Business Schools’ Reactions Differ

Dartmouth, Stanford to review admissions of alleged hackers individually

Two elite business schools have decided to examine individually the applications of prospective students who tried to gain unauthorized access to a website indicating their admissions status.

Harvard Business School (HBS) announced on March 7 that it would categorically reject all 119 applicants who used a hacker’s tip to try to check their admissions status earlier this month, sparking debate over the appropriate response to the students’ actions.

The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College said in a statement yesterday that it had considered on a case-by-case basis the applications of the 17 prospective students who had tried to learn their status early and had admitted a number of them.

“We believe that integrity and accepting responsibility for one’s actions are the cornerstones of leadership,” said Paul Danos, Tuck’s dean. “We also believe that each person must be respected and valued as an individual.”

The Stanford Graduate School of Business announced earlier this week that it would take the incident into account in its admissions decisions, but it did not say whether it had accepted any of the individuals involved. Stanford asked the 41 affected applicants to write a letter explaining their actions.

Along with HBS, the business schools at Carnegie Mellon, Duke, and MIT will reject such applicants.

On March 2, a hacker posted instructions on Business Week Online’s technology forum detailing how applicants could try to view their admissions status early by logging in and altering the URL.

ApplyYourself, the online admissions program that the six schools used, took down the admissions letters after about nine hours. More than 200 applicants saw or attempted to see their admissions status.

In his March 7 statement announcing that HBS would reject the applicants who used this method, Dean of HBS Kim B. Clark called their actions “unethical at best—-a serious breach of trust that cannot be countered by rationalization.”

At an HBS faculty meeting yesterday, University President Lawrence H. Summers supported HBS’s decision.

“It was a statement that actions have consequences,” Summers said.

Several of the rejected HBS applicants have criticized the school’s actions in anonymous statements released to the press.

Some technology experts also said they do not believe the applicants’ actions warranted rejection.

Jonanthan Zittrain, the faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, wrote in an e-mail yesterday that he believes HBS’s reaction is “likely unduly harsh.”

Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility, said he hopes HBS will consider reversing its decision.

“The Internet is an enabling technology that makes all kinds of things easier to do in the spirit of the moment and with detachment from reality,” he said. “When you get reactions that are not tempered by the human side of this, that strikes me as fundamentally unfair.”

But HBS spokesman David Lampe said yesterday the school would not excuse the applicants’ actions.

“Legally, what they did was trespassing,” Lampe said. “This is an area where you know you’re not supposed to be.”

Kenneth S. Ledeen, chairman of Nevo Technologies and a teaching fellow in Quantitative Reasoning 48, “Bits,” said that, while he does not believe the applicants’ actions constituted hacking, the incident still raises difficult ethical questions.

“The reason you don’t see much of a consensus is that people don’t have a clear framework through which to view it,” Ledeen said.

—Anton S. Troianovski contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Daniel J.T. Schuker can be reached at dschuker@fas.harvard.edu.