Sunday, August 24, 2014
College alum stands firm: If you want my money, treat me right
K.S., a reader from the Midwest, "had a great time studying and teaching" at her alma mater, but she whenever she's solicited for donations to the annual fund, she refuses.
While K.S. was working on a graduate degree in the mid-1990s, she also taught writing classes to freshmen and sophomores at the university. She continued teaching for a year after she completed her degree, then resigned to accept a new job in a new town.
After leaving the university, K.S. received two additional paychecks. Recognizing that they were sent in error, she returned the checks and explained that she was not entitled to them.
Shortly afterward, K.S. received a call from a university representative who told her that in addition to the checks she returned, she also had to repay the money that had been withheld from the two checks for taxes.
K.S. pointed out that it was not her responsibility to recover that money from the government, but rather the university's since it had made the error. University officials disagreed. Complicating matters, when the university sent her W2 indicating her earnings for that year, it included the two erroneously issued checks K.S. had returned. The university refused to issue a corrected W2 until K.S. repaid the university the money it had withheld from the two checks for taxes.
K.S. then called the IRS, which told her that all the university had to do was to call the IRS to recover the tax money it had withheld. She conveyed that information to the university, but was told they still wanted her to repay the money herself.
Since K.S. didn't have the money to hire a lawyer, she writes that a representative from the IRS helped her file her taxes by using her pay stubs from the university, rather than the incorrect W2.
"Everything turned out all right in the end," writes K.S. But because the university tried to make her pay for its mistake, she declines to send donations.
Should K.S.'s experience with university administrators over the erroneously sent paychecks outweigh the fact that her experience studying and teaching at the school were great? Since the years of positive experiences far outweigh the time it took to deal with this one negative incident, does K.S. owe it to the school to overlook what happened?
The right thing for K.S. to do is weigh her experience. If her final experience with her former employer soured her on how it treated a recent graduate, she has every right to turn her back. Of course, even if that experience had never happened, K.S. has no obligation to donate funds to her alma mater. How she decides to allocate any charitable contributions is up to her.
The university in question would do well to remember that it's not just the alumni affairs office that should consider how it treats the people once they leave the school. The right thing would have been for school officials to have worked with K.S. to resolve the problem, rather than forcing her to turn to the IRS for help.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications programat Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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