Law vs. Ethics #1: Harvard Screws Over Its Students, But It’s All Legal, So There

Harvard welsome

Two rueful thoughts before I begin:

  • One of my college graduating class’s big reunions is next year. Harvard always does an amazing job of throwing a party (having a bank account larger than the treasuries of some countries let you do that , I have many friends and room mates I yearn to see again, and I haven’t been back home to Boston in 17 years. But I’ll be damned if I’ll honor Harvard with my presence. It has been an ethics disgrace consistently for several years, and I am ashamed of my association with the institution, as well as my family’s association (my father and sister graduated from the college, and my mother worked there for over 20 years, culminating in her becoming an assistant dean.)
  • I could really enlighten NPR’s listeners about the difference between law and ethics in this case, if I hadn’t been blackballed for daring to explain how accusations of sexual harassment against public figures like Donald Trump were not necessarily fair even if they were sincere. Oh, well—NPR can bite me.

With that introduction, be it known that in the case of Barkhordar et al v. President and Fellows of Harvard College,  Harvard University won a dismissal today of a lawsuit by students over its decision not to partially refund tuition when it evicted students from dorms and moved classes online early in the Wuhan virus pandemic. Continue reading

Pandemic Ethics Dilemma: The Universities And Colleges Need To Keep Their Students’ Money, But They Are No Longer Earning It.

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing board for Arizona’s three public universities, because the three schools have refused to refund room, board and campus fees to students who were told to leave campus because of the Wuhan virus. Like virtually all US colleges and universities, Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, moved their classes online  for the remainder of the Spring  semester. Students who lived on-campus were either told to move out or encouraged to do so. Yet, the  lawsuit says, the Arizona Board of Regents has refused to offer refunds for the unused portion of the students’ room and board and their campus fees. The lawsuit seeks payment of the prorated, unused amounts of room and board and fees that the class members paid but were unable to use.

How can the schools maintain that it is ethical for them to do this? I understand that having to refund the money will be disastrous for them, but they are literally keeping advance payments for services that the schools will no longer provide. I expect to see more such suits, and on the basis of law, equity, ethics and common sense, I don’t see how the institutions can prevail in them. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Robert Bowman Redux, Times Two, But Ohio’s Nicer Than New York”

And now for something completely different, or at least not involving pandemic freakouts or politics. Isn’t that refreshing?

Reacting to the tale of the aspiring Ohio law grad with over $900,000 in student loan debt, Chris Marschner offered some guidance on how to look at student debt.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Robert Bowman Redux, Times Two, But Ohio’s Nicer Than New York:

I would suggest a different approach. Instead of financing students’ education, we begin allocating funding that gives preference to programs that develop talent. This is not to say that if a person truly wants to go into some esoteric field that may have little market value they cannot do so.

I only mean that those programs should not be subsidized, to keep tuition down as we could use those funds for those in programs of study that in fields that are graduating too few to keep pace with demand for those fields.

We always seem to approach labor cost issues from a demand management side instead a supply side. What if government subsidized the cost to become a medical doctor, engineer or scientist to equilize the cost of those programs to equal the upfront costs of an MPA, MFA or MBA. I would have no issue if the baseline subsidy rate was the cost associated with obtaining a quality Liberal Arts degree that included proficiency exit exams in math, science, reasoning, English and foreign languages.

We do not need thousands of General Studies majors that require no organized program of study. If you want to get a degree in Gender Studies or “Sports Management,” go for it— but don’t ask to have taxpayers subsidize it by guaranteeing your student loans and a reduced interest rate when the market for such occupations is relatively minute. Continue reading

Trying To Find A Good Analogy For The Horrific Failure Of America’s Colleges Being Accompanied By The Myth That A College Degree Is Essential

Great. What is it you think you did???

Great. What is it you think you did???

This latest example of a “Look! College grads are too ignorant to come in out of the rain!” survey” isn’t entirely surprising to me, but it is infuriating in a new way. Usually I react to such things with intensified contempt for the grads themselves, their lack of intellectual curiosity, their failure to meet the barest of requirements for competent citizenship. I still feel that way, but my disgust has refocused on other miscreants: the schools themselves, but most of all, the shills for continuing the myth that a college education is not only indispensable for personal and professional success, but worth beggaring the nation to ensure that everyone obtains one.

From a press release of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (and one which was ignored by the news media so they could spend all their time giving Donald Trump free publicity. That’s incredibly incompetent, but hey, the news media is run by college grads, so what do you expect?):

College Graduates Don’t Know Basic Facts About the Constitution

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 8, 2015 — The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) today released a survey that shows how little college graduates and the general public know about the Constitution.

According to the study, nearly 10% of college graduates think Judith Sheindlin — commonly known as Judge Judy — is on the Supreme Court; one-third of college graduates can’t identify the Bill of Rights as a name given to a group of Constitutional amendments; and 32% believe that Representative John Boehner is the current president of the U.S. Senate. Shockingly, 46% of college grads don’t know the election cycle — six years for senators, two years for representatives. Turning to the general population, the report finds that over half (54%) of those surveyed cannot identify the Bill of Rights accurately, and over 1 in 10 (11%) of those ages 25–34 believe that the Constitution must be reauthorized every four years….

Continue reading

KABOOM! The University of Houston Is Paying Matthew McConaughey $135,000 To Give A Commencement Speech

head blowsThis isn’t just your usual, run-of-the-head Kaboom! where my brains go everywhere after a story makes my head explode. This is an angry Kaboom! where I kick my brain chunks around in disgust before the clean-up.

There is no possible excuse for this. The University is taxpayer funded, and if I lived in Houston, I’d be picketing graduation. The University announced in January that the 2013 Academy award-winner was speaking but avoided revealing his fee, until the persistent  the Houston Chronicle got the word on March 31. The paper said that the Celebrity Talent agency tried to block  the Chronicle’s Freedom of Information requests, arguing “that if UH tells the public how much it plans to pay McConaughey, a ‘reporter or someone’ might create ‘unfair negatives online.’ Yes, I think that was a reasonable assumption.

Scattered thoughts as I clean up the mess: Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Overly-Trusting Law School

The almost lawyer, learning about the justice system...

The almost lawyer, learning about the justice system…

Mauricio Celis, 42,was expelled from Northwestern Law School, just before he was due to graduate, for not telling the school when he applied that he was a former felon in Texas,  convicted there for falsely holding himself out as a lawyer and also for  impersonating a police officer. Northwestern confirmed that it never asked him to disclose any criminal history, but argued that Celis should have known that his criminal record was material.

The school didn’t check on his background; it didn’t even google him. If it had, it would have learned that Celis was infamous in Texas, and called “The Great Pretender.” A prosecutor called him “the biggest con man in the history of Nueces County.”  He certainly was audacious, opening law offices in multiple cities, raking in fees, using his success as a fake lawyer to raise money for Democrats. Compared to his scam, Northwestern was timid. It just took his money, $76,000, and then expelled him without giving him a diploma.

Your strange Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

Was it ethical for Northwestern to expel Celis?

Continue reading

Fundraising Ethics Controversy in Michigan! Naming Buildings After Big University Donors: Ethical or Not?

Enron-Field

I worked in the development (capital fundraising) office of Georgetown University for many years, and am well aware of the sausage-making that goes into attracting big donations. Thus the controversy that recently erupted in Michigan is of interest both for its ethical content and the way it dances around inconvenient truths.

With the college student’s wonderful knack for avoiding the obvious, the student newspaper of Grand Valley (Michigan) State University declared ethics war on what it called “billboards”: buildings and lecture halls named after corporate and individual donors. With naivete and boundless ignorance of the world of philanthropy and non-profit fundraising, the editorial declared (among other things)…

  • “What’s next? Will we turn Lake Huron 133 into the “Amway Lecture Hall?” Will the backs of our chairs have plaques dedicated to the lower-level donors?” COMMENT: For enough money, of course the university would rename the hall. Why should it care what a lecture hall is called, if it can avoid having to raise tuition? As for the backs of seats: did the editors do any research at all? Opera companies, theaters, museaums and other non-profit entities do exactly this. So what?

Continue reading

“How Dare Universities Charge Such High Tuition?” KABOOM!* #1: Georgetown University Law Center

headexplode

Kaboom.

James Feinerman, the James M. Morita Professor of Asian Legal Studies at Georgetown University Law Center, who also serves as its associate dean for transnational programs, was hired by the U.S. government as an expert witness  to bolster the prosecution in a spying case, and apparently plagiarized a substantial potion of the report submitted to the court from <sigh–there goes that value of THAT degree> Wikipedia.The defense picked up on the uncited cribbing and the federal court is now examining whether the sources used by Wikipedia are reliable enough for his report to be accorded any validity. The Government, meanwhile, represented by assistant U.S. attorneys Peter Axelrod and John Hemann, is stuck with making desperate “ahumunahumuna” sounds like Ralph Kramden used to do on “The Honeymooners” when he was caught looking stupid and spouting lame arguments in court filings about how Feinerman “utilized language from Wikipedia as a concise English-language summary of his opinions on certain topics.”

Riiiight. Continue reading