Radix malorum est cupiditas

It seems I’ve been channeling the Bursar this evening.

Are you looking for a prestigious internship for your teenage child? Are you worried that, despite your best efforts to make Junior respectable in public, the interview skills aren’t quite where they need to be? Do you think s/he would benefit during a college admissions interview by referring to “that time [I] interned at an energy consultancy”?

You’re in luck!

My high school, Westminster School, is offering internships at auction as a means to raise funds for its capital building projects and its Bursary Programme. On offer are internships in retail, finance, law, energy, and consultancy, among others. Fabergé? No problem. Coutts Bank? Roll up! We can serve all your needs here.

Ok, you’re interested? Great! All I’ll need is for you to 1) cough up hundreds of Her Majesty’s Pounds Sterling (I know, I know, can you really put a price on your child’s future? It’s priceless, after all. But then again, in addition to being a self-evidently valuable life experience, why not show people how valuable these internships are by making them prohibitively expensive?), 2) be a “member of the Westminster Community, aged 18 or over, unless previously notified otherwise. This includes Parents, Former Parents, Old Westminsters, Staff and Former Staff.” After all, if you aren’t somehow attached to the School, your money clearly doesn’t have the same pretty lustre to it. Marvellous, I’m glad you understand.

What’s that, you say? There might be a problem of nepotism? Some people who might otherwise be qualified might not be able to participate in the auction?  And some pupils who are attending the School on the Bursary Programme (designed as similar to a need-based stipend) for which the auction is intended as a fundraiser might themselves struggle to afford the internships?


The School has already issued a clear statement that such apprehensions are unwarranted:

The option of including work placements was raised early on by our donors, and in the end it was felt that as this had for some years been a common practice by other organisations and as the places offered would be in addition to, and not in place of, existing positions, we would go ahead.  Each work placement donor was asked if they would be willing to provide 2 places – one to be auctioned and one for the School to pass along to a pupil at one of our partner state schools – and some have chosen to do so. While these places have been created solely for the auction, we are hopeful that the businesses will be inspired to maintain these new positions and will openly recruit for candidates going forward.

Fine, fine, I suppose that statement wasn’t entirely convincing for all involved. I suppose that the fact that one high-profile bank has withdrawn its internship offer in response to the bad publicity (Exhibits A, B, and C) means that we can’t please everyone. But look, at least the School has had a dedicated commitment to social mobility in the past, yes? Surely this doesn’t set back all the positive gains that have been made thus far? I really don’t think Nick Clegg’s vocal opposition to internship culture in the past has anything to do with it. Nor does it matter that he went to Westminster. Or that he acquired an internship through nepotism himself.

[Calls off, stage right]

Junior, remind me: what is it you said you wanted to be when you grow up? A lawyer, eh? Yes, yes, don’t worry. Daddy will take care of it.

Breaking character: No, I won’t be giving them money — for an auction or as part of alumni giving — until I’m convinced they have their act together.

EDIT: On reflection, the title of the post is rather OTT. But it was ringing in my ears, in the voice of my English teacher from Westminster, when I read about the auction.

9 thoughts on “Radix malorum est cupiditas”

  1. Was the English teacher in question Jim Cogan?

    I suspect, and regret, that if he was still around his preferred Latin quip on this story would instead have been “O Tempora, O Mores.” – Westminster is (as they correctly point out in their pathetic attempt to excuse their behaviour) a follower and not a leader on this. When I was at the school, work placements arranged by OWW for the benefit of the “Westminster community” were either allocated competitively by interview, or based on the recommendation of individual teachers.

  2. This only makes sense in the context of unpaid internships, where the resources to work unpaid already act as a requirement that weeds out Those People. The social safety net in the UK, slashed though it is, is probably still adequate to sustain an intern of poorer family, so the auction version is more about competition among the rich.

    If the school had had any sense at all, they would have auctioned off not the livings, erm, internships themselves, but rather the naming rights for them. So the place would still be open, but conspicuous consumption would be enabled.

      1. You’re very gracious. I was just having a little fun. Though if you are ever out here, you can eat like a king if you like Vietnamese food!

  3. Westminster? Is that like the Thomas Aquinas Academy?

    Must be one of those schools where the upperclassmen get directly in the face of the freshmen and bellow, “WHAT PART OF ‘NIHIL EST IN INTELLECTU QUOD NON SIT PRIUS IN SENSU’ DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND???”

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