Harvard Beats Harvard

Readers of the Atlantic Wire's great roundup of commentary on Ivy Leaguers' romance with investment banks. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post was told by one anonymous alumnus of both Harvard and Goldman Sachs:

People on Wall Street work very hard and they feel they chose this path because there was a reward promised to them. And now, when it's being taken away from them, they get very angry. If the reward hadn't been offered to them, they feel they would've followed their passion and become a journalist or something.

Yes, the Goldman case is in part a civil war between those graduates who embraced the I-Banking culture and those who chose academia and media. Already in 2001, David Brooks introduced Atlantic readers to Princeton's slang for pre-banking and other super-nerds: power tools.

What makes Harvard special is that so far it's the only university known to have lost substantial funds in the now-celebrated Goldman Sachs collateralized debt obligation (CDO) trades. The Harvard Crimson and Boston Globe (thanks for chronicle.com for the link) have both reported undisclosed Harvard losses.

Harvard previously had reason to like Goldman Sachs. As the Crimson recounted in June 2006,

in [Larry] Summers' final Commencement address, the president described the life of a Bronx mailman's son who had risen to lead a top American financial firm, an apparent reference to newly appointed Goldman chief executive Lloyd C. Blankfein '75.

Here's the actual quotation from the transcript:

All over the world, and in every corner of America, Harvard's prestige, and wealth, inspires awe. For some, the name Harvard is synonymous with privilege.

In fact, Harvard is a place of great and transforming opportunity. This week we read of a Bronx postman's son whose life was changed by his years of study in this Yard. This man is now to lead one of America's great financial firms. I know that scores of you from every alumni class gathered here have similar stories. When I became president of Harvard, I resolved that, on my watch, we would have more such stories of opportunity to tell.

I am indeed awe-struck. A number of other colleges manufacture fine power tools. But apparently only Harvard's are brilliant enough to outsmart their alma mater!

Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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