Re Met Conductor James Levine: I Know, I Know, “The King’s Pass”…But What’s The Matter With People?

The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck took a cultural turn and visited the New York Metropolitan Opera yesterday. James Levine, the Met’s legendary conductor for four decades, allegedly molested a teenager in the 1980’s. The allegations were described in a police report that was filed in 2016. A man stated that he met Levine as a 15 year-old child when Levine was a conductor at the Ravinia Music Festival in Illinois. Beginning the next year, when Levine was 42 and the boy was 16, the conductor  touched the teenager’s genitalia and masturbated in his presence. The sexual relations involved hundreds of incidents and lasted for years, according to the allegations. Levine also served as a mentor to the teenager, wrote a college recommendation essay, and gave him tens of thousands of dollars of cash.  The man says he is straight and that  he was “confused and paralyzed” by Levine’s actions.

Now the Met says it is investigating. But I have more…

Today I attended a performance of an opera, and by chance happened to chat with one of the opera company’s board members. I asked him if he had heard about Levine. He said he didn’t know what I was talking about. After I summarized the story above, he said (I’m paraphrasing):

“I hadn’t heard about that, but it’s no surprise. I performed in the Met  chorus in the Eighties and Nineties when I lived in New York. Everyone knew that Levine fooled around with teenaged boys. I’m pretty sure the Met paid off some of them.”

After I heard this–at the time, there was only one man making one accusation—it was reported that the Met suspended Levine, because three more men came forward saying that they had been abused by the conductor as teens. Continue reading

Sweet Briar College’s Fate And Fait Accompli Ethics

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 UPDATE (6/15): I am officially nominating this post as the Most Typo-Riddled Ethics Alarms Article of 2015. At least I hope it is—alerted by a reader, I just found and fixed about 10, and I have no idea what happened. I suspect that I somehow pasted the next-to-last draft instead of the final. My proofreading is bad, but not THAT bad. I am embarrassed, and apologize to all: that kind of sloppiness is never excusable, but I especially regret it on a topic this important.

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Sweet Briar College was officially scheduled for termination, date of execution later this summer, by a board that chose not to offer alumnae and other interested parties a fair opportunity to raise objections, propose solutions, or mount a rescue effort. Indeed it was almost an ambush.

Although the distinguished graduates of Virginia’s unique and venerable all-female college have mounted a spirited effort to reverse this dubious move, time is not on their side. Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer, working with the passionate opposition to Sweet Briar’s closing, argued in court that this would violate the terms of the will upon which the college was founded, and that the college’s board has engaged in malfeasance or misfeasance, violating its fiduciary duties and misusing charitable funds. A circuit court refused Bowyer’s request for a temporary injunction that would at least delay the closing —Tick-Tick-Tick!—and the case was appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. Those  justices concluded that the lower court, in denying the injunctive relief, erred by concluding that that the law of trusts do not apply to a corporation like the college.  It does. So now the case returns to the circuit court to reconsider the merits.

Tick-Tick-Tick!

I find this infuriating and heart-breaking. As I’m certain the college’s treacherous board knew in March, legal challenges and court decisions take time, and the realities of the academic year halt for no man, or woman. It’s June now, and Sweet Briar has no 2015 entering class. Its sophomores and juniors are seeking, or have found, other schools as well. One of Sweet Briar’s problems—not an insuperable one to a board appropriately dedicated to is traditions and mission—was increasingly lagging enrollment. Whatever the solutions to that may be, skipping a year of entering freshman is not one of them. Faculty have to eat: presumably most, if not all of them, and the staff, are seeking employment elsewhere. The battle to save Sweet Briar, as noble and as important as it is, may have been lost from the start, simply because the clock, and the calendar, keeps moving.

This was, I fear, a fait accompli of the worst variety, an unjust, unfair, even illegal action that is successful because once set in motion, there is no way to stop it. Using the fait accompli strategy is intrinsically unethical, and the mark of an “ends justifies the means” orientation. It is based on the principle that an omelet, once made, cannot be unmade, because eggs can’t be put together again. In a situation where the ethical, fair, procedurally just approach is to debate and challenge a proposed policy action before it takes place, the fait accompli approach operates on the practical maxim that if you have no options, you have no problem. In essence, it says, “Yes, you may be right, but what are you going to do about it?” Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Comment of the Day: ‘Why The Sweet Briar College Fight Matters'”

Sweet BriarThe Sweet Briar closing, which was first raised as an ethics issue in the post, “The Sweet Briar Betrayal, has attracted many new readers and commenters to Ethics Alarms from the all-women Virginia college’s alumnae and supporters. Things are starting to move fast in the situation, with an investigation looming and questions being asked by the state legislature. Enlightening us further on this troubling story is faculty member Marcia Thom Kaley; here is her Comment of the Day on the post Comment of the Day: “Why The Sweet Briar College Fight Matters”: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Why The Sweet Briar College Fight Matters”

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Ethics Alarms has been graced with a wave of new commenters, prompted by this post and its predecessor, “The Sweet Briar Betrayal.” The issue is the ethics of a college board surrendering to adversity without a fight, with millions in the bank, a beautiful campus, and an important mission, and doing so before fully informing and involving the larger college community, especially alumnae. I opined that the board had an ethical duty to both  mission and the school itself not to euthanize Sweet Briar College prematurely, at very least, not before a last ditch capital fundraising campaign.

Thousands of readers seemed to agree, and my posts on the looming Sweet Brier closing have become part of the effort to promote and coordinating a growing movement by concerned alumnae and others to reverse the board’s decision. A few, in contrast, accused me of being unfair to the board, arguing that it has taken an unpopular but responsible course, and was courageous to do so. SBCFan2000, a new  commenter who arrived in the crowd of Sweet Briar supporters, reinforces my assumptions in this revealing Comment of the Day: Continue reading

Why The Sweet Briar College Fight Matters

sweet-briar-collegeEthics Alarms has been besieged by interest in the threatened Sweet Briar College closing, with the recent post on the topic already the third most viewed essay in the history of the blog. I was surprised; I shouldn’t have been. From an ethics and societal perspective, what the controversy stands for is as important as any covered here. It is also central to the nation itself.

When a business fails, the casualties include ambitions, opportunities, dreams, financial resources, community assets, and jobs. That is serious and tragic. Non profit organizations, however, exist to turn ideas into reality, to strengthen them, bolster them, and prove that they deserve to survive and flourish. The death of Sweet Briar will also mean the loss of ambitions, opportunities, dreams, financial resources, community assets, and jobs. Far more important, however, is that it will mean the death of an idea, or at very least the serious wounding of one.

This is why non profit boards should not be, as they so frequently are, merely comfortable curriculum vitae-stuffers  and networking forums for prominent dilettantes. Non profit boards are stewards of ideas, and they must also be willing and able to be warriors in defense of those ideas, if an idea is imperiled. It is not a job for the faint of heart, and the consequences of failure, or, as in the case of Sweet Briar, fearful and premature capitulation, are catastrophic, not just for the organization, institution and its constituents, but the entire U.S. culture.

Sweet Briar exists to nurture a particularly vital idea, the mission of training young womenContinue reading

The Sweet Briar Betrayal

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After 114 years, Sweet Briar College, the venerable women-only college in rural Virginia, announced Tuesday that this will be its final year despite strong alumnae support and more than $90 million left in its endowment, even after several years of running a deficit.

Paul G. Rice, board chair, said that he realized some would ask, “Why don’t you keep going until the lights go out?” but that doing so would be wrong. “We have moral and legal obligations to our students and faculties and to our staff and to our alumnae. If you take up this decision too late, you won’t be able to meet those obligations,” he said. “People will carve up what’s left — it will not be orderly, nor fair.”

Well, at least the board is taking this lying down.

Rice’s excuse is nonsense, and the board’s action  is an abdication of a difficult duty, not an acceptance of one. Non profits have missions, and their boards are obligated to keep pursuing that mission until it becomes hopeless, not until it becomes tough. Yes, small colleges face challenges, and single-sex education has been out of favor since the Sixties. On the other hand, feminists are making the case that co-ed universities are little better than hunting grounds where women are the helpless prey of serial rapists. Surely Sweet Briar’s niche might become an asset with some vision and leadership. Continue reading