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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Real Integrity Looks Like

The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn's student-run newspaper, ran an editorial today expressing dissatisfaction with the fact that one person chosen for an upcoming panel, a patient ambassador named Lori Alf, has been accused of ethnic discrimination. I submitted this comment:

To the editor:

The DP's opinion board writes, "We merely wish to attend a university which institutionally and consistently places accountability and integrity over reputation and expedience." But they have a strange way of showing it.

The fact is, it would be more expedient for Penn Medicine to have chosen someone other than Lori Alf as an ambassador and as a panelist. Obviously it makes things easier if you don't have to be distracted by questions about a representative who has had allegations leveled against her. It's easier to protect one's reputation that way.  Easier, more expedient -- but wrong.

The presumption of innocence isn't just a legal principle, but a moral one. Just as the father of liberalism, John Stuart Mill, argued that unpopular opinion, no matter how odious some may find it, must be free not only from legal, but also social and economic sanction -- lest an unpopular truth be suppressed, and society left unable to benefit from knowing it -- so, likewise, it's not enough that the legal system doesn't penalize someone until they've been proven guilty of a crime. It's also necessary that social penalties not be imposed until guilt is proven. Otherwise, anyone with an ax to grind has an incentive to make false allegations against another, since they could expect this to hurt the person even if they're eventually found to be false.

Such perverse incentives are to be avoided wherever possible. And it's easy to do so: just establish as policy that unproven allegations will not be a consideration in assigning any benefit, honor, etc. Only in this way are those with malicious intent denied any payoff for defaming others. And only through such a policy can Penn consistently place accountability and integrity over reputation and expedience.

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