Unethical Behavior On Whose Part?

Reuters reported on Tuesday that the Harvard Business School would reject all 119 applicants who hacked into ApplyYourself and viewed their admission status prematurely. The dean justified this by claiming that their behavior was unethical. I find this a bad decision for two reasons.
One, accessing their admission records using a hack was obviously against the rules. That, however, does not make it unethical. The information they accessed was pertaining to their own case and it would have been given to them at a later point anyway. As HBS pointed out, the information accessed at that point was neither complete nor final, so technically it was useless to the applicants. No one has been harmed in this process. No applicant had an unfair advantage over others after seeing his or her tentative admission status.
Two, think about it from an admissions point of view. By rejecting all applicants who “cheated”, the dean has just made prematurely accessing your admissions record a factor in the admissions process. I agree that a student’s personality, in particular their sense of ethics should be integrated into the decision, however, this is not the way to do it. Who is to say that your sense of ethics is better simply because you did not use the hack? How many applicants did not use the hack, simply because they were not aware of it, or did not have the time at the moment of vulnerability, or were not computer-savvy enough, but would have jumped at this opportunity if they had been able to? It is not fair admission practice to reject those who used the hack, because that is using information that is only available from some of the applicants and not all of them.
To conclude, it was an unfortunate event, that a hack allowed applicants to view their admission status before it was official. Things like that happen, but it should not be made worse by deviating from fair admission practices in order to punish some overly curios people. Who wants to live in a world where your admission to school is not only based on the form you sent in and the references you provided, but also on what the school’s secretary happens to know about your online habits because she is friends with your mother?

-Sigrid Roehling

March 7, 2005
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