Stanford University Business School Dean Robert Joss said the school may use the example of individuals who tried to enter a restricted...

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Stanford University Business School Dean Robert Joss said the school may use the example of individuals who tried to enter a restricted Web site to learn of their application status as a case study for future master’s degrees.

Earlier this month, Stanford rejected 41 applicants who tried to find out their status early after getting directions from a BusinessWeek Online Web forum. The individuals were given an opportunity to explain their actions to the school before a decision was made, Joss said.

The incident, which involved 219 applicants to five business programs, sparked a debate about ethical standards at the schools. Harvard Business School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, the Fuqua School at Duke University and the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University rejected the individuals outright. Only Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business admitted several students who got onto the site.

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“Here is a good example of a case where it is important to dissect what went on,” Joss said in an interview. “Somehow, because it is in cyberspace, people feel, ‘Oh no, I’m not doing any of those nasty things, I’m clean.’ ”

Joss previously was chief executive officer and managing director of Australia’s Westpac Banking.

All of the business schools used a system run by ApplyYourself of Fairfax, Va., that allows applicants to access information online, according to the company’s Web site. The identities of the individuals who breached the system were known because they were given unique usernames and passwords at the time they applied to the schools that were used to access the site.

Stanford, in Palo Alto, Calif., decided not to reject the students outright and asked each of them to write an essay explaining their situation. “We wanted to keep open the option of hearing their story while we were reading their applications,” he said.

Only one in 10 applicants were accepted to Stanford’s business school. A “handful” of the individuals who accessed their online information may have been accepted if their stories had been compelling enough, Joss said.

“There were people who didn’t think they’d done anything wrong, people who justified their behavior, people who said, ‘I didn’t do it, it wasn’t me,’ and people who said they made a big mistake,” Joss said.

None of the stories moved the admissions office, Joss said. “What they did was wrong,” he said.

Tuck also asked the students to explain themselves. Dean Paul Danos said last month that many of the students stated they had acted out of curiosity.

Joss said the individuals could reapply to Stanford. The other schools also have extended that option to the students.

Harvard Business School immediately rejected all of the applications after learning of the breach. One applicant designed a protest T-shirt that read, “Ethical, Schmethical. Free the HBS 119.”

Harvard’s graduates include former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling.

“It seems all the more important at a time when the business world has been wracked by too many transgressions,” spokesman Jim Aisner said in an interview last month.