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