Why they cheat at Harvard

Harvard University is currently being torn by a cheating scandal.  It was discovered that nearly half of the 250 undergraduates in a course called “Introduction to Congress” cheated on a final exam.  Why would so many of the nation’s ostensible best and brightest at American’s most elite university do that?  Harvard professor Howard Gardner has been studying his students and offers some explanations:

Over and over again, students told us that they admired good work and wanted to be good workers. But they also told us they wanted — ardently — to be successful. They feared that their peers were cutting corners and that if they themselves behaved ethically, they would be bested. And so, they told us in effect, “Let us cut corners now and one day, when we have achieved fame and fortune, we’ll be good workers and set a good example.” A classic case of the ends justify the means.

We were so concerned by the results that, for the past six years, we have conducted reflection sessions at elite colleges, including Harvard. Again, we have found the students to be articulate, thoughtful, even lovable. Yet over and over again, we have also found hollowness at the core.

Two examples: In discussing the firing of a dean who lied about her academic qualifications, no student supported the firing. The most common responses were “She’s doing a good job, what’s the problem?” and “Everyone lies on their résumé.” In a discussion of the documentary “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” students were asked what they thought of the company traders who manipulated the price of energy. No student condemned the traders; responses varied from caveat emptor to saying it’s the job of the governor or the state assembly to monitor the situation.

One clue to the troubling state of affairs came from a Harvard classmate who asked me: “Howard, don’t you realize that Harvard has always been primarily about one thing — success?” The students admitted to Harvard these days have watched their every step, lest they fail in their goal of admission to an elite school. But once admitted, they begin to look for new goals, and being a successful scholar is usually not high on the list. What is admired is success on Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood — a lavish lifestyle that, among other things, allows you to support your alma mater and get the recognition that follows.

As for those students who do have the scholarly bent, all too often they see professors cut corners — in their class attendance, their attention to student work and, most flagrantly, their use of others to do research. Most embarrassingly, when professors are caught — whether in financial misdealings or even plagiarizing others’ work — there are frequently no clear punishments. If punishments ensue, they are kept quiet, and no one learns the lessons that need to be learned.

Whatever happens to those guilty of cheating, many admirable people are likely to be tarred by their association with Harvard.

via When ambition trumps ethics – The Washington Post.

In other words, the students, while bright, have no sense of vocation, don’t believe in objective morality, believe the end justifies the means, and are fanatically ambitious in a materialistic, self-aggrandizing kind of way.

Paul Ryan & Ayn Rand

Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan is  a social conservative, a devout Roman Catholic with a  strong pro-life record.  And yet one of his most formative influences is reportedly Ayn Rand, the radical libertarian, an atheist who viciously attacked Christianity because it teaches love and compassion, advocating instead “the virtue of selfishness.”  Those two influences, Catholicism and Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, don’t seem to gibe.

Democrats are playing up the connection between Ryan and Rand in order to portray him as a heartless amoral extremist.  Here Ryan tries to set the record straight:

“I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them,” Ryan says. “They spurred an interest in economics, in the Chicago School and Milton Friedman,” a subject he eventually studied as an undergraduate at Miami University in Ohio. “But it’s a big stretch to suggest that a person is therefore an Objectivist.”

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.

via Ryan Shrugged – Robert Costa – National Review Online.

For a more detailed examination of how Ryan now differs from Rand, see this.

Eat mor chikin day

Today, August 1, has been proclaimed “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” by those who support the chicken sandwich company’s CEO who is catching flak for opposing gay marriage.  Americans are being urged to show up at one of their stores and simply buy a sandwich.  I suspect the company will have huge sales today.

Then again, pro-gay-marriage protesters are promising to show up too.  Some are saying they will just order water, so as to make workers busy without buying anything.  Gays are calling for a kiss-in at Chick-fil-A outlets on August 3.

See  Chick-fil-A braces for protests, same-sex ‘kiss-in’ | The Lookout – Yahoo! News.

So what do you think about this?  Will you eat “chikin” (as the cows in the company’s advertising campaign put it)?  Or, if you support gay marriage, will you boycott the company?  If you oppose gay marriage, will you eat chicken sandwiches for the principle of the thing?

It seems to me that those who want to boycott Chick-fil-A because of the CEO’s beliefs and are otherwise making a big deal of this may be opening a can of worms.  The issue of gay marriage is not nearly as settled as our cultural elites think it is.  If those who oppose gay marriage were to follow suit by refusing to patronize companies that support gay causes, it would probably have a bigger impact.

Do you think the political, moral, or religious beliefs of a company’s owners or leaders should be taken into account when consumers make their purchasing decisions?  If the company’s philanthropy goes to support a particular cause, doesn’t that mean that people who buy the product might be giving money to something they don’t believe in?

The Chick-fil-A firestorm

Opponents of gay marriage are being demonized.  Not just disagreed with but condemned, attacked, and boycotted.  That’s what Chick-fil-A is learning after the president of the chicken sandwich chain told an interview that he supports traditional families.  Not just gays but liberals and right-thinking forces of tolerance everywhere are seeking to punish the company.  The whole city of Boston is trying to keep it out of town.  But the interview and the controversial pro-family comments were not even about gay marriage, as Terry Mattingly has shown.  Matthew J. Franck explains:

The highly successful Atlanta-based restaurant chain Chick-fil-A has been much in the news these days, because president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy (whose father founded the family-owned business) apparently came out in opposition to same-sex marriage. Or did he?

Terry Mattingly of the indispensable GetReligion site, which tracks all sorts of journalistic coverage of religion, first called attention to the manufacturing of a misleading story here. In an interview with a writer for the Baptist Press, Cathy was asked about the company’s “support of the traditional family.” His response was, “Well, guilty as charged.” And he went on to talk about the company’s commitment “to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families,” because many of the individual restaurants are family-run operations, and because the Cathy family and their company believe, as Christians, in family-friendly policies. (Their Christian faith and their desire to support families account for the restaurant chain’s being closed on Sundays, for instance, a decision by which the company forgoes many millions in annual revenue.)

At no point in the Baptist Press article did Dan Cathy say a word about the issue of same-sex marriage. The nearest the piece comes to the subject is when the reporter writes, “Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family.” The immediate sequel is the remark of Cathy’s I quoted above. But who are those opponents of the company’s policies? We are never told. Is it fair to surmise the reporter is alluding to advocates of same-sex marriage? Maybe, but it’s far from certain. And Dan Cathy is not, repeat not, on the record in this story as taking any position on that issue.

This did not stop CNN and many other outlets from reporting on the “comments of company President Dan Cathy about gay marriage.” And so a manufactured firestorm began.

via On Mau-Mauing the Chicken Sandwich Guy » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

He goes on to trace how the story grew and took on a life of its own.

But say the president of Chick-fil-A did say that he opposes gay marriage.  Is it not going to be allowed for anyone to oppose gay marriage?  Companies openly support the gay rights movement, and conservatives are chided if they consider a boycott.  But companies aren’t allowed to take the opposite–that is, the traditional–position?  Should companies be neutral about such issues in their philanthropic contributions?  If so, shouldn’t people who work for the companies or who run them have the right to express their opinions?  Should companies be punished for what their employees believe?  Should anyone or any corporation be punished for what they believe?

 

Violence according to pop culture

Part of Victor Davis Hanson’s thoughts about the Batman killings:

When Alien, Predator, or Terminator slice up or rip apart dozens, life just goes on. Bodies fly all over the screen and we are onto the next scene. Wondering about who actually was the 11th poor soul who had his heart ripped out by the Terminator is far less interesting than watching the latter utter some banality. The same is true of everything from Die Hard to 300—lots of real-life, graphic killing, but almost no pause and bewilderment over the staggering loss of life or the consequences of Target 12 or Victim G leaving life at 12 or 56. Killing is so easy not just because of robotic arms, RPGs, and computer simulations, but also because there are almost no emotional consequences from the carnage—a fact easily appreciated by the viewer, the more so if young or unhinged or both. The killer usually smiles or at least shows no emotion; the victims are reduced to “them,” anonymous souls who serve as mere numbers in a body count. Will Kane’s victims, in contrast, were known—evil, but still not anonymous and not mere sets for the sheriff’s gunplay.

For the diseased mind that is saturated with such modern imagery, there is fascination aplenty with the drama of killing, but no commensurate lesson gleaned from its sheer horror—at least in human terms of the devastation that such carnage does to humans, both nearby and in the larger community. In the awful mind of the rampage killer, he always must be the center of attention in the manner of his homicidal fantasy counterpart, his victims of no more account than are those decapitated, dismembered, or shot apart by Freddy Krueger or Arnold Schwarzenegger. How odd that we rush to the emergency room for a cut finger in the kitchen—stitches, tetanus shot, pain killer, bandages, a doctor’s reassurance—only to matter-of-factly watch horrific wounds on television that night with no thought that a .38 slug to the shoulder entails something more than our split forefinger.

And there is a further wrinkle to these hyper-realistic cinematic rampages. The killer, be he an evil “Joker,” the horrific Alien, or a hit man in a mafia movie, has a certain edgy personality, even a sick sort of intriguing persona—at least in the sense that his evil is sometimes “cool” in a way that his plodding victims, who simply got in his way, are not. In the abstract, we sympathize with the good, who became his targets; but in the concrete, the film focuses more often on the killer’s emotions, his language, his swagger.

The Joker spits, he puns, he acts disengaged and “cool,” while his victims scream and panic; we want to know why he acts so, and are supposed to be fixated on his strange clothes, face, and patois, never on the series of Joe Blows that are incinerated by him. Is it any wonder we know all about the orange hair of the suspected killer, but very little about the hair colors of any of the poor victims?

via Works and Days » The Demons of the Modern Rampage Killer.

Penn State’s punishment

The NCAA did not kill off completely Penn State’s football program, as was widely expected, but the sanctions for the child sexual abuse scandal and its coverup were pretty harsh:

NCAA President Mark Emmert made the announcement Monday morning that the program would be hit with a four-year postseason ban and a $60 million fine. He called the case “unprecedented.”

In addition, the school will be forced to cut 10 scholarships for this season and 20 scholarships for the following four years.

The move essentially bumps Penn State down to the scholarship levels of schools at the lower Football Championship Subdivision.

The school will be forced to vacate all wins from 1998-2011, a total of 112 victories, and serve five years of probation.

The loss of victories means Joe Paterno is no longer college football’s winningest coach. He was fired in November during the scandal after 409 wins at the school.

Because of the length of the punishment, all current Penn State players and incoming freshman will be free to transfer to another school without penalty.

Is this an example of completely justified outrage taking the place of justice?  Normally, guilty individuals are punished, and surely those who knew about Coach Jerry Sandusky’s sex with little boys and did nothing about it need to be called to account.  But the Penn State players, students, and alumni didn’t know what was going on.  Why are they being punished?  Or is there corporate guilt, in which every member of an institution has a share in its transgressions?

If part of the problem in the cover up was the cultural climate of football uber alles, the corporate guilt would extend far beyond Penn State, to big time football universities as a whole and to the NCAA itself.

Also, is the NCAA acting beyond its jurisdiction?  Penn State did not violate any of the rules that the NCAA is supposed to enforce (such as recruiting violations, paying players, and the like).   Isn’t child abuse a matter for the criminal justice system and civil courts to take care of, rather than a sports organization?

And what kind of punishment is it to forfeit 13 years worth of games that have already been played?  It isn’t as if an ineligible player contributed to illicit victories that might otherwise be losses if it were not for the infraction.  How does that punishment have to do with the crime?

Don’t get me wrong:  I am repulsed by what happened at Penn State and want it addressed in the strongest possible way.  I just don’t understand the  NCAA action.  What would be better?