In Kansas, A High School Ethics Train Wreck: An Unqualified Principal, Unethical Students, And A False And Dangerous Lesson About Consequentialism

Why are these students smiling sweetly? Because they sent the message to their teachers to be wary; after all, there’s a lot of dirt on the internet…

Ugh.

Seemingly every one is cheering the Pittsburg High School (Kansas) students on the school paper who investigated their newly hired principal, found her credentials to be dubious, and forced her to resigned from her $93,000-a-year job. You can read the story here and here.

For the purposes of Ethics Alarms, I’m not interested in the principal at all. What matters here is that journalists, teachers, TV talking heads and everyone else commenting on the story are proving themselves ignorant of basic ethical principles, like the fact that conduct that happens to result in something desirable doesn’t make the conduct appropriate if it wasn’t ethical at the outset, aka “consequentialism leads to bad lessons and bad ethics,” and “the ends justifies the means.”

From the article:

“Pittsburg journalism adviser Emily Smith said she is “very proud” of her students. “They were not out to get anyone to resign or to get anyone fired. They worked very hard to uncover the truth.”

Emily Smith is too incompetent and ethically confused to advise aspiring student journalists or any other students. The students “wanted be assured that she was qualified and had the proper credentials,” according to the student editor of the paper. That’s not their job, their duty, or their business. They aren’t journalists; they are students learning about journalism. Determining if the new principal was qualified was entirely the responsibility of the the Pittsburg Board of Education, which botched its job and approved hiring the principal at its meeting March 6. That the students did the due diligence the Board failed to do is being used as cover by the Board: Everything worked out because of these great students, who we have educated so well!

Wrong. Unbelievably wrong. Dangerously wrong.

What’s going on here?

A group of students decided to see if they could dig up dirt on their principal. Do schools really want to sanction that, promote that, encourage that? Kids don’t like a teacher, so they should look online for convictions, scandals, social media postings, nude photos and more that will drive that teacher out of school and out of town—really? That’s the conduct we want to see all over the country? Sometimes what they find might be legitimately disqualifying–YAY!—and sometimes–most of the time— it might be rumor, gossip, or mistaken. We want to trust teenagers to decide which should be publicized and which should not be?

Madness.

The students should be disciplined, so the message is sent that even if the lazy, unprofessional, incompetent adults who run their school can’t do their jobs properly, students do not have the option of taking over those responsibilities. They should be told that doing opposition research on school personnel is forbidden, no matter what it uncovers.

Meanwhile, everyone connected to the botched vetting process of the ex-principle should resign.

Everyone else should stop acting as if the students’ conduct was courageous, desirable, and peachy keen. It wasn’t. It just happened, this time, to make up for the derelictions of duty by the Board, and uncover a fake educator. That still doesn’t make what they did right, and the thoughtless and ethically ignorant commentary has allowed a terrible precedent to be set.

This is an ethics train wreck all around.

________________________

Pointer: Sam Anthony

Facts: Washington Post

106 Comments

Filed under Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Journalism & Media

106 responses to “In Kansas, A High School Ethics Train Wreck: An Unqualified Principal, Unethical Students, And A False And Dangerous Lesson About Consequentialism

  1. A question to make me the contrarian: How did the research start? Part of the journalism class is to publish the school newspaper. So in some capacity, they are “journalists” in the sense that they are producing content.

    With that said, would you expect the school newspaper to write a “profile” of a new principal coming into the school? Probably. It’s a nice soft puff piece. When starting your profile, you come across “Corllins University” described as a private university where the new hire acquired her masters and doctorate. Ok, cool. I’ve never heard of that private institution before. I hardly know where Notre Dame and Gonzaga are, let alone Lynchburg and Seton Hall. Where’s Corllins located? What’s their educational specialty? Why isn’t a simple google search telling me anything about the physical location of this institution? Is this even real, it has to be. Let me use more reliable resources to confirm it’s existence. Teacher, why isn’t this university recognized as an academic institution and why is this conspiracy blog saying it’s a diploma mill? I can’t do my profile of the new principal can I have a different assignment?

    Chalk me up to one of the clueless dolts that don’t understand why writing relevant puff-piece content for the student paper wasn’t ethical at the outset.

    • I can’t find an account that says the discovery was accidental. Agreed, they might be puffing up their motives, and making it sound more like an investigative hit than it was. A puff piece on a new hire would involve the school’s release and maybe an interview. Separate vetting? I doubt it.

      How confident are you that this precedent won’t sanctify research with more sinister motives? I’m certain it will.

      • A puff piece is not limited to regurgitating a District’s press release and an interview. Those are 2 good places to start, but anyone worth their salt adds a little flair like where this little-heard-of private college is located and other notable alumni of the new hire’s alma mater. They’re writing the profile of someone who will be looked up to as a role model. If a student wants to go into public education, they’ll want to follow the principal’s path. The content is of interest.

        Once the profile fell apart because of the information they uncovered, it’s scrapped and they start a full investigation, because, that’s what a journalist does….which is what they were mimicking for their class. What I’d like to know is,

        1) Did the teacher notify the board immediately of the inconsistency,
        2) If not, why not.
        3) Was there a concern that the board was complicit and would cover up their foul-up?
        4) Did the teacher withhold the information to avoid being scooped by for-profit journalists and papers?

      • In an interview on NPR one of the journalism students stated that it is traditional to write an article about new faculty, and questions arose only because her credentials could not be verified. They were not out to get her. They did, in fact, go to the school district and their concerns were dismissed.

        http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/04/05/522747377/student-newspapers-fact-check-results-in-new-principals-resignation

        • Other Bill

          Question for high school journalism teachers and journalists out there: Given the internet and google, is it now standard journalistic practice to google anyone about whom you are tasked to write a piece? I suspect the answer is “yes” but I don’t know.

          • Al Veerhoff

            Google is just one place. It should not be the only. The work begins by vacuuming up every scrap of information available (or that you have liberated). If you use Google you have to check the sources cited on line and find out where they got their information, and check THOSE sources. Stop if you find circular references.
            Then you sift out what you have found and start building a biography. Look for discrepancies and missing information. At this point you look for sentient organisms rather than computer screens and compare their verbal reports with what you already have.
            Now you can interview the biographee, listing events and accomplishments in his/her life, and asking the subject to elaborate. You don’t want to bring up any reliable contrary information until you are near the end. It’s possible
            the explanations will be given during the interview. Depending on how diplomatic you are you may be able to close the holes.
            The purpose of the biography is to give a clear look at the subject. Let him/her know of your concerns but make no promises of overlooking the missing/distrustful information. Give the subject a deadline for checking back with you before publication.

            Okay?

      • Isn’t that just a slippery slope argument- how is aggressively reasearching someone in order to find truth about them unethical?

        I think what is unethical is intentionally looking for dirt AND failing to find any followed by fluffing up rumors and lies as truth to manufacture dirt.

  2. Matthew B

    I’m totally with you on calling it an ethical train wreck Jack.

    From there I’m having a hard time staying with you. Mind you, I’m certainly not saying your wrong, I do give you a strong benefit of the doubt. I just am not following on the rest. As an independent journalist, I can’t see how what they did is unethical. They’re reporting on the incompetence of school administration which can be a good thing. You don’t talk about motive, which I think is the key on whether their conduct is ethical. I read the story yesterday, and what their claim is that someone wondered about the name of the university the principal allegedly attended seemed weird, so they innocently looked it up and discovered there was no university. If the story is true, I don’t see how the student conduct is unethical.

    • You can’t encourage this. They are teens. Motives are mixed in the best cases; who knows what other students might consider just motives to invade a principal’s privacy? The ethical course was to raise the question to the Board, and let it follow up.

      • Chris

        This isn’t a question of privacy, this is a question of a principal falsely representing herself. I’d expect that a competent journalism teacher would prohibit students from publishing information about a faculty member that was embarrassing, but that was not in the public interest. This story absolutely was in the public interest. The students are directly impacted by their principal’s lack of qualifications, and since the adults failed to evaluate the principal, the kids absolutely did do the right thing. They shouldn’t have had to, but taking on the responsibilities of others when they fail at those responsibilities is not unethical in the slightest.

        • You missed the point entirely. This is vigilante action, nothing more, nothing less. Your argument would students justify trapping a principle who was a secret ISIS agent using a pit and a net because the police didn’t It is not in society’s long-term interest to have children assuming the roles of trained adults just because the adults have screwed up. They are not capable of weighing the complex issues involved, they have no professional training, and they are unaccountable.

          • So….you’d have a secret ISIS agent molding impressionable minds for a generation before you let kids save the day? That’s your stand against vigilantism?

            • Chris

              I second Tim’s incredulity. A group of students catching an ISIS agent with a pit and net would be unusual, but it would not be unethical in any way.

              They are not capable of weighing the complex issues involved, they have no professional training, and they are unaccountable.

              That’s why they have a journalism teacher who must approve the stories and the tactics used to write them. And even if they did not, they would not necessarily be incapable of weighing the issues here; many, perhaps most children are, but that doesn’t mean these individual students or not.

              It is of course possible that future teenagers will use this example to commit unethical acts against faculty members, and their teachers might not stop them. That does not make this action unethical.

              • I think that should be on the Rationalization list, the: “Someone else might incorrectly use me as an example to be unethical in the future, so I better not do anything about this situation today.” If this thread goes much deeper, we’ll have to call it the Jack Marshall Excuse.

                • It’s neither a rationalization nor an excuse. It’s called “The ends don’t justify the means, but when we use unethical means to achieve desirable ends, we make shallow and unethical people lose that principle.”

                  • Chris

                    Jack, in order to use “the ends don’t justify the means” here you’d have to convince us that the means were unethical. I don’t think you’ve convinced anyone of that. Nothing these students did would be unethical for a journalist, or even an ordinary citizen; your entire case for why it was unethical seems to be that they were students in a journalism class, but none of us are seeing why that makes what they did unethical.

  3. I generally agree with most of your articles, one of the reasons I haven’t written much (I’m not one to comment just to agree). But I just can’t get behind this one. I’m sure I have some of this wrong, but will put in my points.

    They’re not journalists, it’s not their job: Not sure that matters. I’m not even sure I know where the line blurs between a journalist, someone who wants to be a journalist, someone who feels they are and acting like one, and someone who is legitamitely looking up info on someone for non malicious means. Do you need to be paid to be a journalist? Certified? The second part to that is, so what? I dont’ see why you need to be a journalist to have a reasonable reason, or even desire, to look up information about something or someone. There’s no indication given that they disliked this principal or were trying to intentionally do harm to them. They were students interested in journalism, many probably hoping to be one someday, doing what that entails. If you took auto shop in high school, it doesn’t make you a mechanic, it also doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to touch a car and work on one as well. If they are learning about journalism, it would be expected that they would actually do some as a project. That’s like taking science and not allowing them to perform any science labs.

    It’s not their business: Completely disagree. For a high school student, their schooling, grades, high school life, and school reputation go a long way towards what college they go to, and thus their entire future. I would say it’s more their business then just about anyone else out there. And they have a vested interest in having a qualified principal who has the proper capabilities and will do their best to help them achieve their goals.

    They decided to dig up dirt on their principal: I haven’t seen a report that it was some malicious intention on their part. Should they have gone for a different subject matter? Maybe. Though if you’re in high school, I would think items that effect high school would be a natural thing to look into. Especially with a new principal coming in.

    Do we want to promote digging up things on teachers/school officials: Of course not! I agree completely. Any student who is going out of their way to look up things on a school person, purely for spite, maliciousness, or revenge should be disuaded or punished. I just don’t see the jump from that to any generalized lookup for informational gathering. Can no student ever look up any information, about anything school related, ever?

    They’re teenagers: Yes, they are. Comes pretty close to ageism, but I get your point. I have a teenage daughter now, and realize the majority of teens are smart, inquisitive and are not looking to do harm to others. So let’s turn to adults then. Let’s make a list of the legitimate news organizations, all manned by adults, who do not have any journalists who have written articles where their motives are mixed at best, or just plain biased (since that is the complaint about teenagers). Considering the blog posts the past year, it will be a very short list.

    Botched vetting process: Completely agree, how they could miss something like this as it is one of their prime responsibilities is beyond me. I would go with incompetent, looking the other way, buddy’ism, or just plain lazy.

    Them vs bloggers. I see some differences, but what would you say is the biggest difference between what they did, and what happens on blogs like this? They looked up public information, in this case about their leaders (for example our government) and wrote about an item that appears incorrect and questionable. Is that much different then commenting about Trump or Hillary? I would say there is some difference, but there are a lot of similarities too.

  4. Chris

    I’m curious what your response would be if the teenage journalists had revealed that one of their faculty members was an illegal immigrant. “Good?”

    • No, it’s exactly the same issue, whether they find out that the teacher is a terrorist, a white slaver, a drug dealer, an escaped lunatic, or in the witness protection program. The end doesn’t justify the means. The conduct of the students is still wrong even if the result—say, discovery of a lawbreaker–is good.

  5. Other Bill

    Not sure on this one, Jack. Corllins University? Is that a typo? Two google searches led me to a website where the article about Corllins is very suspicious of the institution. The comments say Corllins is run out of Pakistan. http://www.go4learning.org/corllins-university-scam/ Sure, the kids shouldn’t have to have had to find this out, but I just don’t think a little curiousity about a school that looks like a misspelling is punishable. Frankly, I could see you hammering school administrators who might punish these kids for what they did.

    • That would be the reflex response, but again, think it through. They aren’t journalists. A medical club student couldn’t decide to operate ot give a diagnosis, and a law club member couldn’t represent an accused in court. They have no ethical bearings, no training in judgement or ethics lines.Their role is to behave like students: pass the information over to the adults responsible, not to be vigilantes without supervision.

      • Other Bill

        I have to believe the faculty adviser for the paper has to okay any edition before it goes to press. I assume their faculty adviser approved running the story. Given that, I can’t see faulting the kids.

        • Other Bill

          Not sure it’s such a bright line. Kids in the A/V club run projectors and show movies. Kids in the car club work on and drive cars. Kids in the science club do experiments. Kids in the debate club debate. Kids in 4-H raise livestock. Since Watergate, everybody’s Woodward and Bernstein.

      • So, you’re saying they should have turned over their story to the for-profit local newspaper? (They had already taken the information to the school board and attempted to clear the information directly with the new-hire…to no avail.)

        Up until that point, they had only been working on a new faculty profile for their school paper, which was ethical and within the framework of their class and their mission. Your point is what? That it’s unethical to continue a supervised journalism activity because you stumbled on something scandalous? I think that’s why the faculty supervision is there.

        Are you saying students in the medical club can’t take each other’s blood pressure or listen to each other’s hearts? Or they can only do that if they don’t uncover any heart disease and if they do, don’t mention it to anybody because they’re probably wrong.

        Students in the law club can’t listen to someone’s story and think about how the law might apply? Or they can, but if they do any research, they can’t share that research with the storyteller to go get legal aide.

        This post has me flummoxed.

        • The phrase that comes to mind is “hard cases make bad law.” Because the Board was irresponsible, everyone is claiming it is a good thing for students to be vetting employees. Don’t focus on whether in this weird case it turned out to be a good thing on balance. The kids aren’t journalists. They are not responsible. Scooby-Doo is fun and all that, but the line has to be drawn hard. They went rogue.

          I can’t find a reference that says they brought their concerns to the Board before going Woodward and Bernstein, and I’m curious what “for profit” has to do with anything. The issues are order, roles, limits, and precedence.

          The terrorist scenario is like the ticking bomb argument for torture. Yes, there are always exceptions that make it easy to rationalize unethical conduct.

          • http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/04/05/522747377/student-newspapers-fact-check-results-in-new-principals-resignation

            The high school newspaper was preparing a feature article about the new principal when reporters found the irregularities. They brought their concerns to the school district and were encouraged to contact Robertson directly — so that’s what they did, in a conference call that included Smith and the head of the school board.

            “During the call, Robertson presented incomplete answers, conflicting dates and inconsistencies in her responses,” the newspaper reports.

            “The extensive amount of research that we had done really didn’t line up with what she said was true on her end,” Gina Mathew, a junior at Pittsburg High, tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers. Mathew was one of the six reporters who led the paper’s investigation.

          • I still don’t see it. There is no law that say only fully sanctioned journalists are allowed to look up people’s public information and comment on it. It’s not like they hacked someone to get this information, bribed anyone, stole it, or any of the sort. This was easily obtained information that you could get with a google search. Not only that, they were doing it in the process of learning about journalism. It’s what they should be doing in a journalism setting (class, club, school paper, whatever).

            What if this was a parent who looked it up and wrote about it? Would that still be unethical? Is there still an issue then? If not, what is the difference to it? I don’t see how the fact they were teenagers makes any difference to their capabilities, provided they did not go about this with malicious intent.

            No one should be looking up damaging information for that purpose. I have yet to see anyone suggest they were doing that though. This argument in this case to me seems to fall under the “some teenagers may abuse it, so all of them should be restricted from doing it”.

            • Chris

              Heck, Steven, I think that even if a kid posted this information on Twitter or Instagram it wouldn’t be unethical. If anything, going through a journalistic process was even better.

            • “I still don’t see it. There is no law that say only fully sanctioned journalists are allowed to look up people’s public information and comment on it. It’s not like they hacked someone to get this information, bribed anyone, stole it, or any of the sort.”

              The blog is called Ethics Alarms.

              “What if this was a parent who looked it up and wrote about it?”

              I can’t believe the child/adult; student/school dichotomies puzzle you so. Adults can do it; in fact, they have a duty to oversee the bureaucrats to who the entrust their children.

              • I know it is, and I’ve agreed with the vast majority of your posts. I just don’t see how this is unethical or what they did is.

                That exactly is what puzzles me. I can see student/school to some extent, it’s somewhat similar to employee/employer. Though not really, as in many places there are limits to where a student can go to public school. (You’re zoned to a place, and you’re basically stuck with it without paying private school).

                As for as adult/child, there IS no difference. Just because an adult does something, doesn’t make it right, or fine, or without any problem. But then if a teenager does it, it’s wrong, or unethical. That frankly smacks completely of ageist biasness. There is no magic switch at 18 where a person suddenly has knowledge, ethics, morals, rights, etc thrust into them that were lacking before. Actions, intentions, abilities are what drives much of these things. I have not seen any actual procedure the students did, that if performed by an adult, would have been seen as outrageously wrong. In fact they did a better job of many “professional” journalists. You can’t just shout “teenagers”, or “playing” journalists and scooby-doo without sounding completely bias against them and tainting the judgement of their capabilities. Show me what process they did wrong as a functioning person and I will completely agree they did something they shouldn’t. Their birth certificate is not it though.

                With the rise in Alzheimers in older people, would you be in favor of a statement that said something like “Any senior over 70 cannot be trusted to speak, think, or do anything ethically, or morally, or without biasness. As they may not have the mental faculties to do so”. No, of course not. It’s ridiculous. What you’re doing is no different. Except they’re teenagers instead.

              • Chris

                The blog is called Ethics Alarms.

                True. Steven’s comment would have been clearer if he had said “There is no ethical principle that says only fully sanctioned journalists are allowed to look up people’s public information and comment on it.” But he’s right either way; doing so doesn’t violate either law or ethics.

                You are right that adults have a duty to oversee school faculty. That students do not have this duty does not mean they don’t have a right to look into the background of their faculty, and to share relevant information.

                Would you consider a students’ actions unethical if they had published this information on social media instead? If they had just spread it through word of mouth? Or is it the legitimization through a school newspaper that bothers you?

      • JutGory

        Those are bad analogies. Doctors and lawyers are licensed and they are licensed to protect to public. Journalists are not licensed, even if the have an ethical code. There are several reasons they are not licensed. One thing that distinguishes them from doctors and lawyers is that bad journalism can be refressed through defamation law and journalism rarely causes prejudicial harm.
        Bad analogy.
        -Jut

        • You can’t license journalists. First amendment. That doesn’t mean that what they do doesn’t take the same amount of training and skill to do right, or isn’t as important to the public as accountancy or law. Arguably, as we have seen, it’s MORE important. Licensing is related to trade controls as much as public safety: the lack of license requirements is an argument to be more concerned about untrained amateurs, not less.

  6. Emily

    I’m not sure I can get behind your argument that this is unethical because they’re teenagers; they’re supposed to be learning to make ethical decisions by making them under the supervision of an adult. If they had investigated and uncovered corruption in a totally unrelated situation — say the head of the local public library instead of the principal — this would be a great example of kids learning investigative reporting. Which is exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.

    But I think (correct me if I’m wrong) what you’re pointing out is a conflict of interest: a situation where the journalists might appear to have a vested interest in bringing down specific targets, which might call into question their tactics, the newsworthiness of their findings, and of course promote bias the final article.

    That’s something that their teacher absolutely should have talked to them about, and suggested as a reason to pass the investigation off to a disinterested third party. But I think we can look at the state of journalism today and see why that wasn’t going to happen, and what we get as a result.

    • 1. The adult who was supposed to be supervising them recused, so they had no supervision.
      2. Amateurs/rogues/vigilantes/children
      3. No, this is practicing investigative reporting out of the proper context, and before they have learned its proper place and limits. see #2.
      4. Yes, they have a conflict, but we don’t get to that, because they have no appropriate role to be conflicted in.
      5. “But I think we can look at the state of journalism today and see why that wasn’t going to happen, and what we get as a result.” Nonetheless, professional journalists are still more trustworthy than teenagers playing journalist.

      • Chris

        Journalists are trustworthy if they produce trustworthy journalism. That is what these students did. Their age does not inherently make them untrustworthy; presumably they are getting an education in journalism, which is more than you can say for many journalists, not all of whom studied the practice formally. It’s possible these students have been taught more about the proper place and limits of investigative journalism than many prominent journalists working today.

        I don’t know if I buy the “conflict of interest” argument; should a newspaper reporter not write a critical story of the owner of their paper? Isn’t it unethical to refuse to run a legitimate story because it hurts the interest of one’s superior? Is it only unethical to write the story if the reporter doesn’t like the owner?

        • Emily

          “I don’t know if I buy the “conflict of interest” argument; should a newspaper reporter not write a critical story of the owner of their paper? Isn’t it unethical to refuse to run a legitimate story because it hurts the interest of one’s superior? Is it only unethical to write the story if the reporter doesn’t like the owner?”

          I think in professional journalism there’s no reason to think that the journalists might dislike the owner but be powerless to leave the professional relationship unless they ruin him. There is reason to think that high school students might be in that position.

          Which is not to say that these particular students had anything against this principal, or that you might not have a reporter who would be better off if his editor or publisher was publicly ruined. But the appearance in the first case is that there might be ulterior motives, and Jack was correct that this could lead to a bunch of “investigations” of unpopular teachers and administrators, while in the latter case the appearance is actually on the other side and professional journalists should be extremely careful reporting anything particularly glowing about their owners.

        • “I don’t know if I buy the “conflict of interest” argument; should a newspaper reporter not write a critical story of the owner of their paper?”

          If the purpose is to settle a personal vendetta? Fox news should cover Bill O’Reilly’s problems, but reporters who are feuding with him are conflicted. Employees and employers are not per se adversarial. Students and administration, though?

          • Chris

            Students and administration are not per se adversarial either. Generally speaking, I’d say students in a journalism class are less likely to have an adversarial relationship with faculty than other students, since it’s typically an elective that takes higher achieving students. At least in my experience.

  7. Wayne

    It’s really the Kansas Department of Education credentialing office responsibility to vet this principal’s credentials. How are the superintendent assistants going to know whether whether Corllins University is accredited or not? As far as the Board of Education, God only knows what their educational background is and they’re probably just rubber stamped the superintendent’s recommendation to hire.

    • Other Bill

      Wayne, if a resume with Corllins University came across your desk, it wouldn’t raise your eyebrow? Corllins? CoRllins? Masters and DOCTORATE? I think that’s a smoking gun.

      • Wayne

        For me it would be. However, the superindent’s assistants are probably involved with setting up a production of “The Wiz” at one of the local high schools.

    • iiTime

      The Board of Education, the Superintendent and the interview committee did their jobs as part of the hiring process. The Board of Education offers the position contingent upon the ability of the applicant to obtain a state license. The Kansas State Department of Education verifies the educator’s credentials as part of the licensure and the Board of Education rightly relies on that authority and naturally expects the applicant to be truthful in her presentation as the applicant would be rejected when she could not obtain licensure. There are also likely criminal implications to knowingly submitting false information to the State on the licensure application. If anything the interview committee suffered embarrassment at being hoodwinked. The applicant’s deception would have been exposed without the students doxing her. The students should not have been permitted to publish the article. The applicant could never fully recover her reputation if the students were mistaken. The applicant could have committed suicide or an act of violence as a result of public exposure as can easily happen given human nature. The journalism teacher should never have allowed her student’s to bear these responsibilities.

      • Errol

        iiTime wrote “The applicant’s deception would have been exposed without the students doxing her.”
        Really? You have more faith in how the system works than I do. It is more than likely that whichever overworked bureaucrat who’s job it was to check her credentials would not have checked thoroughly enough, relying on the School Board to have done it’s job properly.

        And also “The applicant could have committed suicide or an act of violence as a result of public exposure as can easily happen given human nature.”
        Definitely no suitable for the position of principal.

        “There are also likely criminal implications to knowingly submitting false information to the State on the licensure application.”
        I do not know what the laws in the United States say about fake resumes, but here in New Zealand I’ve heard of at least one person going to jail for fraud for using a fake resume.

  8. Confession: This is one of the posts that I might have made an ethics quiz if everyone didn’t reflexively cheer the kids without thinking very hard. I can see the other side, but I think it is dangerous, and typical, that nobody sees the ethics excesses here. As long as no one can see the danger of this slippery slope, I’ll keep pointing it out.

    • Rich in CT

      The issue I see is that you recommend punishing the students to send a message, when that message sounds censorious. What are the students to do when they stumble across compromising information?

      • Chris

        Somehow I completely missed the recommendation for disciplining the students. That would be a huge free speech violation, Jack, and reveals an authoritarian bias, something I’ve been noticing recently with you but have felt shy about articulating.

        • I’d like to see you articulate that. Otherwise it sounds like an unjustifiable smear.

          • Chris

            Jack is a “law and order” conservative. His rigidity on illegal immigration, his insistence that the office of the president demands more respect than Trump has earned, his relative willingness to call people “racist” when they are minorities or challenge the status quo compared to when they are a member of a majority class in power, his defense of the travel ban, his views on drug policy, this…all paint a picture of an authoritarian bias. I googled the word to make sure I’m using it right; the first definition describes Jack to a tee.

            I’m not even necessarily saying this is a bad thing; Jack often makes good points that we need to have more respect for the law, and that liberals are failing to exemplify that. But it is a bias–we all have them–and in some cases biases point you in the right direction, and in some cases they don’t. This is a case where this bias is not.

    • I agree it is a slippery slope. Cheering someone for what they did because they’re kids, is just as bad (maybe worse) then condemning for it. You don’t want to have teenagers (or even younger) thinking they can go searching for things about someone they don’t like, and hearing about a situation may give them the thought process to do so. That doesn’t make what the original ones did wrong though. No one should be trying to search for things on a malicious, revenge method. Child or adult. Those that do should be pointed out and punished for it. I just don’t see that being the case in this situation.

    • JutGory

      As long as no one sees the danger of the slippery slope.

      Wait! A slippery slope is an informal fallacy, Jack.

      Are you seriously complaining that your readers are not agreeing with you because they are failing to rely on the fallacies you are.

      These students do not appear to have had an actual conflict of interest (and don’t pretend they have ethical duties if you have complained that they have none) and there is nothing to suggest this was a vendetta. Doing something right is right, regardless of whether someone else will use your righteous act to justify an unrighteous act.

      (Disclaimer: there may be facts that show the students acted improperly in the role they had, but I don’t think those have been addressed. )

      -Jut

      • A slippery slope is not a fallacy; it can be used as one when the slope isn’t really slippery, and it is exaggerated. “The slippery slope” is also a valid criticism, as when an extraordinary precedent is created. We just saw the results of a slippery slope today: the moment Harry Reid used the nuclear option in 2013, commentators declared that this was a step down a slippery slope, and indeed it was. Where in the world did you get the idea that slippery slopes were a myth? Not from me!

        These students do not appear to have had an actual conflict of interest

        I didn’t make a conflict argument. I explored the idea when it was raised by someone else.

        (and don’t pretend they have ethical duties if you have complained that they have none)

        Dumb comment. A conflict of interest is just a source of bias. A 5 year old can have a conflict of interest. Second, when students wrongly assume professional duties that they in fact don’t have, they also assume the obligations of the role wrongly assumed—like teh duty to avoid conflicts and the appearance of impropriety. Think half the students involved could correctly explain those concepts? I’d take that bet.

        “Doing something right is right, regardless of whether someone else will use your righteous act to justify an unrighteous act.”

        Now THAT’s a rationalization for chaos. The right people are charged with doing certain rights. Should citizens try to tackle bank robbers, or should they let the police do it?

        • Chris

          But Jack, citizens take on the jobs of journalists all the time. You do it. What are bloggers if not alternative journalists?

          There is a bright line between who is allowed to arrest and detain people and who isn’t. There is no such line between who is allowed to research and report facts about people. The line does not exist.

          • I am not a journalist. In rare circumstances…maybe a handful in 7500 posts, I break new information. I use secondary information, or my own experiences to discuss one aspect of them. I am also an adult, a college grad, a Government major, published, and a lawyer. If I published this blog when I was 16 years old, 1) I would have just been shooting off my metaphorical mouth without credentials or sufficient knowledge, and 2) I would have done some tangible harm.

            • Chris

              If I published this blog when I was 16 years old, 1) I would have just been shooting off my metaphorical mouth without credentials or sufficient knowledge, and 2) I would have done some tangible harm.

              These students were not just shooting off their mouth, and they did have sufficient knowledge to publish the piece in question. Neither a blog nor a high school newspaper require any “credentials.”

              I would have done some tangible harm.

              Possibly. But these students did not do any tangible harm.

        • JutGory

          Jack, this is a perfect example of why you rationalization list is a bunch of hooey (Hooey, I say!). So many of your rationalization can be actual ratiinalizationss. They can also be legitimate tools of analysis. You seem incapapable of acknowledging that. (E.g It is what it is is a legitimate explanation in certain contexts.). But, when you invoke a common fallacy, suddenly, you have the discernment of Solomon. This is the area where bias makes you stupid, and you are always biased in favor of your own biases.

          By the way, I still think you are wrong. You are invoking the slippery slope for students who did nothing wrong (as far as I can tell, from what I know), because of what some malevolent students might do in the future if this behavior is sanctioned. That is a slippery slope, whether you agree or not.
          -Jut

          • Huh? In every case where a rationalization doubles as a legit justification, I have said so. I just did regarding slippery slopes. Even #1,everybody does it, can be a legitimate and ethical justification when everyone really DOES do it, and the culture has decided that the conduct is ethical. That doesn’t mean that EDI isn’t a rationalization as most people use it.

            I bet you can handle the dual identities of these concepts. I have faith in you.

            HOOEY? Phooey!

  9. I can buy it starting with a puff piece, our school paper had limited access to information except from the horse’s mouth. And once something juicy was found, there’s bound to be someone starry eyed enough to go after it like a terrier wanting to emulate respected real or fictional reporters goign back many decades.

    The problem was how it was handled after the piece was reasonably complete enough to have corroborating evidence. If they were adult reporters, finding this info about someone in a place of trust and not wilting to political pressure has been valued. But they’re not, and they’re not allowed anything liek the protections adult journalists have. Here the judgement of the Advisor and smarter senior student editors should rein in any impulses to hysteria or lynch mobs for any topic.

    Once the results of the research were clear, there is no clear path. Anyone getting a job in position of respect though fraud SHOULD be called out. I see this as a second cousin of the naked teacher rule. Any HS educator better make sure their public record is squeaky clean and any weak spots are admitted going in..

    Students seeming to bay after a teacher/administrator sets a bad precedent. They should not be lauded and made celebrities, because this is not a happy thing. Taking pleasure in removing him shows your pettiness. Not publishing is jest as bad as publishing, it’s the echo chamber that years for more stories to make a mark on the news/tainment sphere I hold most at fault. This kind of scandal SHOULD have stayed lo local to city/county and professional trade journals. If it stayed local, the kids preening would have faded away as it should.

  10. Rich in CT

    http://www.corllinsuniversity.org/

    Note the “.ORG”.

    It is also accredited by the “Accreditation Panel” and the “Global Accreditation Bureau”.

    In a world full of “Fake News”, these should raise questions. When students themselves are thinking about college, they need to ask adults if these things are legit. They could end up paying $75 a credit for nothing.

    These companies create an intricate web of lies that would make the Russians blush. Diploma mills have affiliated Accreditation mills, that accredit unaffiliated diploma mills, that reciprocate by accrediting them in return.

    This is an ethics fiasco, and it is entirely the Principal’s making. No student should have to discover their principal has a bogus degree. They also cannot be told to shut up, because they have a vested interest

    I used to work in a school, so I personally know the need for boundaries between students and faculty. Yet I’ve also seen first hand why student’s need to be vigilante. One school I worked at had a creep that was looking down student’s shirts. Students complained and nothing happened. It took the frickin’ FBI to get him out of the school (for tangentially related reasons).

    When I was a high school student, female acquaintances asked me what to do about a teacher who clearly flirted with his favorites. I had no fricking idea. Yet he taught for years and years, before getting the can for commenting when a student ate a banana.

    As a former idiot high schooler, I concur that students should not be snooping around in their teacher’s business; as a former educator, I concur very strongly. But as both, I have first hand knowledge that schools are just not as safe as they should be, and punishing students that have zero tools to navigate this morass is counter productive, if not dangerous.

    Maybe, just maybe, if REAL journalists knew proportion they would not so heavily promote the story, outside of the district it occurred at least. It is germane to the town that the principal resigned over a bogus degree. It is even germane how it occurred.

    Actively encouraging other students to emulate by showering them with media attention is not healthy, but punishing them for digging when they hit uncertain information, appears to be far too close to punishing the student that took the self-injuring student’s knife directly to the principal. It sends a chilling message to other students that reporting faculty misconduct of any sort is verbote.

  11. I also do not see anything wrong with the students’ actions, for the reasons neatly stated by others.

    To narrow down the real disagreement here, let’s consider similar scenarios and see which ones we agree on and which ones we disagree on.

    Current situation: We stipulate for the sake of argument that the students were working on research for a routine article about an administrator. In the normal course of research, they discovered that the administrator’s credentials were false. They submit this to the attention of the board, which does nothing. Because it is not only the letter of the assignment, but also because they are owed by the board to have credentialed administration, they publish the information with the supervision and approval of their journalism teacher.

    Alternative situation 1: A parent is doing research and discovers the fraud, and submits it to the board. Nothing happens, so the parent takes it to a local adult newspaper.

    Alternative situation 2: A random adult with no kids does the same thing as the person in situation 1.

    Alternative situation 3: The students discover the information and submit it to the board, but when nothing happens they get their parents to sue the school.

    There are too many variations on situation 3 (posting on social media, staging a protest, et cetera), and they are insufficiently distinct from each other. Therefore, I’ll condense them into a single question: What ethical courses of action are available to students who find that the education system they are forced to participate in is effectively defrauding them and not being held accountable?

  12. iiTime

    An ethical train wreck, not. The new principal directly affects these high school students and exposing her fraud is entirely appropriate and ethical. These students took positive action to protect themselves and their classmates. Would it have been unethical for these students to expose a child rapist who slips through the hiring process and is now poised to prey upon the students? This is the same principle at work. The fraudulent hire in a power position could have wrecked the acedemic careers of many students causing untold harm. Save your pious unethical train wreck; this was a train wreck avoided.

    • The new principal directly affects these high school students and exposing her fraud is entirely appropriate and ethical.

      Then we should encourage kids to so gotcha! investigations on all adults in their lives, then. I’m sure some would uncover real dirt. Have someone explain what is meant by “the ends don’t justify the means for you”—I did, but obviously it didn’t take.

      “Would it have been unethical for these students to expose a child rapist who slips through the hiring process and is now poised to prey upon the students?”

      See, the system is that when we suspect such things, we report them to trained professionals whose job it is to investigate and take action, not have students amassing dirt on adults. While you are puzzling this out, tell me what is the likely harm that is going to come to students because a principal has a fake credential. She didn’t deserve the job, but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t or won’t do it, or that the kids are in any jeopardy at all. I have no idea whether the credentials of my teachers were bogus or not. Do you? Did that lack of knowledge place me at risk?

      You are using hyping and exaggeration to make the ends more vital than they are, and minimizing the ethical problem with the means. In other words, rigging the argument.

      • iiTime

        Then we should encourage kids to go gotcha! investigations on all adults in their lives, then… I concede that encouraging kids to dox their teacher and others is wrong and on their own kids do dox their teachers uncovering pasts that really should be allowed to stay covered. In this instance the means was a routine school assignment and not unethical. Responsibility for publishing the information lies with the teacher who should have exercised some discretion. The teacher should have pressed the matter with administration but that entails a degree of risk, maybe a large degree of risk in a small community.

        “Would it have been unethical for these students to expose a child rapist who slips through the hiring process and is now poised to prey upon the students?” Guess I need to answer my own question. What if the students were mistaken? What if someone had published vicious lies on a “seemingly” legitimate web site? What if the principal had been indicted, tried and completely exonerated but the students only found the indicted part of the story? What if the students were not very good sleuths? If the story is published in the school newspaper where would the principal go to regain her reputation? How could the students fix it (couldn’t)? The students uncovered troubling inconsistencies during a legitimate class assignment; I see no ethical misstep. Again, the teacher should not have permitted the story to run in the school newspaper and should have raised the issue with administration. The teacher could have taken the opportunity to talk about ethics with the students while killing the publication. The ethical misstep is by the teacher not the students. Could the teacher have exercised some directed guidance on the students when the in-house candidate was bypassed for promotion? Hmmm…

        I suppose a principal who gains her position with fake credentials, false statements and a fake consulting firm could be a a marvelous hire but it is unlikely. It is more likely the school would have a year of chaos and likely continued unethical behavior by the principal. Students generally get one crack at each grade, a fraud at the top could do great harm but any specifics would just be speculation. There are good teachers who lack credentials and bad teachers with credentials. The fake credentials and false statements expose the principal as entirely unsuited for a position of responsibility within the school.

        I am hyping and exaggerating the issue to find where the ethics lead in the extreme.

        • (I appreciate your comments on this post, as well as their tone, and they are exactly what I had hoped the issue would provoke.)

          “In this instance the means was a routine school assignment”

          Check the Post’s quotes. They students worked over their vacation on this. This was not routines. They smelled blood in the water, and the blood was their own supervisor.

          • iiTime

            The principal was hired 3/6/2017. The school article was a “routine assignment” for the journalism class and I suppose past “meet the new teacher/principal” articles were swell. The students had a break from 3/17 until 3/26 and students absolutely work on projects outside of school. I did not see a problem until I read a student quote “She was going to be the head of our school, and we wanted be assured that she was qualified and had the proper credentials. We stumbled on some things that most might not consider legitimate credentials.” Yikes! I do not know if the students planned to dox the principal or if the quote is just puffery from a student wanting to make himself sound prescient.

            The board relies on the word of the applicant initially but the principal cannot start without state licensure. The state board verifies credentials including Bachelor’s degree from accredited college or university, completion of a state-approved teacher program, recency and other requirements. However the board should require verifications be sent directly to the board but does not. It permits the applicant to send the “official transcript” which is an invitation to fraud. Maybe the principal would not have been caught.

  13. Jack – you’ve stated that this was moral luck. That if the new-hire’s alma mater had been an accredited institution (no scandal) that we’d see things differently. So let’s stipulate that. In that scenario, I fail to see how moral luck applies. If there was nothing scandalous, they would have completed their profile of the incoming principal and no one would have noticed the school paper and everyone would have completed their journalism assignment/course. Where’s the moral luck here? What is unethical about doing a profile of new faculty and staff so students can get to know about the new faces on campus?

    You’ve gone on to say that students and teenagers are not capable of doing what adults and professionals are capable of doing. That’s simply ageism baloney. I hate to admit it, but my most successful years in my life came from high school. It’s been down hill since. If they take the time, report the facts, don’t create unnecessary hoopla, then they’ve done the job. Do you really believe kids can’t look at two sources and articulate for a reader what the differences are and what those differences might mean?

    “We interviewed her and she said X.”
    “We looked at some primary sources and they said Y.”
    “We think this requires further attention because there is discrepancy.”

    If HS kids can’t do that, then I truly fear for our public education system. However, they can and they don’t need to be undermined when they get it right. For them, I say “Welcome to the adult world. Some of you are already 18 and could be drafted into a war. I trust you to make good judgements and adult decisions because others will tell you that you’re too young and your opinions will never matter. You can’t be coddled forever. It’s time to grow up and step out into your own.” (I’m on mobile and presume this was HS and not Junior High. But I don’t feel confident in checking without losing the content of my comment.)

    • Jack – you’ve stated that this was moral luck. That if the new-hire’s alma mater had been an accredited institution (no scandal) that we’d see things differently. So let’s stipulate that. In that scenario, I fail to see how moral luck applies. If there was nothing scandalous, they would have completed their profile of the incoming principal and no one would have noticed the school paper and everyone would have completed their journalism assignment/course. Where’s the moral luck here? What is unethical about doing a profile of new faculty and staff so students can get to know about the new faces on campus?

      What? What they did went way, way beyond any legitimate profile. The moral luck is that their invasive, excessive, privacy-invading, ultra- vires, non-consented to investigation found out that she was a fraud, rather than finding out that she was, say, a transexual, a former legal prostitute in Nevada or in the witness protection program. Then what is the likelihood that these students would have avoided leaking the sensational discoveries with great destruction resulting? What if the school board knew all about the questionable school, and were so impressed that they hired her anyway? Then the students would hijack the hiring process.

      You’ve gone on to say that students and teenagers are not capable of doing what adults and professionals are capable of doing. That’s simply ageism baloney.

      You’ve got to be kidding. Watched too much Doogie Howser, did you? Gee, why do we have school at all, then? We know teenagers brains are not fully mature, that they are prone to impulsive judgment; that they have not had the benefit of experience or training, but you say suggesting that they cannot and should not be trusted in professional capacities is bias? Come on.

      • How is verifying the existence of an institution that is a listed credential in the school district’s press release 1) invasive 2) excessive, 3) privacy-invading? How is taking publicized information about educational pedigree and learning more about that institution of higher learning “way beyond any legitimate profile“?

        non-consented to investigation Really? Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should really point out the various investigations that they haven’t consented to. But hey, in this situation, we have a newly hired principal WHO DID CONSENT to an interview, and gave said interview while the faculty adviser and the head of the school board were present.

        You say it’s moral luck that they didn’t come across more salacious details about the new hire? Explain to me (maybe at a kindergarten level) how trying to learn more about the existence of a fake higher ed institution could have lead to such discovery? That wouldn’t have been moral luck, that would have been a Bizarro World. I know, how about this to support your claim:

        “In checking to see if Corllins University was real, they found out that it was actually a brothel where snuff films were routinely created.” Wow. Yeah, that would have been crazy. Still don’t see how that’s an invasion of privacy or how doing a Google search on the name of the institution is way beyond a simple profile. Your consequentialism of “They might find something really bad.” is an excuse to never learn or do anything. We can’t anticipate the trials and tribulations that life will throw our way. We have to take life as it comes to us. These kids were living life, doing a routine profile that was sanctioned, expected, and within their capabilities and it escalated, innocently, to “does this institute of higher learning exist”. Moral luck requires us to deem their initial-state (their starting point) as unethical. I refuse to believe that writing and researching a journalism assignment for a school newspaper is unethical.

        For a refresher:
        Moral luck is when two equally drunk people drive home from the bar. One arrives home safely and the other kills a pedestrian. Both were unethical because they were drunk drivers, one was just unlucky in the result.

        What if the school board knew all about the questionable school, and were so impressed that they hired her anyway?

        If that were the case, why didn’t they say so? Why did she resign? Are you saying with all of their life experience that they don’t know how to weather the storm of a school newspaper?

        • Chris

          As Tim points out, this is neither moral luck nor privacy-invading. The students did not find ways to circumvent the principal’s privacy settings on social media. They literally just Googled the school she said she attended. That is not an invasion of privacy, nor is it doxxing.

          If the students had stumbled across information she was a former prostitute, transexual, or member of the witness protection program, then it would be unethical to publish such information, but it would not be unethical to stumble across it in the course of the fact-finding these students engaged in. You actually seem to be using an inverse of the “moral luck” argument yourself, Jack–the actions of the students were not inherently unethical, but you’re arguing that they are because of potentially embarrassing things they could have found out because of their actions. What should that be called? “Moral unluckiness?”

  14. Keith Walker

    Call me an asshole, but I have to wonder, based on your complete dislike of the public school system that you have so often reminded us of, if your opinion of these students would have been different if they’d been from a for-profit charter school. But in all honesty, I can at least see a little of your side here, Jack. I’m going about 75-25 against you at the moment, mostly because I can see the idea of every HS newspaper in the country now sending FOIA requests to their central offices just to dig up dirt. I recall, though, a similar situation from 15 or so years ago when George O’Leary was hired at Notre Dame. Some random journalist doing a background story on “local boy makes good” discovered the lies O’Leary had told on his resume, and five days later George was done. If that had been uncovered by the student news at ND, is it wrong for them to have printed it? For now, based on my 30 years as a *gasp* public school teacher, I’m giving the benefit of the doubt to the journalism teacher, who probably asked plenty of questions to admin or board members before running with this story.

    • I was thinking the same thing, Keith. Maybe what is so irritating about this story, is that journalism students being educated in a public school are actually being taught to be curious, thorough and factual in their reporting, contradicting the narrative expressed so often that public education is going down the toilet.

    • Call me an asshole, but I have to wonder, based on your complete dislike of the public school system that you have so often reminded us of, if your opinion of these students would have been different if they’d been from a for-profit charter school.

      I won’t call you an asshole, but no, that would have no affect on my position at all. As I already wrote, this one was mostly sparked by the knee-jerk praise the students got, with literally nobody noticing the ethical problems with their conduct. If you want to question my biases, that’s the route: if everyone was condemning the kids based on the post’s reasoning, might I have taken the position that on balance what they did was admirable? I don’t know, to be honest. I am by nature a contrarian.

  15. Eternal optometrist

    If I was getting beat up by thugs and they alerted the police to no avail, I don’t think it would be unethical for them to help me out. Yes, they are teenagers and no, they are not law enforcement officers, and yes, it might encourage vigilantism in the future by teens not assessing the situation correctly. But if grandma had balls she would be grandpa. Under these facts, what the kids did was ethical.

    If you’ve never done so, read some articles about the Beverly Hills supper club fire in Cincinnati in the 1970’s. The hero was a 15 year old busboy. A Teenager and not a fireman. Maybe it’s not good under all circumstances to have a 15 year old busboy order the evacuation of a dining room from the stage. I bet the survivors were glad he did he did though.

    • I would say that’s a completely irrelevant analogy. It would be a better analogy if he took it upon himself to check for fire hazards and started shouting FIRE! before any fire broke out and before alerting the management or the fire department.

      • Chris

        How is that analogy better? The students didn’t publish the information before they had all the facts (“started shouting FIRE! before any fire broke out”) and they *did* alert the authorities before taking action.

        • Fire breaking out=misconduct by the principal on the job.

          Where do you see that the students alerted the Board to their incidental concerns before doing extensive investigative reporting on the woman?

          • Chris

            Fire breaking out=misconduct by the principal on the job.

            A principal lying about her credential IS misconduct by the principal on the job.

            Where do you see that the students alerted the Board to their incidental concerns before doing extensive investigative reporting on the woman?

            They did not need to. To go back to your analogy, doing investigative reporting on her would be the equivalent of the busboy making sure that the restaurant had appropriate fire safety precautions in place. There is nothing wrong with that.

            • janpchapman

              As has been pointed out earlier in the thread, the students DID go to the administration and were told to pursue their questioning directly with the principal, in a conference call including the advisor and the head of the school board. The call only raised more questions, which led to the “digging,” or what most would call journalism.

      • Again, sorting the analogy to your view. If we lay the analogy properly to this situation, it’s this:

        He was told by the chef to check for fire hazards. In doing so, he found a fire in the store room. The chef brought it to the owner’s attention and the owner sat down with the busboy and chef to see if the fire was supposed to be there. The owner then went out to the dining room to tell the guests that everything was fine. The busboy with the Chef’s permission then took to the stage to tell everyone that there was a fire in the store room and the owner met privately with the fire, and the fire no longer felt welcome and put itself out.

        • Who told the kids to dig behind the official resume? Surely not the advisor, who was involved in the hiring process.

          If the advisor was behind the investigation, then you raise a completely new issue: was the advisor a loser/dissident in the discussion whether to hire, and used the students to undermine her own board’s decision? If so, the students are blameless, and were exploited by the advisor. Which, now that you mention it, seems very plausible.

          • There was no digging. This is an entirely superficial, on the surface, verification of basic facts. If the press release literally said “DumbAss NotAReal University” you would still have a problem with the students fact checking the existence of that university called “DumbAss NotAReal”? That’s digging to you?

            And the analogy isn’t to say they were told to dig. They were told to do a job, a basic profile of new administration. What’s unethical about that?

            • “There was no digging.”

              Really?

              From the Post story—which I read AFTER my post used the term “digging”:

              The students began digging into a weeks-long investigation that would result in an article published Friday questioning the legitimacy of the principal’s degrees and of her work as an education consultant.

              • Okay, there’s digging. But it didn’t start with digging. It started with a profile and a basic fact check. That lead to digging. But the digging is not the motive, it’s the result. There is a difference.

          • Chris

            If the advisor was behind the investigation, then you raise a completely new issue: was the advisor a loser/dissident in the discussion whether to hire, and used the students to undermine her own board’s decision? If so, the students are blameless, and were exploited by the advisor. Which, now that you mention it, seems very plausible.

            Sure, but also entirely speculative. If this is the case, then the advisor acted with unethical intent. But since we have no reason to believe that is the case, other than your bias against public school teachers, there is no reason at the time to conclude that this investigation was unethical.

  16. Sam

    I read through all the comments and I think I can see both sides.
    I understand where you are coming from Jack. This is quite similar to the vigilantes dilemma. If batman saves people he is good. Yet if his actions outside both societal control and legal remit encourage others to do the same it makes a sham of Batman’s actions.

    If we look at the students actions through this scope I can see the dangers, especially in today’s world where we lionise civilian actions of justice. While yes the outcomes of this particular situation worked out the ” baddie” so to speak was caught out. Yet if we look at how people are actually communicating this message, it has dangerous implications it is venerating the individual action of students to remove an elected official of their school ( yes unqualified I know). The MSM will advertise this as a triumph and a good thing, teenagers and college students will look at these news articles and take the cue that they should do the same if they personal feel their teacher, lecturer , principal etc, is a bad apple. The issue here is not about moral right or wrong its about its perception.

    I have read alot of comments on jacks blog and I can say confidently we all have a strong grasp of right and wrong both in personal context and a universal one. Hence we know what moral and ideological pitfalls to avoid when we interpret this particular story. I strongly believe that will not be the case for every person who reads this story and as such Jacks concerns are valid. In an ideal world those kids should never have being put in the situation where they had to discredit their principal and I believe an ideal world is what ethics and morality represents. The Media should spend less time positively reporting the actions of the students and instead blast the adults who forced those kids to be judge and jury for the unqualified principal

  17. Jack wrote: “A group of students decided to see if they could dig up dirt on their principal.”

    If this were the case, I would be supportive of Jack and his thesis. As it stands, his thesis is based on a fiction.

    • That clarified things for me. So, then, the question is this: If you find yourself the only one who can right a wrong or save the day, but you’re not the person officially designated for that purpose and may not be qualified, do you act and be done with it, or do you do nothing because you don’t want to encourage unqualified people to seek out glory or try to be a hero that they don’t know how to be? At some point, the onus is on kids not to try this at home.

      Of course, before asking that question, the maxim a person should invoke is “first, do no harm”. If a person reasonably believes they can’t make the situation worse, they can consider unqualified heroics. That would be the principle that is keeping the kids from trying it at home, by the way. In this instance, can we really say that a person blowing the whistle on a fraud that is effectively being perpetrated on them could make the situation worse?

      • sam

        The dilemma you speak of is the ideal vs reality. We as humans have only a limited perception of our actions, it is impossible for us to perceive the total consequences of our actions as they spread into the future. To a human, it is inexcusable to not save another life if you are able and it is not self-endangering. Yet if that man was a murderer, the saviour would be condemned for their actions. It’s the flaw in a human’s perspective in ethics.

        to solve this dilemma one needs to realise that while individual heroism is something that should be congratulated on a case by case basis. it is more important that we assess and understand why these situations required such unexpected heroism and try to mitigate the circumstances that cause these situations to arise in the first place.

        While vigilante heroism can be a fantastic example of civic duty and personal initiative the fact it was needed at all is what highlights the real problems.

    • I don’t know how you can say that, Tim. That’s what happened. You know, I was on my high school paper, and often criticized school officials. We also, at least once, did a Welcome! piece on a faculty member. We used the information given to us by the administration. We didn’t look for discrepancies, or check references. That was their job. If we had stumbled across something that didn’t seem right, I would have brought it to the school board’s attention: in fact, I knew the Superintendent of Schools personally. I would never have considered by-passing him.

      • How was the school board bypassed in this situation? They were in the room during the interview with the new-hire. So back to your original statement – you said they set out to dig up dirt on the new principal. You are the only one saying that without a source. Give me one source that isn’t you.

        • Our replies crossed in the mail!

          Do you want to argue that “digging” does not imply dirt?

        • Students don’t interview new staff. The School Board does….that is, in schools where lines of authority are followed.

          • Don’t confuse different meanings of “interview”. Ugh… please, just go back to your original fact: “THEY SET OUT” to dig up dirt. I won’t contest the dig part, but you state that their motivation was “TO SET OUT TO DIG”. That’s where the profile led them, not where they started.

            Here’s where I leave you (for the day) someone else will have to pick up my mantle. I’m off to the Rockies Home Opener. I know you can appreciate my priorities.

          • Chris

            “Students don’t interview new staff.”

            Student journalists absolutely do that when writing about new staff.

        • MM

          Jack- knock over your king, its over. Tim carries the field. The apprentice journalists are given an assignment to do an article to introduce the new principal. They start with the press release from the board, and one of them is curious about the degrees as they have never heard of the school. Or did the board issue a press release without proofreading it?

          A Google search or two later reveals some curious stuff about the school, so they pursue this. How is this different from asking math or physics students to prove a formula and in the development of their proof find that it doesn’t work as advertised, and work back through it to find where it went off the tracks. Or would you dismiss a diagnosis that came from a pre-med biology student who, hearing the symptoms stated, came up with some off-the-wall correlations that leads to a proper, but unsuspected diagnosis.

          I’ll give you your assessment of the school board’s vetting. There should be a thorough inquiry as to how this got this far and, if warranted, heads should roll…. and all recent hires should be reviewed to confirm that this event is a one-time thing.

          • “How is this different from asking math or physics students to prove a formula and in the development of their proof find that it doesn’t work as advertised, and work back through it to find where it went off the tracks.”

            I am happier than ever that I took this route in analyzing the episode, and your comment proves it. Real lives and careers are different from equations. This apparently didn’t occur to you or everyone else who immediately and unanimous applaud teenagers for gratuitously meddling in their own school’s management. I have laid out things they could have discovered that would have caused real, undeserved harm and damage. That means that this was an act without responsibility, exactly like amateur sleuthing, amateur medical treatment, any example where someone who is not pretends to be a professional.

            The students are part of a hierarchy with defined duties. Several hierarchies in fact, including the adult-child hierarchy that defines society. The trained and presumably skilled and responsible adults run the school and it is the students’ job to follow. Not appropriate power, but follow. What discipline they are studying does not confer special exemptions or license to take over. According to these legitimate fair and appropriate hierarchies, the students, having seen reason to question the principal’s credentials, had a duty to 1) inform the Board, through their faculty advisor and 2) accept their decision. Not undermine it, not challenge it. Boy, are the analogies I’m getting back terrible: “What if a parent did what the students did?” Gee, what’s the difference on the chart between the taxpayers to whom the School Board is subordinate, and who pay taxes to pay their salaries, and the students? The students are on the bottom, and the parents are on the top.

            from the arguments I’ve heard with unrestrained praise for “those meddling kids,” if a high school football team ignores the play called by its coach, defying his directions, and that rogue play wins the game, this is conduct to be admired.

            Nobody wants to confront the problem of precedent, which is vital in ethics analysis. This wasn’t in a vacuum: now it’s all over the culture. Just as thousands of actual journalists set out to get book deals and fame by suddenly becoming hopeful Woodward and Bernsteins, launching a trend of irresponsible and agenda-driven journalism that has contributed greatly to that profession’s decline,so this will inspire thousands of children to see if they can humiliate, aka. gain power over, their teachers and school administrators. And since these students do not have the maturity, judgment, skill, training and ethical bearings that real journalists are supposed to have, the potential for disaster is incalculable.

            Kant’s Rule of Universality is germane: To say this conduct is ethical and right, one must agree that the conduct is always ethical and right. The conduct in this case is NOT merely “checking a resume item that seems fishy,” but students, for whatever provocation, presuming to take over a management function of a school that relates to their supervisors and authority figures in that school by digging (we have agreed on that description, yes?) in to their careers and lives. What could go wrong?

            So we have:

            Children taking on the roles of adults without the skill of adults.
            Students appropriating the jobs of school officials
            Amateurs playing journalism, which is a profession involving ethical standards, conflicts and dilemmas that they are not trained or equipped to employ.

            And the culture applauding because in this case, it all worked out just peachy.

            Wrong. My king is just fine.

            • I assert that questioning professionals and holding them accountable for doing their jobs correctly is an important part of being a responsible citizen, and the only effective way to learn is by practicing both curiosity and humility. (I had the curiosity part down as a young child, but didn’t get the humility part until some years later.)

              However, I concede that it is almost always better (can’t think of any realistic exceptions offhand*) for students to loop parents into the situation and let them use their experience and (hopefully) wisdom to make the judgment call.

              How does that sound? Can we all get behind those statements?

              *Alien infiltration might be an exception, but any observed instances are more likely paranoid delusions. After all, we’re all 100% human here. *Grins.*

              • Chris

                I have laid out things they could have discovered that would have caused real, undeserved harm and damage.

                Yes, and if students had published those things, they would have been wrong. But you have not yet sufficiently explained why it would have been wrong for them to *discover* such information using the public and legal channels they utilized. Again, they did not dig through her trash. They did not hack her social media. Every source they used was public. This wasn’t “doxxing.” The students used ethical tactics to produce ethical journalism.

                The students are part of a hierarchy with defined duties.

                Well, thanks for proving my “authoritarian” comments correct.

  18. Chris

    What would be a proper punishment for these students’ speech?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s