Dr. Atul Gawande gave a terrific address to the 2010 crop of new docs graduating from Stanford University. You can read that address, â€œThe Velluvial Matrixâ€ in the June 16, 2010 issue of The New Yorker. The graduating docs at the University of Alberta were apparently able to hear the same speech and follow along on their smart phones from The New Yorker reproduction as their dean, Dr. Philip Baker, used word-for-word passages to offer â€œhisâ€ thoughts to them. The address is funny, insightful, and motivational, but it is Dr. Gawandeâ€™s. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the key to meaningful flattery is letting the other person know. Graduating students complained that Dr. Baker did not do that.
The University is investigating, Dr. Baker has apologized, and the hardest part lies ahead. Enforcement is to any organization what integrity is to us individually. We hold fast to our ethical standards because of our integrity. An organization is able to hold fast to its ethical standards only if it enforces them absolutely, unequivocally, and in an egalitarian fashion. The University of Alberta has a fine code of ethics that requires its students to use attribution for passages, thoughts, theories, quotes, and ideas. Expulsion is its enforcement tool for violation of these ethical standards.
The Barometer is reminded of the too-frequent times her own cherubs on the home front have uttered the phrase, â€œIf I did what you just did, Iâ€™d be in a lot of trouble.â€ There was one such embarrassing parental moment when the Barometer cut through a shopping center parking lot in order to avoid stopping at a red light â€“ ironically to get to church on time. A 16-year-old newly minted driver of a daughter muttered, â€œDo you know how many laws you just broke, Mom?â€ And she followed it up with, â€œIf I did that, you wouldnâ€™t let me drive for three months.â€ She was right. How can we expect those within our charge to honor rules that we ourselves break? Oh, that tone at the top is indeed important. But, we are the top, and must assume responsibility for the tone.
Dean Baker is the essence of the tone at the top. The graduating students complained about the Gawande speech because they were thinking, â€œIf I did that . . . â€œ After being held to rigorous standards, they witnessed a leader doing something stunningly violative of clear standards. Dean Bakerâ€™s apology many not be enough if the culture and standards of the University are to hold firm.
The Barometer is grateful to an eagle-eye follower for sending this interesting and evolving incident along.
For more information on what happened and the Gawande speech, see: