Institutions and Ethics: Emory Shows Us How It’s (Not) Done

It would be hard to invent a better (or should I say worse) example of how institutional forces stifle ethical behavior than the reports on how Emory University has been reporting false admissions statistics for years. The university on Friday revealed the findings of its own three-month investigation:

The investigation revealed that both the University’s Office of Admission serving Emory College, and the University’s Office of Institutional Research, annually reported admitted students’ SAT/ACT scores to external surveys as enrolled student scores, since at least the year 2000. This had the effect of overstating Emory’s reported test scores. The report found that class rankings were also overstated, although the methodology used to produce the data was not clear.

And as the education industry site Inside Higher Ed reports, the misreporting was systemic and widely known within the university:

“We gleaned from the little we know that in these offices were a number of individuals who respected the lines of authority who were told by supervisors ‘This is the way we did it,’” said Provost Earl Lewis on a conference call with reporters. “That was noted and they went on with day-to-day business.” …. the practice spanned the tenures of at least two admissions deans and also involved the university’s director of institutional research. Staff members in those offices were also aware that the practice was taking place.

This is classic behavior in ethically challenged organizations: people in charge telling suspicious underlings that they shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about actions they think don’t smell right because that’s how we do things around here. For its part Emory now seems fairly contrite, to judge by the university president’s public statement last week:

As an institution that challenges itself, in the words of our vision statement, to be “ethically engaged,” Emory has not been well served by representatives of the university in this history of misreporting. I am deeply disappointed.

Of course, contrite is one thing, and forthcoming is another. You might think that an institution renewing its dedication to being “ethically engaged” would have some mention of this scandal and a link to the university’s response on its home page. You’d be wrong.

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