world.

Dr Zimmerman, a social liberal and former Peace Corps volunteer, uses the term “sellout jobs” more than once, as though it’s somehow a bad thing to want to be able to support yourself and your family rather than take a low-wage job and grouse on TikTok about you aren’t being paid fairly? Perhaps it’s easier for him, having done well enough to become the Judy and Howard Berkowitz Professor in Education at an Ivy League University. Perhaps he doesn’t have Wharton School alumnus Donald Trump’s billions of dollars, but a Penn professor isn’t going to be a pauper. I’m pretty sure that university professor isn’t considered a “sellout job.”

What do American Jews do when it comes to education? Parents push their children to do work hard and do well in school, to help them win the better university admissions. They’re then encouraged to work hard in college, to win the better graduate school admissions or post collegiate jobs. They’ve done so well in that that Harvard University once had a formal Jewish quota, because Jewish students were winning too many admissions to our nation’s most prestigious colleges, including the University of Pennsylvania.

Shouldn’t those kinds of hard-working students be the ones that universities want?

If we really sought to make good on (Benjamin) Franklin’s vision, we would stop on-campus recruiting by the big consulting and finance firms; they can do that elsewhere and on their own dime. And we’d restructure career fairs around social work, teaching, and other service professions.

I know that might be a hard sell to cash-strapped students, especially those who go into debt to pay our giant tuition bills. But, as a survey of Harvard seniors showed, first-generation and working-class students were no more (or less) likely than their well-heeled peers to take sellout jobs after college. This isn’t just about economics, it’s about our campus culture, which teaches people to mouth the pieties of social justice while they march off to Wall Street.

You can get a job as a social worker or a teacher with a much less expensive degree from a state school; why would you go to an Ivy League university to prepare for one of those jobs?

These students going into finance, “march(ing) off to Wall Street”? Perhaps Dr Zimmerman hasn’t really considered it, because so many on the political left see Wall Street as evil, evil, evil! but for the vast majority of those of us who worked for private companies, it has been Wall Street and top financial companies which invested our 401(k) contributions, and helped Americans who had them build decent retirement accounts. Personally, I’m very glad that Social Security isn’t my only retirement income!

I do not dislike Dr Zimmerman, and absolutely support anyone who openly advocates for our freedom of speech as he does. But the ivory tower has put his head into the clouds, and far, far away from the real life here on earth.
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