The moral principle of telling the truth, particularly given scientific issues, seems incontrovertible. Here I share two illustrative ethical dilemmas I faced related to communicating the truth that call this rule into question.
Giving a “Fair” Evaluation
When I was a beginning assistant professor, a well-known athlete who also was a wonderful role model was in my class. Unfortunately, he just missed the cutoff for a grade of C. I considered his life situation, his many gifts to the school and the community, and altered the curve so that everyone at his performance score received a C. He went on to graduate (which is likely to have been the case even if I had given him a D) and became a world-famous sports icon and generous contributor to society.
Was I fair? Is it morally wrong not to give a “deserved” grade? How could I justify the vilii ed position of athletic favoritism? Would I have made this change if one of the other students asked for it? These questions certainly bothered me, and I attempted to maintain my moral ground with a vague utilitarian explanation that a greater good was at stake. Much would (could) have been lost if this student received the arbitrary cutoff grade.
This deservedness issue has resurfaced many times in my career but thankfully never again because of an athlete. On numerous occasions, I have agreed to pass a graduate student on the i nal orals when I considered the thesis and/or performance not to be of passing quality. I found myself again asking a functional question: What is to be gained (lost) by holding this person back at this time? I vividly remember facing this moral conl ict in the case of a single mother, struggling with two children, who badly needed to complete school and enter the job market yet was not performing to my standards. I agreed with the “pass” decision.