LINK:  University of Chicago Magazine
About the Magazine | Advertising | Archives | Contact
LINK:  February 2006LINK:  featuresLINK:  chicago journalLINK:  investigationsLINK:  peer reviewLINK:  in every issue

:: By Meredith Meyer, ’06

link:  e-mail this to a friend

Chicago Journal ::

Operation recruitment

During an October CIA information session in the Quadrangle Club, about 80 graduate and undergraduate students clutch leather portfolios to their chests and fiddle with pens emblazoned with the CIA eagle-and-compass insignia. A white-haired woman, bearing a striking resemblance to Mrs. Doubtfire—powdery skin, navy suit, and thick bifocals—flits around the room introducing herself to the prospective employees as Mary. When she learns that one of the guests is a reporter, she smiles and whispers, “I’m with the clandestine side, so you don’t want to know me.” With that she flutters her hand goodbye and scurries into the crowd.

Secret identities might not be the only reason the CIA is careful about campus publicity. In April 2005, two days after students protested recruiters’ presence at the University of Texas–Pan American, a CIA recruiting event at New York University was canceled when the school’s Campus Antiwar Network chapter organized an anti-recruitment rally.

Judging by the attendance at the Quad Club information session, such tensions remain scarce at Chicago. In turn the CIA seems smitten with students from the Harris School, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the political-science department, especially those who know Mandarin and Farsi, says Meredith Daw, the University’s associate director for employer relations at Career Advising & Planning Services (CAPS). “I can’t release the statistic,” Daw says, “but I do know a large percentage of their Near Eastern South Asian [NESA] analytical group is comprised of U of C alumni.” The NESA division, Daw says, employs more graduates of Chicago than of any other school.

Despite the protests, over the past four years the CIA has become a familiar, and often welcome, recruiter at colleges nationwide. In an August Economist survey, American undergraduates named the agency the ninth-most desired place to work in 2005, up from 14 the previous year. The warmer climate at Chicago is a far cry from 1979, when CIA recruiters were met by 30 student protestors in Hutchinson Courtyard.

Budget cuts in the 1990s halted the agency’s U of C recruiting efforts. In 2002, armed with more funds after September 11, recruiters reappeared. Every year since then, Daw says, “it seems like the relationship just keeps getting better and better.” In 2003 the CIA began flying faculty and staff to its Langley, Virginia, headquarters to spend a day learning about intelligence work and touring the facility. Last year Susan Mayer, dean of the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, attended with eight other Chicago faculty. “We were sort of tourists there,” Mayer says. “We discussed some of the important job qualities they’re interested in and they talked about their needs.” Such attention, she notes, is common among employers who “hire a lot of students over time.”

Mayer has received positive feedback from students and staff. “CIAs are a part of virtually all governments,” she says. “The central intelligence agencies of all nations serve an important service to their country. You want good people in those departments. We train our students to the highest standards of intellectual rigor and ethical standards. I would want them to recruit a higher proportion of their people from us.”

At first the CAPS office was hesitant to enter the relationship. “We did not know what was going to happen,” Daw says. “We had heard that at other schools there had been resistance to the CIA coming.” Administrators moved forward for the sake of interested students. To Daw’s relief, the response has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

At the same time, John Mark Hansen, dean of the Social Sciences Division, is cautious about painting Chicago as CIA-friendly. “My unscientific sense,” Hansen writes in an e-mail, “is that attitudes toward the CIA in the academy moderated a little after 9/11 exposed deficiencies in intelligence capabilities; after the revelations about the agency’s role in the decision to wage war in Iraq and about its role in the interrogation of prisoners I suspect attitudes have hardened again.”

Yet enough Chicago students have lined up for CIA simulations, presentations, and job fairs that the agency has increased its campus presence. “Originally, they were just coming to our fall fair,” Daw says. “Then last year they added the nonprofit fair in April, and they held a Pearl Harbor simulation last year.” This fall, she says, “their numbers were up at the presentation” and also “in terms of students stopping by their career fair booth.” The operation, clandestine or not, continues.