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OCS & Its Corporate Partners
by Heather Stratton

Corporate presence is hardly remarkable at NYU or at any other university; from the products sold in our bookstore to the companies with which many of our trustees are associated, it seems impossible to avoid the influence of large multinationals. So the Office of Career Services’ “Corporate Partners” program should not be especially shocking.

Through these corporate partnerships, each of the thirteen companies provides a financial donation, which is spent directly on student programs in OCS. In exchange, OCS features the companies on its website and in the office, provides information regarding employment or networking opportunities to students who have expressed interest. According to Trudy Steinfeld, director of OCS, each corporation hires many NYU students every year, and is given priority over other employers in choosing recruitment dates on campus.

On the surface, this arrangement appears advantageous for everyone. Interested students are provided with the resources for connecting with large, financially successful, and well-known companies; the corporations themselves gain a means of communication with students who are potential employees.

However, some of these institutions’ labor and environmental practices suggest that the partnership is not quite as universally beneficial as it may seem.

For example, perhaps pharmaceutical and cosmetic giant Johnson & Johnson has extra money to spend on campus outreach because, following the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), it cut hundreds of jobs in Texas and moved its production facilities across the border to an export processing zone in Juarez, Mexico, despite an agreement to increase existing job levels in the U.S., according to Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. The average wage in Juarez’s maquiladora district is US$1.25/h, well below the local living wage standard, according to a report by The Multinational Monitor.

In addition to funding student programs in OCS, corporate partner Citigroup is a leading financier of the fossil fuel, coal, and logging industries, all of which, according to the Rainforest Action Network, contribute to global warming. Citi, the world’s largest financial institution, has also been accused of predatory, high- interest lending practices in lower income communities as well as in developing countries, according to the Inner City Press.

At least two of OCS’ Corporate Partners, Goldman Sachs and Salomon Smith Barney (a subsidiary of Citigroup) are involved in funding private prisons, a controversial issue that is gaining in significance on campus with the Lehman Brothers campaign (see page 5). According to The Multinational Monitor, Goldman Sachs writes between $2 and $3 billion in prison construction bonds every year. And according to In These Times, Salomon Smith Barney underwrites Wackenhut Corrections, a private prison corporation which has been named by the AFL-CIO as one of the country’s leading union-busting companies.

These abuses of corporate power prompt questioning of NYU’s responsibility to the community and to the world. Because information regarding NYU’s investments and endowments is not available to students, we have no means of understanding the extent to which NYU is complicit in corporate activities. Should a “private university in the public interest” be associating itself with corporations whose dedication to public service is dubious at best and antagonistic at worst? Is OCS allowing these destructive companies to buy access to students? Should we not expect better from our university?

However, to borrow a line from singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco, “Generally my generation wouldn’t dream of working for the man... Trouble is, you’ve got to have an alternate plan.” We all have to work somewhere, and maybe in the end we’ll all sell out and find ourselves drowning in a sea of cubicles, cowering with insecurity while wondering when we’ll be laid off so that the executives’ stock options will inflate, and maybe remembering a time when our dreams weren’t limited to the acquisition of money.

But maybe, instead, we’ll refuse to make profits at the expense of others’ pain and misfortune; maybe we’ll decide that our planet and our fellow human beings are more important than the luxuries that working for these destructive corporations could bring to our lives. We can start by understanding that it is our responsibility to demand social responsibility from our university and from the institutions with which it is involved.

 

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