Remedial Recruiting -- at Harvard

Econ department thought it had perfect video to attract Ph.D. students. Current students thought otherwise -- and shared views on YouTube.
December 18, 2006

A Harvard University economics department recruiting video for new Ph.D. students that could be described as spectacularly stodgy and stereotypically self-important has inspired considerable creativity in the department -- in the form of parody videos now making their way to YouTube.

“Ed Glaeser and I made the video in a misguided attempt to make the Harvard economics department's Ph.D. admissions Web site more personal. Of course, if you have seen the video you know that the effect is rather different -- pompous I would say,” John Campbell, an economics professor and a co-star star of the official show, wrote in an e-mail.

In stilted tones, and with uncannily consistent eye contact, the two Harvard economics professors (one with his tie hanging rather awkwardly), welcome potential students, describe the campus visitation process and put in a good word for the department. “It’s like watching paint dry,” one YouTube poster wrote. “I didn’t think it was quite that exciting,” a second poster responded.

"I think I speak for all Harvard economics graduate students when I say that it was a triumph for filmmaking and it was the perfect advertisement for the program," wrote Anthony Niblett, a Ph.D. student who "cut" one of the spoofs over "a soothing cup of chamomile tea" and whose taste for satire translates even over e-mail.

Two video parodies – shown at a department holiday skit party – have received thousands of YouTube hits each. In one, partially set to Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On," the creators open the video by citing declining female enrollment in the economics Ph.D. program and suggest that, “In an effort to reverse this trend, Harvard has recruited two Professors skilled in the art of seduction.” Offering a sneak peek of next year’s video, the creators splice the original to turn the merely serious into the sexually suggestive.

In a second “outtakes video,” a student posing as one of the professors describes the decision to come to Harvard as “a trivial model of compensating differentials.”

Harvard economics Ph.D. students enjoy “a long and honorable tradition” of spoofing their professors at the annual holiday party, Campbell wrote, but video editing technology and the Internet have now made it possible to share the videos with the world via YouTube. “I am quite proud of my 15 minutes of Internet fame, but don't want to repeat the experience. If I see a video camera coming my way in the future, I will emulate the New York man in "Borat" who is seen running away across the street!” Campbell wrote.

“It was an act of folly motivated by a desire to show students that we really care about them,” wrote Glaeser, the other economics professor in the video. “Somehow we thought that information technology could be helpful -- clearly using that technology requires more skills than I have.”

“For what it's worth,” Glaeser added via e-mail, “I think that the student satires of us are both hilarious and entirely deserved.”


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