How (not) to teach ethics and integrity

Maybe this is an old fart rant or another display of naïveté but some things really do outrage me. The latest is the NYT article about at least one law school applying “do as I say, not as I do” to ethics and honesty.

According to the article, Loyola Law School Los Angeles is “retroactively inflating its grades, tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years. The goal is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market.” At the outset, it seems a bit ironic that this is coming from a law school that prides itself on being a Catholic institution whose mission includes “educat[ing] men and women who will be leaders of both the legal profession and society, demonstrating in their practice of law and public service the highest standards of personal integrity [and] professional ethics.”

Where, I wonder, does integrity and ethics fit in with giving false information to potential employers and falsifying student records? (Before someone thinks I use the term “falsify” too loosely, among its definitions is “To make false by altering or adding to.” If a student’s official transcript shows a 3.1 grade in a class, doesn’t changing it to a 3.4 make it false?)

But irony aside, Loyola isn’t alone. The article indicates that over the last several years “at least 10 law schools have deliberately changed their grading systems to make them more lenient,” including schools like New York University, Georgetown, UCLA, USC and Vanderbilt. The story is unclear whether any of these schools made retroactive changes in grades, which certainly seems far more ethically questionable.

And why do these law schools engage in these practices? “Law schools seem to view higher grades as one way to rescue their students from the tough economic climate — and perhaps more to the point, to protect their own reputations and rankings.” I guess in the view of those law schools that means integrity and honesty consists of holding students to a lesser standard or that a particular score in a class wasn’t really the score.

Sure, society can say this simply reflects grade inflation (excuse me, “grade reform”) throughout the education system and that the legal job market focuses too much on grades than the person. But how in the world can law schools profess to stand for integrity, ethics and honesty if they have no compunction about altering grades retroactively?

Yet another giant leap forward in the public perception of the legal profession.

Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn’t blow in the wind or change with the weather.

John D. MacDonald

1 comment to How (not) to teach ethics and integrity

  • Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be a little irked at retroactive grades, even if it meant my GPA went up. I earned what I earned, and it’s mine. Lawyers already have a lack-luster reputation for the most part–This isn’t going to help.