Ethics Quote of the Week: Harvard Dean Jay Harris

“We always stress academic integrity with our students. It’s very hard to explain to someone that this raises ethical concerns and that it’s not OK.”

—-Jay Harris, Dean of Undergraduate Education at Harvard College, where about 125 students in a Government course are under investigation for cheating on a take-home final. Similarities in the tests handed in for Government 1310 ( Introduction to Congress) raised suspicions of copying or collaboration. It is the largest cheating scandal in Harvard history.


Yeah, right.

Harvard stresses academic integrity, but about half a class cheated as soon as some lazy professor was willing to trust the students with a take-home exam? Well, you’re not doing a very good job stressing integrity,are you, Dean? But why does Harvard have to stress integrity—aren’t these supposed to be the best and the brightest? Doesn’t the nation’s most prestigious college only admit students with integrity, or did they cheat to get into Harvard, too? Isn’t part of “best” being honest, and doesn’t “brightest” mean “doesn’t have to cheat”? I’m so confused!

Please help us understand, Dean Harris! Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The No-Tolerance Catch 22


Should you trust this guy to be reasonable?

The Des Moines Register reports on a jaw-dropping example of “no-tolerance” management at its saddest, and the astounding fact that it did not, in fact, occur at a an educational institution, but at a bank.

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage  fired 68-year-old Richard Eggers because in 1963, when he was 18, he put a cardboard cutout of a dime in a Laundromat washing machine and was duly convicted of operating a coin-changing machine by false means. Since that time, after spending two days in jail (they were strict in Iowa back then), Eggers has been on the straight and narrow. He is a Vietnam veteran, and tells the press that he can’t remember his last speeding ticket. He has also been a loyal and effective employee of Wells Fargo for seven years. So why fire him over a stupid and trivial crime he committed when Kennedy was President, TV was black and white, Mary Tyler Moore was exciting male viewers in her Capri pants on the brand new “Dick Van Dyke Show,”and people trusted Uncle Sam? Continue reading

Unethical Mindsets: “You Can’t Be A Feminist If You’re Anti-Abortion”


I don’t know how I ended up on the Bea Magazine site, but I did, and I made the mistake of reading an article and a comment thread on the topic of whether feminists can be “pro-life,” or anti-abortion, if you aren’t a fan of euphemisms. As I expected, but not as I hoped, the consensus was that indeed, opposing abortion requires one’s ejection from the feminist tent, at least in the view of this particular cadre of feminists.

“Brillliant Nora Ephron,” the post by Diane notes, wrote that “You can’t call yourself a feminist if you don’t believe in the right to abortion.”  Well, Nora wasn’t so brilliant that day, because this is classic backward reasoning. It is framing reality by using ideology, the crystallization of confirmation bias into its most dangerous, poisonous and historically destructive form. It embraces the statement, “my mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts.” Indeed, it requires that facts be seen, filtered and interpreted through a pre-existing template that requires and then dictates a given result. Continue reading

Most Entertaining Ethics Alarms Discussion Ever: A Salute

Ethics Alarms now pauses in gratitude to give a stunned and admiration-filled salute to all the participants in the still perking comment donnybrook that has followed what I thought initially would be a minor, fairly obvious post about the ethics of vegetarians hosting a wedding reception and imposing a strict vegetarian menu despite the protests of their parents that some guests would be uncomfortable. Triggered by a first-time visitor, her unique perspective and her sometimes  cloying way of expressing it, what erupted has been a 375+ comment multi-party debate that had everything: wild analogies, accusations, counter-accusations, common sense, enlightenment, gibberish, creativity, hypocrisy, Eastern philosophy, tangents, 60’s nostalgia, humor (intentional and not), at least two terms I had never encountered before but will cherish forever—“deepity” and “wackaloon” —-and even some ethics. In addition to provocateur livvy1234, who has registered more than80  comments so far and enough words to comprise a novella, key combatants include Joe Fowler, Karla Marie Robinette, Brian, deery, Elizabeth I, Michael, Libby Torgeson, Joy, Jan Chapman…but especially tgt, the Ethics Alarms 2011 Commenter of the Year, who really has justified his title with gusto this time.

Thanks, everybody. What fun.

Ethics Hero: Kent Anthony Clemens, Bank Robber

With bank robbers, the bank alarms go off, but the ethics alarms don’t. This is the exception.

Proving that it’s never too late to do the right thing (well, almost never), Kent Anthony Clemens successfully robbed a bank in a small North Dakota town and escaped to Topeka, Kansas, where he gave much of the money to his sister. Then he felt bad about it and called 911, telling the police to come and arrest him.

Admittedly, this is a case in which the ethics alarms sounded a bit late, but they sounded nonetheless. The temptation is to minimize the virtue of Clemens’ conduct in turning himself in, because it just speeded up the inevitable, but that may not be the case. The news story notes that Williston, like many towns in North Dakota that have been victimized by vastly increased crime in the wake of the state’s oil boom, is strapped for law enforcement personnel and overwhelmed with unsolved cases. The amount Clemens stole wasn’t much ($700), and it’s not unlikely that he would have gotten away with his heist. But there he was when police arrived in response to his call, sitting on his front porch wearing the same outfit that surveillance cameras showed him in when he knocked over the Gates City Bank. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Yahoo Washington Bureau Chief David Chalian

“[Mitt Romney and the GOP] are happy to have a party with black people drowning.”

Yahoo! Washington Bureau Chief David Chalian, caught on an open mike during the Republican National Convention and broadcast live. Chalian was promptly fired.

I didn’t believe it, to be honest. When I stumbled upon Rush Limbaugh ranting about how the broadcast media was trying to make the case that the Republicans should cancel their convention because of Hurricane Isaac heading to Louisiana, that it was callous and insensitive for them not to, I thought Rush was having one of his increasingly frequent paranoid moments. Yet incredibly, he was not. I personally heard the theme echoed on ABC, on CNN, on NBC and, of course on MSNBC, the latter repeatedly. How “awkward” it was going to be for the GOP to be “having a party” while people were again suffering in New Orleans. How hard it was going to be to explain, how “bad it would look.” Then came Chalian’s gaffe, which was, it is clear, not a sudden Pazuzu moment, but a symptomatic one, as he felt comfortable enough in a thoroughly hateful anti-Republican media culture to make his absurd and insulting comment. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Wisconsin Judge J.D. Watts

Nice guy, though.

Jury duty?

Ivana Samardzic, 20, took off for a long-planned Cancun vacation. The problem was that she was a member of the jury in a felony trial, and deliberations had already begun. Samardzic went AWOL after the presentation of the felony shooting case against the defendant, Spartacus Outlaw, calling the court clerk from the airport to say  that she had left her vote with the foreman. That’s gall. That’s also contempt. Rather than call a mistrial, the judge got the defendant to agree to allow the jury to continue with only eleven jurors, who found the defendant guilty of one of the charges against him. ( By the way, if you are named Spartacus Outlaw, I really think crime is a risky career choice.) Continue reading

Is It Unethical To Ban Stupid People From Congress?

In 1978, this last image from “Animal House” was hilarious. In 2012, it’s tragic…because it came true.

The Todd Akin debacle has me wondering why we don’t take measures to block the ignorant and dim-witted from gaining high elected office. I know what you are going to say: that’s what elections are for. But we can’t bar ignorant and stupid people from voting: that’s been settled in court. It shouldn’t surprise us that they frequently tip elections toward candidates that the pollsters describe as “people like them”, and voilà! Todd Akin.

Akin is far (well, maybe not very far) from the  most intellectually suspect member of Congress. For example, Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson once expressed concern that the island of Guam might tip over, like a raft. There are too many other telling anecdotes relating to other members of Congress, in both parties. For those who shrug cynically and argue that it’s always been that way, there is solid evidence that indeed, Congress is getting dumber over time. A study of every word spoken in Congress concluded that the grade level at which members of the legislative branch speak has fallen a full grade since 2005, to just half-way through the junior year of high school. Democrats are slightly more articulate (.4 of a grade) than Republicans as a group, but that just could be because Joe Biden left to be Vice-President. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: School No-Tolerance Hits Rock Bottom

By popular demand, Bill scores a Comment of the Day with 18 well-chosen words, his solution for the school that has demanded that a deaf pre-schooler named “Hunter” find another way to sign his first name because the standard method requires him to make his fingers into the shape of a gun. Here is the new record holder for shortest COTD, on the post School No-Tolerance Hits Rock Bottom. Well done, Bill.

“They should change the sign for his name to a fist pointed up with the middle finger extended.”