Taking the Pledge

The Graduation Pledge Alliance has students vowing to remember ethical and social issues on the job

BY: Colman McCarthy

 
At many college campuses, instead of the traditional job hunt, there is the student hunt: Recruiters from major U.S. firms and organizations appear on campuses in stakeouts for workers, with many graduates assured starting salaries higher than those of the professors they are leaving behind.

Amid the lures of quick bucks are a few grads whose heads and hearts are saying, "Not so fast," and who are asking such questions as: What are the ethics of my potential employers? How are their products or services benefiting society, if at all? What is the employer's record on such issues as antitrust, health and safety, age, race, sex and gender discrimination, pollution, and animal testing? In the company's theology of capitalism, is worshiping the dollar-god the sole article of faith?

The focus of these concerns on whether the work world can be a moral world has an outlet: the Graduation Pledge Alliance (GPA). As nationally organized in 1996 by the Peace Studies Institute at Manchester College in Indiana, the alliance asks graduating students to voluntarily pledge themselves to accept only conscience-friendly jobs and reject ones that are conscience troubling. This spring, between 70 and 100 colleges are promoting the fast-spreading pledge, up from 50 colleges last year.

It reads: "I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organization for which I work."

Professor Neil Wollman of Manchester College, a 1,000-student Church of the Brethren school that began the nation's first peace-studies degree program in 1948, has seen some 60% of the senior classes since 1988 embrace the pledge. Students receive a wallet-size card and a certificate on which the pledge is printed. For parents hankering for a midlife career change, the pledge is printed in the commencement program.

Wollman believes that the pledge goes to the core of a complete education: "Not only does it remind students of the ethical implications of the knowledge and training they received, but it can help lead to a socially conscious citizenry and a better world. And it can serve as a focal point for further consciousness-raising around campus."

Besides Manchester College, the nation's most vibrant program is at Harvard. Last year, Sinead Walsh, '00, who planned to work for human rights in India after graduation, was among the student leaders who organized three GPA panels for speakers whose careers are ideal-driven, not money-driven. These included workers from Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Grameen Foundation USA, Clean Water Action, and the Campus Green Vote.

The pledge will be implemented in some form at the country's eight Ivy League campuses by May, 2002.

Walsh, an English major who researched a pending report for Human Rights Watch on racial disparities in drug arrests, is anything but a corporation-basher chanting anti-capitalist slogans. "No matter where people work," she says, "there's so much they can do on the everyday level. I don't believe that a dichotomy exists in most careers that are not traditionally 'public service.' It's possible to be a socially concerned person in those jobs."

To help college graduates choose conscientiously, the Graduation Pledge Alliance offers information ranging from questions for potential employers, to finding facts not covered in annual reports.

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