Wednesday, March 09, 2005
His decision came late at night, with his laptop propped in front of him in bed. Instructions on a Web site promised business school applicants an early online look at whether they'd been accepted. Intrigued, he began typing.Somebody in his 20s in the South needs to grow up. To quote a certain defendant in a murder trial, don't do the crime if you can't do the time. Are there degrees of unethical? Sure. Does a business school have the right to not admit students who have acted unethically in an academic context? Of course they do. If someone posted how to hack into my computer and see next week's macro exam and you did it, I'd want you expelled from school. Period.
A minute later he'd accessed the Harvard Business School's admission site, though all he saw was a blank page.
That split-second decision cost the 28-year-old New Yorker a chance to attend Harvard Business School this year. On Monday, Harvard became the second school, after Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, to announce its blanket rejection of any applicant who used a method detailed in a BusinessWeek Online forum to try to get an early glimpse at admissions decisions in top business schools.
On Tuesday, some of the 119 applicants denied Harvard admission because they visited the site said the school overreacted, and disputed that accessing a public Web page with their own identification numbers was either a "hack" or "unethical," as Harvard Business School Dean Kim Clark said in a statement.
The applicant said he spent months completing Harvard's rigorous application process.
"For all that to be trumped by a poor decision made in the middle of the night is incredibly unfair," he said.
Another rejected applicant, who, like all applicants interviewed, asked their names not be used, said he's guilty of bad judgment for looking at something Harvard didn't want him to see. But by calling it "unethical," he said, Harvard is equating it with the kind of behavior that spawned scandals such as Enron.
"I think that's a gross misrepresentation of what's going on," said the man, who is in his 20s and lives in the South.
Such ethics will be enforced at the University of Colorado when I become president.
Sanford Kreisberg of Cambridge Essay Service, which helps students apply to elite U.S. business schools, said the applicants made a stupid mistake, but added Harvard was guilty of "ethics grandstanding."
He said while the business world is getting battered by stories of ethical failures - such as fraud or excessive salaries - Harvard can make an ethics point by taking on an easy target instead of a more powerful constituency.
"They can swat it hard and preen," he said.
Hey, if presidents aren't about grandstanding and preening in the search for more alumni donations, what are they good for? Do you think we could raise more money by admitting these students and sending them to ethics training?
UPDATE (3/10): TangoMan, who's disagreed with me in comments, expands his thoughts at Gene Expressions.