More stupid smart schools

Mar 17 2005 Kelly Norton

So It seems that others are on the short bus with Harvard in their decision to not admit business school applicants who directed their browsers to certain URLs on ApplyYourself’s obviously flawed decision delivery web site. Carnegie Mellon seems to have been the first, with Harvard following closely behind and now sadly MIT’s Sloan school has said it will reject 32 applicants who attempted to use one of the insecure URLs, even though they were unable to see their decisions early.

It’s interesting how representatives at all schools have all rationalized their decisions as a noble hard-lined stance against what they claim is an obvious unethical act. Many are quick with ill-fitting analogies like that of Sloan’s Dean, Richard Schmalensee, who likened the offense to using keys to gain illegal access to the Admissions office. Which doesn’t really make sense, since for one the sensitive URL’s were not secured and so would not require a key. I have a hard time accepting claims like those of HBS’s Kim Clark that the behavior was a “serious breach of trust that cannot be countered by rationalization.” Statements like that seem to suggest that trust in the admissions process is one sided. Applicants must carry the responsibility of acting in a manner that seems suitable to the admissions staff, while the staff and its agents accept none of that responsibility themselves. Surely applicants trust these schools to maintain their applications and conduct the subsequent correspondences in a confidential and secure manner. I’m also sure they trust these schools not to subject them to ambiguous situations where they are told that the school is violating that trust agreement when the only way of confirming it is to also commit a violation.

The Sloan decision has already brought about a number of good editorials in the MIT newspaper this week. The best of which was a letter sent by members of the Cryptography and Information Security Group at MIT, which provides a much different way of looking at the situation than what we have been hearing from the admissions spokespeople, including a more appropriate analogy to replace the one offered by Schmalensee.