Category Archives: Education

The Humiliation of Alexus Miller-Wigfall

Prom Dress

Some stories of the malfunctioning of  ethics alarms in school administrators make me want to weep, go postal, or begin a national movement to bring down the public school system for good, so untrustworthy are its stewards.

This one made me want to do all three.

The incompetent and cruel administrators at Harrisburg’s Sci-Tech High School told student Alexus Miller Wigfall that she would be suspended because the prom dress she wore was “too revealing.” The school’s dress code, like most dress codes, is so badly worded that it defies reasonable construction: this one requires “all body parts” to be covered, suggesting that the only acceptable prom dress would be something like this…

woman in Burka

Cute! Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Professions, U.S. Society

Swastika Ethics: 8 Observations On The George Washington University “Hate Crime”

swastika

I was recently reminded about the origins of the Nazi swastika, ironically enough, during the Cincinnati funeral service of my dear friend, Georgetown classmate,  lawyer and patriot Mitchell Dale, who died last summer. Looking down during a prayer, I was startled to see the Hindu version of the symbol in a mosaic imbedded in the church floor.

Oddly, the pastor and mourners weren’t arrested.

Yet last month, an unnamed Jewish student placed a small, bronze, Indian swastika on the bulletin board of his Jewish fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau, in the university’s International House. The building had recently been the target of an unidentified vandal who drew three swastikas on the walls. After posting the swastika, the student stayed close to the bulletin board, intending to discuss it and the previous vandalism with observers. He briefly stepped away, unfortunately for him, and during that period a member of the student’s fraternity saw the swastika and called GWU’s campus police. They  filed a report and took the swastika as evidence. When the student found out the police had been called, he immediately came forward to authorities and said that he had posted the  image to spark a conversation about the ancient symbol, cultural appropriation, messages, perception…as in what used to be called “education.” He said he did not intend to offend anyone, noting in doing so that this was an Indian swastika, not a Nazi one. He had just returned from studying religion in India, and said he became fascinated by the idea that a symbol that was not one of hate could become so defined by hate.

GWU suspended the student and evicted him from university housing pending the outcome of five disciplinary charges. The university also kicked him off campus, and referred the incident to the District of Columbia police for investigation as a potential “hate crime.” He could face expulsion.

Ethics observations:

1. FIRE, Freedom for Individual Rights in Education, is on the case. Thank you, FIRE. FIRE Program Officer and attorney Ari Cohn wrote,

“GWU may not ignore thousands of years of history and effectively forbid all uses of the swastika because it was used by Nazi Germany. It’s ironic that the charges against the student illustrate the very point he was trying to make in the first place—that context is important and there’s much to be learned about the history of the swastika.”

2. Now the Hindu American Foundation is protesting as well. This is the wonderful aspect of diversity, and a warning to institutions and diversity hounds that diversity must cut in all directions, or is a sham. It is discriminatory for a university to demonize and censor an aspect of a world religion’s symbology and culture. Do you think the administrators at GW sufficiently understood this, or just didn’t care, going with what they perceived as the most powerful interest group?

3. The George Washington fiasco comes in the wake of other  colleges  responding to anti-Semitic swastika vandalism, but that shouldn’t have mattered. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

The Kinky Law Professor Principle: “It’s No Shame To Be Kinky, But It Still Might Be Newsworthy”

We haven’t had a “Naked Teacher Principle” story to mull over for a while, and this isn’t one. It raises some parallel issues, though.

I saw the story about the Drexel Law professor who who accidentally sent her students a link to a pornographic video about anal beads. I didn’t find it worthy of a post, though I thought it was funny. It is funny. But we had covered a similar issue here, in the ethics quiz about the hapless teaching assistant at the University of Iowa who somehow managed to send her class not merely sexually provocative photos of herself, not merely nude photos of herself, but something much more kinky. Attached to a message that read “Hi Class, I attach the solutions for number 76 and 78 in this email” were a series of images showing the young woman sans clothes and sans inhibitions having a lively cyber-sexting chat with a partner in which the two were pleasuring themselves in front of video equipment while streaming to each other.

That was funnier. She was “reassigned”—a not unreasonable result of presumed reduced respect from the class.  The Naked Teacher Principle doesn’t strictly apply when the students are adults, and Lisa McElroy, the professor at Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law who is apparently an anal bead fan–the video she sent by accident was called called “She Loves Her Anal Beads”—wasn’t naked. There is no “Kinky Law Professor Principle.”

However, Prof. McElroy was mightily offended that her cyber-goof was picked up by the professional publications and websites, and that she was embarrassed as a result. She even posted a Streisand Principle-defying op-ed in the Washington Post, blaming everybody—students, bloggers, and Drexel, which briefly suspended the professor pending an investigation on the basis of possible sexual harassment—but herself. She argued that she should not have been publicly shamed, because, she wrote,

“…there was nothing newsworthy about it. What happened was, in the grand scheme, pretty trivial. My students are adults. The link was quickly removed. There was nothing illegal in the video. The post occurred in the same two-month period when the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” grossed almost $570 million worldwide. Yet, because it was porn and I’m a law professor, news organizations spread the story around the world.”

Yup. Because it was funny. I understand that the Professor doesn’t see the humor of a law professor—especially her—inadvertently sending her private porn film about anal beads, which themselves are kind of amusing, to a staid law school class. It’s still funny. Trivial? Of course. But trivial can still be funny. Would it be kind for all of us to scrupulously refuse to communicate the hilarious tales of when we do dumb things or embarrass ourselves? Yes. But society as a whole benefits from being reminded that we are all equally fallible human beings—especially the elite and privileged. A lot of people think laughing at slapstick is cruel too.

I pity them. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, The Internet

When Do Private Text Messages Between Two Individuals Justify Punishment?

text

I’d like to say “never,” except that when especially offensive private text messages become public, they aren’t private any more. As with e-mails, any time you send a text message that you know will embarrass you if it falls into malign hands or is seen by righteous eyes, you have authored the means of your potential destruction.

That’s not right, but that’s the way of the world.

Thus a Washburn University Phi Delta Theta fraternity member posted a photo of a man with a topless woman in bed as part of a fraternity text exchange following a chain of crude text messages between frat members. These were obtained by The Topeka Capital-Journal on a slow news day—Wow! Stop the presses! College guys are crude!-–and before you could say “thought control,” the national Phi Delta Theta organization suspended the Topeka campus chapter.

“We are very concerned by the messages reviewed thus far. Phi Delta Theta is a values-based organization and any behavior or statement contrary to those values is subject to significant action,” Phi Delta Theta spokesman Sean Wagner said in a statement. Naturally, the chapter president then grovelled an apology. Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Education, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, The Internet

The Protesters, The Veteran And The Flag—An Instant Ethics Train Wreck In Georgia

Mission accomplished... But what exactly was the mission?

Mission accomplished… But what exactly was the mission?

This the kind of story that makes Americans cynical. I’m more cynical from just reading it. Air Force veteran Michelle Manhart saw protesters  stomping on a flag in a demonstration at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, and took action. She briefly snatched the flag away, but police officers intervened, arrested her, handcuffed Manhart, returned the flag to the protesters so they could continue abusing it, and escorted the comely counter-protester away. The protestors, all African-Americans, proceeded to say some silly and offensive things (Can we stipulate that “You killed off our people. You enslaved our people…You put us in this white supremacist place” is silly and offensive? I think that’s fair… and a lot fairer than accusing Manhart of “killing off” African-Americans.) Neither the demonstrators nor the police pressed charges against Manhart, but she did receive a campus trespass warning that bars her from campus activities. Let us pause for a brief ethics audit, shall we?

1. The flag desecrating protest, as the Supreme Court has clearly ruled, was legal and protected, except to the extent that it incites others to violence, like a burning cross. In some settings, it might be so judged. Not on a college campus, unless the college is West Point.

2. Legal or not, it’s a disrespectful and irresponsible protest, not to mention dumber than a Justin Bieber Fan Club.

3. I think many veterans would react as Manhart did. My father would have. I might have on his behalf. A lot of non-veterans would as well, and I salute them. Remember Rick Monday?

4. The police were correct to intervene and arrest Manhart.

5. The protesters were correct not to press charges.

6. The university correctly ordered her to stay away.

Unfortunately, the story began to rot soon after it was first reported. Continue reading

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Filed under Law & Law Enforcement, Journalism & Media, Education, War and the Military, Race, Marketing and Advertising, Rights, Ethics Train Wrecks

Ethics Dunces: Ten Prominent Doctors, Surgeons and Med School Professors Who Want Columbia To Kick “Dr. Oz” Off Its Faculty

Dr Oz

Perhaps they tried this because Columbia has been having a bad ethics year so far… that could be it, I guess.

For the record, here are are the ten prominent individuals in the field of medicine who called on Columbia University to kick Dr. Mehmet Oz, better known to Oprah fans and junk TV addicts as “Dr.Oz,” off its medical school’s faculty:

Henry I. Miller, M.D.
Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy
& Public Policy
Hoover Institution
Stanford University
Stanford, CA

Scott W. Atlas, M.D.
David and Joan Traitel Senior Fellow
Hoover Institution
Stanford University
Stanford, CA

Jack Fisher, M.D.
Professor of Surgery (emeritus)
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA

Shelley Fleet, M.D.
Anesthesiologist
Longwood, FL

Gordon N. Gill, M.D.
Dean (emeritus) of Translational Medicine
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA

Michael H. Mellon, M.D.
Pediatric Allergist
San Diego, CA

Gilbert Ross, M.D.
President (Acting) and Executive Director
American Council on Science and Health
New York, NY

Samuel Schneider, M.D.
Psychiatrist
Princeton, NJ

Glenn Swogger Jr. M.D.
Director of the Will Menninger Center for Applied Behavioral Sciences (retired)The Menninger Foundation
Topeka, KS

Joel E. Tepper, M.D.
Hector MacLean Distinguished Professor of Cancer Research
Dept of Radiation Oncology
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Chapel Hill, NC

And here is their letter. They are troubled because “Dr. Oz” has embraced dubious products and health promotion techniques on his TV show. Indeed he has. On TV, Dr. Oz is a quack. He uses his medical credentials to, as the letter says, show “disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine” and to display  “baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops.”  And no one can deny that  “he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”

None of which is justification for taking him off the faculty, where his teaching duties are unrelated to his lucrative TV persona, and are the direct result of his recognized expertise in cardiothoracic surgery.

Could it be that all of these doctors—including Professors Tepper and Fisher, and Dean Gill— have never encountered the sacred educational principle of  academic freedom? Continue reading

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Filed under Bioethics, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Health and Medicine, Professions, U.S. Society

The Irony Of Wikileaks: Yes, It Is Despicable…But It’s Still Useful To Know That PBS, Ben Affleck And Prof. Henry Lewis Gates Are Despicable Too.

Batman is ashamed of you, Ben...

Batman is ashamed of you, Ben…

Once a secret is out, it isn’t a secret any more. Once privacy is shattered, it’s gone: that egg can’t be put back together again. I wish Sony’s e-mails hadn’t been hacked: everyone who isn’t operating under a policy that mandates that their communications must be archived and available for media and public examination, like, oh, say, Hillary Clinton, has a right to have private business and personal communication.

Julian Assange is a fick, and an uncommonly arrogant one. He encourages, aids and abets the theft of proprietary information in the interests of world anarchy, which is in the interests of nobody. So let’s see now…North Korea hacks Sony to chill our First Amendment rights, and Wikileaks helps magnify the damage by spreading private e-mails and documents far and wide.

Yechhh.

But it’s all out there now, and there is no virtue in averting our eyes and plugging our ears. There is a lot of unethical conduct exposed in those 30,000 documents and 170,000 emails hacked from Sony, and while the means by which it was exposed was illegal and wrong, we should still learn from what is now public information.

The fact that PBS and Harvard prof Henry Louis Gates Jr. can’t be trusted, for example, is good to know. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Jumbo, Race, Rights, The Internet