Ethics Quiz: The Disappointed Valedictorian’s Billboard

Gary Allmon purchased the large digital billboard above on U.S. Highway 264 in Wake County, North Carolina to honor  his son, Joshua. The message was on display for 10 days through June 12, the day of East Wakefield High’s graduation ceremony.

The  school recently replaced valedictorians with the Latin honors ranking system used in colleges–summa, magna, cum—as a fairer and more accurate way to honor academic performance. Josh’s transcript shows him ranked as number one, and he felt robbed.

“It’s a stupid rule that will hurt students down the line, but it’ll accomplish their goal of making everyone feel equal,” he wrote on Twitter. He has a full scholarship to North Carolina State University to study chemical engineering. Continue reading

One Class, 114 Valedictorians….W.S. Gilbert Warned Us About This

Apparently this has been going on at Arlington, Virginia’s Washington and Lee High School, from which my niece graduated, for years.  The school calls about a third of its graduating classes “valedictorians,” so 1) the school can put it on their college applications and deceive those who haven’t connected the dots; 3) make certain the school can claim a female valedictorian, a black valedictorian, an Asian-American valedictorian, a trans valedictorian…you know, because everyone is above average, like in Lake Woebegon, and 3) the official rationalization, to eliminate competitiveness for honors among students, because life isn’t competitive.

Back when I wrote about this in June, 2010, the news was that…

In many high schools around the country, as many as fifty graduating seniors were designated “valedictorians…

Now honor inflation ins some schools is  more than double that, so this atrocious practice is obviously catching on. Integrity is such a chore. Excellence, superiority, achievement…they are all chores too.  As for the genuinely superior students, they are out of luck: this is the high school equivalent of all the gladiators standing up and crying “I’m Spartacus!,” except now it’s “I’m the smartest one in the class!” This Maoist denial of the fact that some of us earn more success than others and that there is nothing wrong with doing so is all the rage, and you can expect to hear more such ideas as the various candidates to lead the nation, one founded on the principle of personal self-determination based on ambition and enterprise, argue about how to deal with “income inequality.” Income inequality is but a subset of talent, industry, risk-taking and ability inequality…and good fortune inequality too. Might high schools sending graduates out into the world with the cuckoo concept that everyone should be regarded as equally accomplished whether they really are or not also contribute to income inequality?

Why yes, I think so. Continue reading

Bizarro World Ethics At Harvard


We will pass with little notice or comment the weird exploits of Eldo Kim, the 20-year-old Harvard University sophomore accused of emailing a bomb threat that cleared out Harvard Yard this week during exams, apparently because be wasn’t ready for his. How completely devoid of ethics does one have to be to do something like this? And how dumb! He undermines the efforts of all his fellow students who are prepared for their exams, causes fear and panic on campus, causes disruption, inconvenience and expense to the university, and all because he either didn’t study sufficiently or wasn’t prepared to fake his way through an exam like most students, all while risking arrest, trial and conviction for a serious crime that will harm his future prospects far more than any poor exam performance might. Today we learned that Kim was a psychology major studying partisan taunting. He was worried about passing an exam in partisan taunting?

Adding to the strangeness, a controversy erupted this week when veteran Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield expressed his outrage that a recent study had revealed that the most common grade given to Harvard students is A, a practice, he says (and correctly so) that penalizes genuinely outstanding students and allows slackers to slide through Old Ivy without breaking a sweat. Jeff Neal, the hapless Harvard spokesman assigned the job of spinning this revelation, confirmed the accuracy of the Mansfield’s claim, and said, maybe without giggling: Continue reading

And Speaking of Grading Ethics…




..I am reminded of a grading traumatic experience of my own, involving a famous professor whose curve was the opposite of Prof. Frölich’s.

But first, an aside. Many readers have asked my views on the weird story of  Megan Thode, the grad student who sued to have her C+ grade changed, alleging that it was the result of bias and will cost her 1.3 million dollars in lost income. The judge was understandably annoyed at having to decide the case, and has suggested a compromise between the parties to relieve him of the responsibility of perhaps having to change the grade himself. There was no good result possible here. If the school really had a bias against Megan and she could prove it, then the law suite was valid. She shouldn’t have her career disrupted because of unfair grading. If, on the other hand, her grade was within the range of proper discretion, the law suit was a threat to the education system, and had to be be fought until the last dog died. Nor should the school compromise, as it would create a system in which grades have no integrity and where anyone could buy an inflated grade by threatening court action. Ultimately, the judge decided that the grade had to stand. What I see here is an educational system on all levels collapsing from a toxic combination of warped objectives (education for monetary payoffs, not for its own sake) and a dearth of trust in the competence and integrity of the educators.

Now the story of my own disputed C+, starring the renowned Chester James Antieau. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Folly of Sacrificing Integrity to Kindness in Competitions”

Today’s Comment of the Day is on the post about using awards and honors to make the less fortunate and unqualified feel good, as Michael carries the issue into the related matter of grading:

“I run into this every semester. I can’t give anyone a C in a class. I can’t give anyone a B in a class. You have to earn it by demonstrating that you understand and can apply the relevant material. You may be the most attractive, most charitable, most loved person on the planet, but if you can’t do this work, you can’t pass. Usually, they still don’t understand, and I have to give a speech I title “What a C student does.”

“Where do my ‘C’ students go? What do ‘C’ students do after they leave? ‘A’ and ‘B’ students go to graduate school, medical, and dental school. They may hold people’s lives in their hands in their careers. But what about the ‘C’ student? Surely there is no harm in letting someone squeak by with a ‘C’? Well… they test your water to make sure it is safe. They determine what amounts of new pesticides can be used without causing harm. They run the tests that determine if you raped someone or if that really was a bag of cocaine in your car, or just some borrowed powdered sugar (as you insisted). My ‘C’ students work jobs where people die if they mess up. The ‘C’ stands for competence. If you don’t have it, you don’t get a ‘C’. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Carnage in Wisconsin: The Ethics Grades So Far”

Commenter Glenn Logan argues that President Obama’s C- Ethics Grade in the post is too high. Here is his Comment of the Day, on the post “Ethics Carnage in Wisconsin: The Ethics Grades So Far.”

“I think that Obama is getting grade inflation here. Obama was elected to lead all Americans, not just unions.

“While Walker’s position and comments may be imperfect, and Obama is certainly within his rights to disagree, it is his duty to all Americans to at least take the other side into account. Presidents who are entirely partisan are poor presidents, and in this instance, a C- is unfairly high.

“Combine that with his pronouncement to Republicans after he was elected that “Elections have consequences, and I won,” and in my view, you have an ethics train wreck.  This is as two-faced and unfair as it is possible to be, and dispatching his political organization to inject an even more partisan impact into the problem and the best grade I could give him is a D-.”

Ethics Hero: “Dancing With The Stars” Judge Bruno Tonioli

Bruno Tonioli, one of the judges on “Dancing With The Stars,” gave celebrity dance contestant Michael Bolton a lousy score for his lousy quickstep to the tune of “Hound Dog”with partner Chelsie Hightower, and reportedly Bolton’s  fellow dancing celebrities were “enraged”—especially since Tonioli said the performance was the “worst” dance he’s seen in 11 seasons. That may have been a little harsh, but not by much. His dancing was arguably not worse than, say, Tucker Carlson of a few seasons back, who never got out of a chair. Still, among past dance-challenged contestants who actually got on their feet, Bolton was about as bad as it gets. He made Kate Gosselin look like Cyd Charisse by comparison. Continue reading

Law School and High School Credential Corruption

In many high schools around the country, as many as fifty graduating seniors were designated “valedictorians,” because the traditional honor for the top academic performer is a coveted credential, and the schools wanted as many students as possible to have the benefit of it. On their future resumes, will these students footnote “valedictorian” to let potential employers know that it doesn’t mean they were #1 in their class? Of course not. Their schools have given them a license to inflate their qualifications and achievements. Until every school clones its valedictorians, the credential now is inherently deceptive, and it is the high school administrators, not the students, who are doing the deceiving.

Ah, but “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” The New York Times reported that at least ten law schools, S.M.U., New York University, Georgetown, and Tulane among them, have deliberately altered their grading curves—-some retroactively—in order to make their graduates artificially look better to employers. Continue reading

Ethics Notes on a Busy Week

  • Sen. John McCain, who had well-earned credibility on military matters,  released a statement after the State of the Union address saying that “it would be a mistake” to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” as President Obama pledged, and added…

“This successful policy has been in effect for over 15 years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.”

John, John, John. You have, in other interviews, stated that you served with many gay soldiers who performed their duties with distinction, so the current policy continues a form of bias and discrimination without any  justification. The fact that it may be “successful” is not sufficient reason to continue a practice that is unethical, unfair, and a violation of the principles of civil rights. Success is no excuse for violating core ethical principles; one of the primary justifications for the U.S. allowing torture, an outright violation of the Declaration of Independence, was that it was “successful,” an argument you properly rejected. Continue reading