Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary
September 11, 2002:
new test: Assessing ethics
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
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" firstname.lastname@example.org