Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary

September 11, 2002:

Princeton's new test: Assessing ethics
Applicants will E.A.T. it up

It was the summer of Admissionsgate.

Yet, really, despite all the headlines and the handwringing press releases, most of the people I talked to viewed the Great Princeton Recruiting Scandal - which was precipitated when Associate Dean and Director of Admission Stephen LeMenager used Princeton admission office computers to make unauthorized access to a supposedly secure website set up by Yale to allow applicants to check on their admissions status - as more of a diversion than an outrage.

For many non-Princetonians the incident afforded the irresistible spectacle of two Ivy League institutions caught up in academic espionage (never mind that the whole affair was little more than a benign error in judgment). And then of course the peripheral involvement of a Bush family daughter was always good for a few smirks. Heading into the new school year, it seemed that what little tarnish there might have been had easily been scrubbed clean. The bloom, as it were, was back on the ivy.

Ah, but not so fast! I was greeted on the train yesterday by the rather alarming spectacle of a hotted-up Happy Harper. (Forgive me - when it comes to Hap, whose given name is Henry and who's also called Hank, alliteration, well, happens.) Huffing and harrumphing, Happy immediately buttonholed me and began expounding on what he referred to as "the full-blown crisis" facing universities today. "Ethics, O'Bleary," he said. "Where are the ethics?"

I asked, gingerly, if he was referring to Internet security. "Because," I began, "I notice that Princeton is now posting its policy on rights and responsibilities related to the university's information technology resources, and ..."

He goggled at me. "A whole generation is marching unguided straight into a moral abyss and you're muttering to me about 'postings' and 'technology resources?' This is a moral moment of truth!"

I thought it was a bit thick, his using the term "muttering." I mean, I was just trying to keep the dialogue calm.

"The Internet is just one manifestation of this crisis," he continued, as the conductor came by and punched our tickets. "Just look around at what college kids are confronted with these days: Universities cyber-spying... celebrated historians plagiarizing . . . corporations cooking the books . . . network executives greenlighting Anna Nicole Smith! America's youth is faced with an ethical vacuum." As so often happens with Happy I found myself being hooked into a conversation I wanted no part of. "What can the university do?" I said.

"I'm happy you asked that," he said. (I've never understood how Hap could use that locution without noticing.) "Princeton's motto is 'In the Nation's Service,' right?" He went on before I could answer. "What could be of more service to this nation than producing young people of unimpeachable character, graduates ready to lead according to the highest ethical standards in the worlds of business, government, academia, and the arts?"

"Fair enough," I said, glancing out of the train window to see how close we were to the Junction. "But how would you do this? Princeton already has an honor code."

"Code-schmode!" he said. (Which I thought was a rather weak rhetorical device, but I didn't say anything.) "That's just window dressing, a mere band-aid on a generational wound that's hemorrhaging integrity faster than you can say 'ex-Enron exec.'"

"Wow," was all I could say.

"My point exactly," said Hap. "Princeton needs to start focusing on ethics right from the beginning. They need to start recruiting for ethics."


"You said it," Hap said.

I was about to point out that actually he had said it, but he continued. "Students, athletes, musicians - Princeton goes after the very best. The same should be true for moral values and integrity if we want to establish this university as a true ethical leader. That's why I've come up with the E.A.T."

"You've turned up the heat?"

"No. The E.A.T. E-A-T: The Ethical Aptitude Test. Like the S.A.T." Hap began rummaging in his briefcase. "I've been working up a few sample questions." He brought out a notepad and cleared his throat.

"For example, 'Arthur Andersen is to accounting as A) Arthur Murray is to dancing, B) Arthur Ashe is to tennis, C) King Arthur is to British monarchs, or D) Bea Arthur is to subtle comedic acting?'" He paused. "The answer would be very revealing."

"Very," I said. It was a long train ride into New York, and I'm afraid I don't remember all the other questions Hap unveiled (though I do recall one on the math section that required computing the number of hand-antiqued license plates Martha Stewart could produce during a 10-year prison term).

In the end all I could ask was how Princeton would make use of the results. "There'd be a cut-off," said Hap, looking very happy indeed. "No student who scored below a 700 on the E.A.T. would be admitted." He paused, and a worried look crept across his face. "Unless, when we checked it turned out Yale was admitting them. Then we might have to cut some corners...."

The train pulled into New York. I felt better already.

You can reach Hugh O'Bleary at "Hugh O'Bleary" paw@princeton.edu