Ethics Quiz: Harvard’s Anti-Meme Vendetta

…or not

Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten anointed members of the Class of 2021 after it discovered that the prospective students traded sexually explicit memes and messages in a private Facebook group chat. Some of the memes apparently mocked and denigrated minority groups.

The admitted students had formed the messaging group, “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens,”on Facebook in late December, 2016.

The members of the group sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, among other topis.  Screenshots captured and obtained by the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, revealed that  some messages joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while others had punchlines targeting ethnic or racial groups, like one that called hanging a Mexican child “piñata time.”

Harvard administrators were alerted  to the existence and contents of the chat and sent the students an e-mail that read,

“The Admissions Committee was disappointed to learn that several students in a private group chat for the Class of 2021 were sending messages that contained offensive messages and graphics As we understand you were among the members contributing such material to this chat, we are asking that you submit a statement by tomorrow at noon to explain your contributions and actions for discussion with the Admissions Committee. It is unfortunate that I have to reach out about this situation.”

A week later, at least ten members of the meme chat group were sent letters from Harvard announcing that their admission offers were no longer valid, and that the decision was final.

“As a reminder, Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz Of The Day

Was Harvard’s action fair, reasonable and proportionate?

Continue reading

No Judgment At Planet Fitness

They mean what they say!

They mean what they say!

In Midland, Michigan, a Planet Fitness gym revoked a woman’s membership because she complained that a man—actually a man who identifies as a woman— was in the woman’s locker room.

Company officials explained that she violated its “no judgment zone” policy. Planet Fitness  policy also states members and guests may use all gym facilities based on their self-reported gender identity.


It’s their business, and they can make whatever silly and irresponsible rules they want. If they want to make members dress like chickens, wear noodles on their heads and speak only pig latin, that’s their choice. The establishments Planet Fitness wants to run, apparently, are ones where a woman can go into the ladies locker room and run into some hairy, naked guy with his dong hanging out, and she gets dinged because she objects, not knowing that he is really all girl at his creamy nougat center.

Okaaaaay…. Eventually Planet Fitness will have a membership that is all trans, all blind, or all pathologically politically correct, or perhaps have no establishments at all. When the company says “no judgment,” it really means it, because this shows a ludicrous lack of judgment. But ethical! The policies were all communicated to all members, so the woman violated the “don’t react negatively to the showboating trans individual in the ladies locker room who shows no respect or consideration for others who might not be quite ready for a full frontal” policy, and has no defense, except offensive normalcy.

Clearly “Men” and “Ladies” labels on locker rooms and bathrooms are no longer unambiguous or effective.

What do you think about “Penis” and “No Penis” signs? I think that solves the problem, especially in places where there’s no judgment.


Ethics Quiz: The Harvard Prof and The Erroneous Chinese Restaurant Menu

Perfect! Just what you need to handle that pesky flea, Professor!

Perfect! Just what you need to handle that pesky flea, Professor!

Ben Edelman, a rather well-noted Harvard Business School professor, had this fascinating exchange with a local Szechuan restaurant:

Edelman 1Edelman 2Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

“Is Prof. Edelman’s conduct ethical?”

Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Judge Richard Posner

Sure, you have a right to think there's something wrong with that, but the state has no business acting as if it thinks so too.

Sure, you have a right to think there’s something wrong with that, but the state has no business acting as if it thinks so too.

Because Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court was appointed by Ronald Reagan, he is usually describes as a conservative judge. He’s better described as an unusually smart, articulate, thoughtful and courageous judge, and in responding to oral arguments  lawyers for Wisconsin and Indiana defending their state’s marriage bans, he proved it.

I have frequently attempted to draw a distinction between those guided by archaic religious morality that causes them to regard same-sex marriage as sinful, and the attempt to use the government, which must not be guided by religion to make such marriages illegal. Morality doesn’t have to be defended by logic—God works in mysterious ways, you know—but laws do. A complete evisceration emanating from a place of authority of the specious and often absent reasoning behind gay marriage bans was much needed, and knowing that he risked criticism as a “judicial bully” for doing so with gusto, Judge Posner came through.

Here is a sampling of the barrage he placed on Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher and Wisconsin’s assistant attorney general Timothy Samuelson: Continue reading

Law, Ethics and Gender: California’s “Bathroom Bill”

Barry Bonds identifying as female...kind of like he identified as "not being on steroids"

Barry Bonds identifying as female…kind of like he identified as “not being on steroids”

The fur is flying in California and also in the internet culture wars over California’s latest foray into social engineering, officially known as Assembly Bill 1266, and popularly known as “the bathroom bill.” In its current form, the proposed legislation states…

“A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs, and activities, and facilities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”

Here is such a wonderful example of the inherent limitations of laws as opposed to ethics that I’m considering having it framed and mounted. Continue reading

An Easy Ethics Call: The Flasher In The Girl’s Locker Room (UPDATED)

Proudly defending the right to freak out little girls.

How society should treat individuals with one gender’s genitalia but who identify with the opposite gender is a question that involves much more than ethical considerations. At this point, I haven’t been able to devote sufficient thought and research to the problem to propose an answer. The current controversy of Colleen Francis, however, inspires no such hesitancy on my part, because the correct solution to that problem is purely a matter of ethics. I’ll stipulate, for the time being, that it is right, legal and proper for Colleen, a transgendered student at Olympia College in Evergreen, Washington, to use the women’s locker rooms there, despite the fact that the 45-year-old still has a complete set of male genitalia, since she identifies as a woman, and as far as the school is concerned, a woman she is. Sold. I buy it.

However, Colleen apparently likes to display her alien genitalia with abandon in the ladies locker room, despite the fact that she often is surrounded by members of a high school swim club and a children’s swimming academy, many of whom are high school age or younger, and some of whom are as young as six.

Unethical. Inconsiderate. Offensive.

Disrespectful. Irresponsible.

Wrong. Continue reading

The Supreme Court Saves An Ethics Principle

Mayor Quimby is honest about being corrupt. Isn't that good enough?

Rescuing the states’ power to insist on more ethical conduct from their elected legislators, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that there was no Constitutional prohibition on state rules against legislators voting on issues in which they have a private, personal interests.

The unanimous decision upheld a Nevada ethics law that governs when lawmakers recuse themselves from voting on official business because they might have conflicts of interest. The challenge to the  law came from Michael Carrigan, a conflicted city council member from the Sparks, Nev., who was reprimanded by the state ethics commission after he voted  on a casino proposal though his campaign manager had been hired as a consultant to the project.

The law prohibits a public official from voting on an issue when a “reasonable person” would suspect a conflict because of financial ties or the interest of a spouse or family member. This is the essence of “the appearance of impropriety.” It also includes “any other commitment or relationship that is substantially similar” to those spelled out.  Carrigan had argued that the Nevada’s law was overly broad and that he should be able to vote on the project, so long as he disclosed his relationship with the consultant.

Ah, disclosure! Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Ethicists, Backing Judge Walker and Gay Marriage, At An Unacceptable Price”

The motion to vacate Judge Walker’s ruling on Proposition 8 has been filed, you can read it here. Since the original post, I have detected some cracks in the formerly near-united front of legal ethicists and journalists deriding Walker’s critics. Some of them are finally, grudgingly, admitting that the Judge might not have handled his potential conflict so well after all, and that the motion is not a frivolous, anti-gay outrage as they originally labelled it.  The most rickety of the rationalizations put forth on Walker’s behalf, advanced by some his most respected defenders, is that he had no obligation to reveal his own sexual orientation by disclosing his domestic arrangement because of its intimate and private nature. Yet the judge voluntarily disclosed it after his decision was in the books, raising a rebuttable presumption that his original silence was to avoid suggestions of conflict, not out of a desire for privacy.

First time commenter Jada adds her Comment of the Day to the discussion: Continue reading

The Ethicists, Backing Judge Walker and Gay Marriage, At An Unacceptable Price

"Oh, all long as we like the decision."

Thanks to the Judge Walker controversy, now have proof that the best legal ethicists in the nation are human. I suppose that’s something.

My colleagues in the legal ethics field are arguing—decreeing, really— that Judge Vaughn Walker’s decade-long same-sex relationship didn’t need to be disclosed before he ruled against Proposition 8 (California’s voter-approved gay marriage ban) because, they say, it created no reasonable doubts about his impartiality. Coincidentally, they also really, really like his decision. But then, so do I. Continue reading

Judge Walker Was Wrong

Now that we know about Bert, should Judge Ernie have recused himself?

Judge Vaughn Walker, the Federal District judge who a year ago ruled California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages, unconstitutional, was wrong. No, not about the law, which is pretty clearly unconstitutional: his opinion was fair and well-reasoned, and is likely to be upheld on appeal. Walker was ethically wrong in his handling of the delicate issue of his own sexuality, which had raised a controversy about his objectivity and ability to be impartial.

Two weeks ago, following his retirement from the bench, Walker publicly disclosed for the first time that he has been in a same-sex relationship for the past ten years. This changes the analysis regarding the propriety of his ruling on Perry v. Schwarzenegger. Walker had long been rumored to be gay; supposedly “everybody” knew he was gay. My position, as well as that of many others considering the arguments of anti-gay marriage opponents that he should recuse himself, was that sexual orientation could not and should not create a presumption of bias, any more than gender, age, race or marital status. Continue reading