Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Gifts, bribes and threats

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

This morning when I arrived in the cafeteria Mike Rowe, Gus Johns and Bob Bunn were all taking about something they had read about in yesterday's newspapers. Apparently a Chinese student at the University of Bath had attempted to bribe his professor into passing his dissertation which had been classified as a failure. He put £5000 on the professor's desk. He said that he was a businessman and if the dissertation was given a pass the professor should keep the money and say no more about it. The professor was having none of it and told the student to take the money and leave immediately. He would be reported and punished for what was a very serious breach of university regulations and possibly even criminal activity. Then, as the student got up to leave, a starting pistol fell from his pocket so that the professor also felt threatened. The student was later arrested, charged and convicted and has now been sentenced to twelve months in prison.

"£5000 was not worth the risk then!" said Mike. "You cynical old economist!" said Gus in response. "Some people have absolute ethical standards about that kind of thing."

"Maybe most people" said Bob "but do you think that nobody at USE has ever taken a bribe?"

"It might not have been money" commented Mike "Maybe the odd sexual favour!"

"Well, I guess there are some bad apples in every barrel" said Gus, "But I can't believe that anyone in our department would respond to that kind of thing. And with the possibility of sacking and even imprisonment if you were caught, it would surely be too much of a risk to take".

"Aren't you allowed to accept any gifts from students?" I asked. "I thought that so long as you declared them to your Head of Department so that they were registered it was OK". "Yes" said Mike "but just token gifts at the end of the course once all the marking has been completed. The odd bottle of wine or box of chocolates. The Greeks often give you a bottle of ouzo, while the Chinese favour boxes of tea or good luck charms. Those kinds of thing are OK".

"Talking of bad apples" said Bob " reminds me of that Cypriot student back in the seventies who tried to bribe Martin with the crate of oranges from his family's citrus company."

"Yes" said Gus, "Martin tried to give them to a local vicar for some Vietnamese refugees he was looking after at the time, but the vicar wouldn't accept them. It was at the time that somebody was injecting dye or poison into oranges as an anti-Israeli protest and the vicar said that he couldn't be sure that the oranges he was being offered had not been affected."

"So what happened to the oranges?" I asked. "I think they just got dumped" said Gus.

"What about threats then?" I said. "Have we had any cases of students threatening staff if they don't get the grades they want?"

"Not exactly threats" said Mike, "But you do get all those tearful stories about the effect that failure or low grades will have on the students' parents who have forked out so much money in support of their dear little lovelies."

"Actually" said Bob "If I recall correctly that Cypriot student kept going on to us that that if he was to be kicked off the course and be sent home his father was in danger of dying. He had already had a by-pass operation and was very weak. We had the full medical picture described in great detail."

"Well" said Gus. "A couple of years after that I went on holiday to Cyprus and in the taxi ride from the airport to the resort the driver asked us if it was our first time in Cyprus. When we said that it was I mentioned that as I had taught economics to a number of Cypriot students back in England it was a place that I had really wanted to visit. The taxi driver asked me to give him some names of students that I had taught - perhaps he knew some of them. I thought it highly unlikely but one name I mentioned caused him to stop the car."

"Look" he said, pointing to the citrus groves on either side of the road. "These all belong to him"

"But" Gus continued "He is still only a young man - surely this is his father's business?"

"No. Very sad." said the driver "Didn't you know that when the young man came back here having been kicked out of your university for failing all his exams his father took it very badly. He had a bad heart condition and a few months later he had a massive heart attack that killed him. But the son must have learned some economics in England. The business has been even more successful under him than with his father."

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