Friday, April 8, 2011

After 13 years... a bribe

Plead. Cry. Yell. Play victim. Apologize.

After 13 years of teaching, I've witnessed all sorts of reactions when students learn that they aren't getting the grade they "needed." But this was a first:

A bribe.

It was almost a "good" bribe, too:  Student would babysit my kids or mow my lawn. 

I don't have a lawn. I do have kids. And it is hard to find a good babysitter these days...

Seriously, did Student think bribery would actually work? Apparently so.

I was not surprised that Student was upset with the final grade. All quarter, Student apparently had a particular outcome in mind. Student needed a certain GPA in order to get into a program at another institution. The final grade in my class missed the mark, but was, unfortunately well-deserved based on Student's performance.

Of course, it would have been helpful if Student told me about the needed GPA early in the term. Maybe we could have actually done something about it--like hatch a plan for early review of work, continual checking of grades to see if Student was on track, etc. But in week 10 when finals are flying? Rewind is not possible.

So, desperate student = desperate bribe.

I'm almost surprised it didn't happen sooner in my career. I've seen a load of tweak-out come week 10, all as a result of poor planning or life unexpectedly getting in the way, which, of course, happens to all of us.

What did I say to Student? Essentially, that a bribe was:
a) Something I could or would never accept (and as if I'd really have this person watch my kids!);
b) Highly unethical;
c) Highly unprofessional;
d) Cause for me to escalate the matter to my Division Chair if the dialogue continued, which could have far deeper ramifications for Student's overall college career. 

Fortunately, Student apologized profusely and accepted the grade.

While I'm definitely in disbelief about the approach, I am empathetic. Being blind-sided never feels good. Having that "Oh, crap! What am I going to do now?" feeling never feels good either. However, these feelings hopefully drive new behaviors and improved communication. As Maya Angelou says, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." 

How can Student communicate better next time?

Number one:  Never, ever bribe a professor for a grade! This seems obvious, right?

Number two:  Start a dialogue EARLY with a professor about the needed/wanted grade. Find out what that grade will require. Stay after class, make an appointment, send an e-mail, carrier pigeon, anything! Learn what needs to be done, do it, and keep tabs on progress. Sounds like a no-brainer, but too many students don't do it and find themselves in a sweat at term's end.

A bribe.

There is no place in college (or anywhere, for that matter) for bribery. Well, maybe The Soprano's School of Mafia-Related Communication. And even there, the most artful bribe could get you whacked.


  1. This was a memorable experience, eh? A male friend of mine who teaches in another college had a young female student come to him in his office and say, "Professor, I need a passing grade in your class. I'll do *anything* to get get." "Anything???" he asked. "Yes--anything." At this, he leaned forward to the young woman and sweetly whispered, "Study."

  2. I've heard the "Study" story since I began teaching back in musta happened somewhere!

  3. Maybe Anonymous heard that story because it happens somewhat frequently. It happened, more or less like that, to me in my second year as an instructor.

  4. I have been asked if I would take a bribe, but usually in jest, often during a class session when I've just returned less-than-stellar student work.

    My response: "Absolutely. $500,000. That's what I estimate it will take to continue to support my family, plus the expenses involved in retraining for a new career."

    So far, no takers. :)

  5. Only $500,000? I'd say a cool million. Hmm... I'm having ideas now. :-)

  6. A student offered me a bribe for a passing grade... $100. (Come on! Seriously, only $100?) After I explained to the student how inappropriate this was, he amended his offer to make a $100 donation to a charity of my choice...

  7. My snarky thought whenever a students asks what they can do to get a better grade at the end of the semester is that they need to build a time machine to go back to the beginning of the semester in order to do the homework/attend class/follow directions/come to office hours/take revisions seriously/study/change whatever they did or didn't do that lead to a poor grade.

  8. I know. It is one statement I feel like I repeat over and over and over again: "Why didn't we have this conversation eight weeks ago when we could have done something about it?" It's so nice to know I'm not alone, but I hope students reading will start those conversations with us earlier!!!