Sunday, November 16, 2014

You can establish a fair gift policy without laying an egg

Reader JLK, a teacher at a small regional public university, is wrestling with eggs.

Many of his students are older or non-traditional students who commute rather than live on campus. Many did not enroll in college right after completing high school. Some travel from rural communities, including farms.

One "very high-achieving" student is a 50-something mother who raises chickens and other animals and grows fruits and vegetables, some of which she shares with friends and neighbors. She recently began bringing cartons of eggs to campus to give to her professors. Her first intended recipient declined the gift and told JLK he was concerned that it would be unethical for him to accept such gifts from a student in his class.

"The eggs wound up in a shared refrigerator in the department's break room, with a note atop the carton that they were free to any takers," writes JLK. Another three dozen eggs have appeared since, JLK writes, all in cartons, all marked in the same way.

"The student has told her professors she simply has too many eggs and must give them away," writes JLK. The student's work is "top-notch," he writes, "so it doesn't appear she's trying to buy a better grade."

JLK wants to know what's so unethical about accepting a perishable gift such as farm-fresh eggs from a student who appears to have no ulterior motive.

There's nothing wrong with accepting perishable gifts if the policy is consistent and made clear to all students and faculty. There's a difference between accepting a carton of eggs and a truckload full of chickens, so if gifts, perishable or otherwise, are permitted, then it should be made clear what kinds of gifts are allowed and how much is permitted.

Setting such parameters can be a challenge. At some point, some might argue that it's just quibbling when it comes to deciding what value of gift is acceptable.

What's also challenging is to decide which students can give gifts and which can't. JLK seems to suggest that because the egg giver is an exemplary student, she stands to gain nothing from giving such gifts to her teachers. Does this mean that sub-par students should be forbidden from giving gifts because they stand to gain? That hardly seems right, nor enforceable, given how quickly some students can go from performing well to performing not so well in class.

A more consistent approach would simply be for teachers to not take gifts from students currently enrolled in their classes. Setting such a policy erases any doubts about whether or not a gift influenced a grade.

Ultimately, the right thing is for the faculty to be consistent and clear about whether gifts of any kind from students to teachers are acceptable. If the egg giver "simply has too many eggs," many of her fellow students might be willing to take them off her hands! 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No gifts at all is the way to go. The perception of favoritism and the definition of what is appropriate will certainly always be there.
In a nursing home, an aide can (and will) be fired for accepting any gift from a resident. While most gifts are just "thanks", the perception or hint of something (theft, bribery or ??) cannot be overlooked.
The circumstances, "too many eggs" could be considered laughable by certain people.
Such a no gift policy should be in place in any areas or any job where a bribe is possible. Then there are no questions and everyone is protected.
Such can be touchy in some jobs where personal contact is normal. My company has a cash limit ($25) that a vendor can spend on an employee. So a lunch is OK but a new Mercedes is not.

Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma.

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