Leadership summit examines dishonesty

Two weeks after six students were expelled for cheating, student leaders searched for ways to stem academic dishonesty in the community at a hastily summoned Leadership Summit on March 8.

The group of more than 30 students from the Prefect Council, the newly created Community Council and various school clubs and organizations as well as administrators and the Prefect Council advisers met in Chalmers for the second leadership summit of the year.

President Thomas C. Hudnut kicked off the summit with the same speech he gave to the faculty before the school year in which he compared the actions of former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling and Dr. Paul Farmer, an anthropologist who has traveled the world curing infectious diseases in impoverished regions.

“I worry that Harvard-Westlake can come across as Enron,” Hudnut said. “Not for its stupidity, mendacity, depravity, avarice or philandery, but rather because I worry that our students won’t learn the goodness of Paul Farmer and be too easily seduced by the wealth of Jeff Skilling.”

“I worry that like Enron we might not see ourselves and our school as vulnerable. And I worry that we become complacent at Harvard-Westlake because of our good fortune. I worry most of all that both we adults and you students may embrace the notion that ethical behavior requires nothing more than avoiding the explicitly illegal, that refusing to see the bad things happening in front of you makes you innocent and that the truth is the same as making sure that nobody can prove you lied.”

After Hudnut’s speech, the assembled leaders broke off into three groups and rotated through three mini-sessions.

The sessions were headed by Prefect Council advisers Jordan Church and Laurence Klein, Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts and Assistant Director of Alumni Relations Eli Goldsmith.

In her mini-session, Huybrechts asked for suggestions for preventing incidents of cheating in the future and strengthening the community.

The various suggestions included a mentoring program between upper school teachers and new sophomores, a re-signing of the Honor Code before entering 10th grade and some version of ethics education at the Middle School.

The session headed by Goldsmith presented a dilemma he faced while he was freshman class president at Princeton University where he planned the class’ most important event, the Freshmen Formal, on the same day as Passover.

Goldsmith asked students whether they would change the date of the Formal or do nothing after giving them a list of the various implications of each option.

In their session, Klein and Church delved further into a discussion about Skilling and Farmer, posing the question of whether Skilling is wholly bad and Farmer wholly good.

Hudnut also took the opportunity to commend the Honor Board for its work in investigating the stolen January exams.

“Thanks to the effort of those that have worked on the Prefect Council and Honor Board, I think that we have shown ourselves to be the kind of school that stands for something important,” Hudnut said.