The current issue of The New Yorker has an excellent story by Jonathan Franzen. I enjoyed reading it (unlike most recent New Yorker fiction, unfortunately) and it’s closely related to stuff I blog about.
It tells what happens after a girl is raped by a boy with powerful parents. Her coach wants her to report it but her parents dissuade her. They are afraid of what the boy’s parents would do to them. The mother is active in the local Democratic Party and says “I wish it had been anyone else.” They have three other children — this one, they seem to decide, is disposable.
The story is so wrenching because the parent-child bond is usually so strong. But smaller abandonments happen all the time. When I was a graduate student at Brown, I was a teaching assistant. One of the papers I graded turned out to be plagiarized. I told the professor about it; he did nothing. I’m sure I know why: It would have been costly for him. Time-consuming, for example. He abandoned the student. Teachers, like parents, should teach right and wrong.
I posted yesterday about a Columbia University valedictorian named Brian Corman who plagiarized part of his speech. Was this the first time he’s plagiarized? Of course not. It’s merely the first time he’s been punished for it. I believe he’s plagiarized many times and in some cases the teacher noticed. The teacher did nothing — thereby abandoning the student — because to do something would have been costly for the teacher. Had Corman been punished earlier, he would (a) not have been valedictorian (it would have gone to someone more deserving) and (b) not face ridicule for the rest of his life, since this episode will be preserved by Google. Likewise, Adam Wheeler — a flagrant liar who almost graduated from Harvard without being caught — will be ridiculed the rest of his life. He too was abandoned by his professors, who surely noticed before now that he plagiarized.
That Brown, Columbia, and Harvard professors put their own comfort ahead of doing right by their students is unsurprising, given the examples set by countless university presidents and underlings. (Examples here.) Why did Columbia University President Lee Bollinger show a shocking lack of understanding of the purpose of free speech? (He’s a law professor whose specialty is freedom of speech.) Because he thought it would be crowd-pleasing — and it was.