Integrity should come first

Dec. 5, 2017, 3:00 a.m.

Stanford made headlines this past week, gaining notoriety for careless data management and misrepresenting its financial aid program.

The data security issue features prominently in the University’s official response. But the greater failure is one of integrity. The leadership at Stanford Graduate School of Business was caught lying about its commitment to “need-based” financial aid, which it has been doing for more than a decade. Yet this is only mentioned in paragraphs 12 and 14.

Integrity should feature more prominently in Stanford’s official response, as it should in campus discussion more broadly, especially at the business school.

University leadership knowingly misled students, donors and alumni, misrepresented its business practices and compromised Stanford’s reputation. This would be inexcusable anywhere, but it is worse that it happens at a school that teaches business ethics.

University employees take full and specific responsibility for unsecured data, but for lying to students, nothing; this response suggests data security is more important than integrity.

“I take full responsibility for the failure to recognize the scope and nature of the J drive data exposure and report it in a timely manner to the Dean and the University Information and Privacy Offices,” writes Ranga Jayaraman, Associate Dean and Chief Digital Officer for GSB.

“There is no excuse for this compromise of privacy and security, and I intend to do everything possible to ensure that it does not happen in the future,” writes Jon Levin, Philip H. Knight Professor and Dean of Stanford GSB.

Yet Dean Levin tiptoes into the more significant issue. “I would like to comment on Stanford GSB’s historical financial aid practices, because despite problematic circumstances around the data access, the student’s report raises an issue we intend to address.”

For clarity, the whistleblower is not at fault for analyzing unsecured data; the leadership at GSB is in hot water for what the analysis shows: “The GSB has misrepresented and advertised its financial aid system to the detriment of students who make tangible financial decisions on the basis of these representations. Students with identical financial situations receive vastly different GSB fellowships awards [sic] and without any knowledge can graduate with up to an additional $80,000 of debt …”

Dean Levin concludes, “I believe that a preferable approach, going forward, is to be significantly more transparent about the principles and objectives being applied in making financial aid awards, and about how different awards are being made.”

This is a missed opportunity to right a wrong and begin repairing Stanford’s reputation.

A more preferable approach, going forward, is to fully own the integrity issue, commend the whistleblower for his work and professionalism and use this as a teachable example.

To do less is a (second) failure of leadership.

Integrity should come first.

Sincerely,

Adam M. Behrendt ’19

 

Contact Adam M. Behrendt at adam15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

 

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