As head of a foundation that funds arts programs in a southern city, Connie helped initiate a program to bring artists in residence into the middle schools. Her seven-member committee had received numerous applications, including one from Hamilton Craft, perhaps the best-known painter in the region. His national reputation and amiable personality made him a natural for Connie's program, and he had let it be known around the city that he was applying. Reviewing the applications, Connie had little doubt he would be selected.
On the rÃ© sumÃ© submitted with his application, Craft had listed a Ph.D. in art history, received from an East Coast university in the late 1960s. So Connie's assistant, doing routine background checks on the artists, was astonished to discover that the university had no record of such a degree. Craft had indeed enrolled in a doctoral program but had never completed it. He did not hold a Ph.D. His rÃ© sumÃ© plainly misstated the facts.
Connie told the committee, then confronted Craft. Cordial as ever, he explained that just as he was completing the work for his doctorate, he had been drafted into the army. What he had meant to write on the rÃ© sumÃ© , he explained, was "course work completed for Ph.D." - a phrase often used in rÃ© sumÃ© s to indicate that the candidate had not completed writing the dissertation. But somehow that phrase got shortened simply to "Ph.D."
Then, turning surprisingly tough, Craft warned her that if the committee refused him on this technicality - an issue that surely had little bearing on his ability to work with a classroom of middle-schoolers - he would sue them for mishandling his application and potentially defaming his character.
Sobered, the committee assessed its options. Some, arguing from the ends-based perspective of the greatest good for the greatest number, felt that the matter should be quietly overlooked. The city's entire arts community knew that he was planning to join this program. His stature would greatly enhance the new program. To refuse him would amount to a public reprimand - and perhaps produce such a fallout that the entire artists-in-residence program would be jeopardized. Wouldn't it be the greatest good for a great number of kids to study with one of the nation's best? Be realistic, they said. Think of the horrendous consequences of rejecting him, as opposed to the negligible problems of accepting him.
Others, taking a more rules-based approach, insisted that the infraction was no small issue. How could they hold up as a role model for their children a man who sought to deceive others? No matter how good the art, that kind of dishonesty was unacceptable. The committee, they felt, had no choice but to stand by the principle they would like everyone in the world to obey: no cheating, no fraud, no deception. Besides, what if some enterprising newspaper reporter discovered that the rÃ© sumÃ© was false - and that the committee, knowing that fact, had appointed him anyway? Wouldn't that jeopardize the program?
Still others argued for a care-based approach. They should do to Craft as they would like others to do to them if they were in his position. If I were guilty of stretching the truth a bit in private, they argued, should I be subjected to a public reprimand that could seriously compromise my reputation? On the other hand, if I were deliberately trying to deceive others, wouldn't it be best if someone had the courage to stop me?
Chairing the committee, Connie watched it deadlock in a three-to-three vote. It fell to her to break the tie. What should she do?
Connie voted against bringing Hamilton Craft into the schools as an artist in residence. She reasoned that, while the lack of a Ph.D. had no direct bearing on his ability to work with children, his willingness to allow a deception to take root - and his vehement resistance to seeing it corrected - suggested a tolerance for dishonesty that did not meet the standard for values-based teaching that she wanted to support. He was not, in her eyes, the kind of adult she wanted children to view as a role model.
As it happened, the committee's vote had the effect of calling Craft's bluff. He withdrew his application, and he did not make good on his threats to raise the issue with the public or (as far as the committee could tell) with other artists in the community. The artist-in-residence program went forward successfully - although, sadly, without the participation of one of the community's finest artists.
Copyright 1999 Institute for Global Ethics. All rights reserved.