Unintentional gifts left by students during office hours amuse economics professor

Sanjay Paul November 19, 2014 0

Few things delight Homer as much as a visit by a student during office hours. Such visits, infrequent and fleeting as they may be, serve to lift the veil of gloom that otherwise shrouds Homer as he maintains a lonely, Maytag repairman-like vigil in Hoover. The silence can be oppressive on occasion, and Homer finds himself straining to hear the sounds of music emanating from Professor Chichilnisky’s office next door.

So when a student visits him in his office, Homer can scarcely contain his excitement. And after the business on hand is attended to, and the student has left the premises, Homer is even more delighted when he discovers mementos left behind by the student.

Papers, pens and notebooks are the usual items that linger in Homer’s office long after their owners have departed, but in recent weeks, Homer has also had the pleasure of receiving a half-finished paper cup of some unknown beverage and a pair of gloves. The former, he surmised, was to provide him with liquid nourishment, while the gloves had been undoubtedly left on his desk to help him deal with the harsh winter months that lay ahead.

Homer is appreciative of such gestures. He is hopeful that, as Wordsworth suggested, the artifacts will aid him recall the student visits in moments of tranquility.

But there was a slight problem with the gifts. Homer could not accept them. His gift policy, which he is at pains to remind his students about every week through an email, makes it clear:

“You (the student) must not think me ungrateful when I say that I cannot accept gifts during the regular semester. I am perfectly amenable, however, to receiving gifts after I have submitted all my grades, and would in fact be pleased to provide you with a wish list that I maintain on amazon.com. Some of these gifts could require an outlay greater than that needed to buy a cup of coffee or a pair of gloves, but there is nothing to stop enterprising teams of students from pitching in and purchasing the big-ticket items.”

Homer is considering adding this clause to his syllabus. Some carp that course syllabi have grown too long as institutional demands to add various things have mushroomed. Policies on evaluation, attendance, textbooks are all useful, but can we have too much of a good thing? Do students even read these documents, Professor Brownberg is said to have asked plaintively?

But Homer entertains no such doubts. His syllabi, unlike those of his marketing colleague Chichilnisky, who seems to prize brevity and wit, are masterpieces of prolixity encased in thoroughly inelegant language. And now he is planning to add his gift policy to the mix.

This policy is quite possibly at odds with several statutes in the Faculty Handbook dealing with integrity and professionalism and such. Accordingly, those engaged in discussions of enterprise risk management at the college might wish to look closely at Homer’s proposed addition to the syllabus.

Colleges, it was recently noted by the president in the Chronicle of Higher Education, must consider risk carefully. There is a good kind of risk, the sort that could lead to great rewards. But then there are other risks that should be avoided. Homer’s gift policy, though likely to lead to some rewards for him personally, is probably not what Dr. Strikwerda might consider a worthy risk for the institution.

But Homer has more important things on his mind. His desk is getting cluttered with these stranded objects, and he makes valiant attempts to return them to their rightful owners.

In the most recent instance, the beverage of uncertain chemical composition proved to be a problem. Alas, it had long since been discarded, so all he could offer was an abject apology to the unknown donor.

But the gloves were another matter! He still had those, and in fact, to ensure their safety, had transferred custody to the eminently trustworthy department secretary Ms. Karney.

Homer sent out an email to his students informing them that if one of them was missing a pair of gloves, a quick visit to Ms. Karney’s office in Hoover would be in order.


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