Emory University's Dishonest Data Reminds Us That Ethics Don't Come From A 'Policy'
from the ethics-policy dept
I know that for many universities, where they end up in the various “rankings” lists can make a big difference in terms of the type of students they attract, the money they can bring in and the professors they can get. So it’s almost surprising to me to find out that Emory University’s admission that it effectively fudged the numbers it sent to US News & World Report (the pre-eminent listmaker of university rankings) was really the first of its kind. The article does note a few other questionable uses of data by some universities — such as Baylor paying already admitted students to retake the SATs, hoping they’ll score higher and boost the rankings — but Emory went a bit further. It didn’t quite make up the numbers, but chose to send in the data for all the students they admitted, rather than the students who enrolled. And, of course, many students with higher GPAs and SAT scores may have been admitted to Emory, but chose to go elsewhere.
Of course, what struck me as extra interesting about this, is that we always hear about universities disciplining students based on an “ethics” code or something like that. So I figured Emory probably had something like that as well… and it did. There’s the Emory University Undergraduate Code of Conduct, which includes lines like:
Emory University expects that all students act honorably, demonstrating a keen sense of ethical conduct. The University expects that its students behave respectfully, providing particular consideration for other people and for property. As members of a community, Emory University expects that students act responsibly, being accountable for the safety and wellbeing of themselves and others. University students are expected to be trustworthy, demonstrating honest character upon which others may rely with confidence.
That same policy also forbids “intentional misrepresentation,” including “providing false or misleading information to a University official” or “filing a false or misleading report.”
I also found that the school has a Code of Business Ethics and Conduct for employees, which includes this tidbit:
Emory University has adopted an overarching Statement of Guiding Ethical Principles that applies to Emory employees and all other members of the Emory Community. Emory employees should strive to adhere to these principles in carrying out their job responsibilities, and in particular any responsibilities they have in connection with Federal Research/Contract Activities.
That pointed me to the Statement of Guiding Ethical Principles (pdf) which, among many other things has lines like the following:
Members of Emory are expected to strive for the highest degree of integrity.
All of this has me wondering about these kinds of “ethics” policies and “honor codes” and the like. So many universities have them, but I’m curious if they actually do any good at all. Most of them say things that are basically common sense, and I have trouble believing anyone actually considers “oh, but the ethics policy!” before violating them. So what is the purpose of such policies? It seems that ethics aren’t the kind of thing that you write down in a policy, but that you demonstrate by how you act and what you do.