coping with a culture of corruption

During the years I used to teach at Siena, I’d always invite students I’d not had before to stop by for a chat, if they wished.  Mostly they wished.  The idea was to personalize what otherwise might be a dry and sterile relationship, get to know them better as individuals, and generally foster mutual understanding.  Some times those conversations were very enlightening.  “May I speak frankly?”, was always a bad sign.  “You’re just like my father, and I hate my father” was one of my all time favorites.  I grew greatly to sympathize with her father.

At Siena I might have 70 – 75 students in a semester, perhaps half of them new to me.  Here the load is 103, every last one of them a total stranger.  30 minutes per student, which is fairly short shrift, and you can do the math.  It will take me probably four weeks to get them all in.  Here the conversations are somewhat different than the Siena days.  In many respects students are students everywhere  (and I even have two Americans.)  But in other ways, the differences can be stark.

I have students from many countries, but with the exception of the aforementioned Americans, every one of them is from a country that used to be behind the Iron Curtain and, although that curtain is now torn, the lingering damage is considerable.  In the old days, about the only way people could cope was to cheat, chisel, and cut corners.  Each of the languages had some phrase meaning “on the left”, meaning that certain things had to be done with the left hand that the right hand did not acknowledge.  Even with the (relative) freeing of societies, the old ways still prevail.  Higher education is no exception.

Almost without fail, students tell me that one of the great advantages of an education at LCC is that it is an honest institution, where one earns ones grades, not buys them.  I find it almost incredible, but student after student tells me it is routine to pay a professor for a grade.  Some even put out price lists – and it isn’t cheap.  An “A” on a midterm might cost the equivalent of $50.  A final somewhat more.  And, in Moscow they say that getting past the exam required to move on to the next level of schooling could cost as much as $500!  One impecunious student had to repeat a course three times before he actually got a fair grade.

Apparently Lithuania is less bad than some other countries, but the practice takes place here as well.  My favorite story is of a final exam where the professor left an envelope on his desk and announced the price to pass – or fail – the entire class, and left it up to them to distribute the burden.  I would have loved to have been in that classroom to see how they sorted it out.  Many principles of economics would have come into play.

Clearly I’m missing the boat here.  103 students times $50 or so a pop, and this could give a whole new meaning to the word “volunteer.”    Then maybe a discounted $30 for paper sumissions, $100 for a final – the mind boggles.

I am certain that anyone trying that in the States would be promptly fired.  I am equally certain that somewhere, some have done precisely this and gotten away with it.  The graft rolls up hill, needless to say.  The students are of the opinion, although not observing it directly, that deans and presidents get a slice of the action, or the professor will have to seek employment elsewhere.

The other topic that comes up very frequently, given the mission of LCC, is faith.  Most don’t have any.  One conversation altogether too typical:  “Are you a Christian?  “Yes”  “Do you go to church”  “No – maybe Christmas and Easter.”  “Do you think God would like your worship?”  “I don’t know”  “What makes you a Christian?”  (After considerable deep hesitation)  “Well, I believe in God.”  “Anything else?”  “You’re supposed to be nice to other people”  “Do Muslims believe in God?”  “Yes”  “Do you think they are supposed to be nice to other people?”  “I guess so.”  “Are they Christian?”  Total puzzlement.

A few baldly state they are atheists, but not many.  Generations of official atheism have left their mark.  “I used to believe, but don’t now.”  “Why not?”  “I don’t want to insult you.”  “Don’t worry – you won’t be the first.”  “I grew up.”

Then there are the measures I’ve been warned on to stop cheating on exams.  That’s another day and another post.  Meanwhile, I can never complain that I don’t have a full plate here.


3 thoughts on “coping with a culture of corruption

  1. Chuck and Bonnie, We really enjoy all the writing you folks do and read everything. Keep it up. Sounds like a very interesting and challenging experience time for the both of you. All your pictures are interesting as well. The climate of your area is as I expected it given my background in weather, climate, geography ad nauseam. Speaking of geography, John reminded me, and I have duly forgotten, the former name of Klaipeda, which was_____? Best wishes to you both as well as rest of family.

    Henry and Nancy

  2. Interesting newsletter. Don told me about his Arab students who freely helped one another on their tests. In fact, they were obligated/required to give answers to their own people. He said one of his fellow teachers came down pretty hard on them for ‘helping’ one another.
    Thanks for the letters. Given the cold wind and snow, the letters are as good as being there.

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