Handling Gifts, Gratuities, and Favors
One day in class, another student mentioned that Demetrio and his American wife had opened a small, fast-food restaurant in town specializing in Greek food. On the spot, class members suggested holding one class session at the restaurant. Why not? Professor Welling agreed.
When the appointed day arrived, 20 students attended. Demetrio supervised the kitchen and prepared a delectable gyro sandwich for each class member. The discussion was lively over the table, and the session was one of the best and most memorable of the semester. However, Demetrio made it clear that he would not accept payment from anyone. This was his treat to the class, "the least he could do." Professor Welling left the restaurant happy that the class session had gone well, but just slightly uncomfortable about any lingering obligation to Demetrio.
Video clip (provided by Dr. Nick Eastmond, .avi file). These clips are provided to enrich the learning experience. Please contact AECT with any comments you may have.
The AECT Code of Ethics—Section 2, Principle 4
Demetrio's generosity with the class left Dr. Welling in a bit of a predicament. Because the favor shown by the student was substantial—feeding 21 people while struggling financially to make his business profitable—will he expect extra coaching on assignments and leniency in grading his work? Or, could this expenditure on Demetrio's part be viewed as a legitimate promotional expense because class members will be more likely to know about and use the restaurant, as well as to pass the word along to their friends?
After all, it was a gift from Demetrio, instigated by a suggestion from another student. Dr. Welling was not well versed in the customs of Demetrio's country, but she had heard of their exceptional hospitality shown to foreigners. Would Demetrio take offense at any hint that his generosity could be construed as a form of bribery? Professor Welling liked to try novel approaches in her teaching; this dinner was certainly a first. But was there an ethical aftertaste?
Would the AECT Code of Ethics really interpret a meal as being a gift, she wondered. Political figures, for example, held to high ethical standards by law, can legitimately accept meals. Professor Welling thought back to the occasional times that she had treated her class with ice cream cones or doughnuts, as a gesture of good will. Was that bribery on her part? Recognizing that reciprocity in gift giving is a complicated matter, she had a lingering feeling of imbalance in the relationship. Would a modest gift in return—for example, some item for the restaurant that she purchased with donations from the class—clear the debt?
The larger question concerns gifts in general. What teachers are offering is a personal service. In our society, it is common to give gifts for personal services: to delivery persons, brokers, ministers, etc. Some possible strategies for dealing with gifts include: (1) keep gifts; (2) reject inappropriate gifts; (3) offer a gift in return, thus making clear that no favors will go beyond that; (4) defer gift giving until after evaluation activities are anticipated—for students this would be after graduation; and (5) accept gifts only for the department, and not for yourself (required in government positions and often the best solution).
Professor Welling could not help but be amazed at how complicated a simple decision with her class had become!
J. Nicholls Eastmond, Jr.