Just because the semester is over doesn’t mean there aren’t yet more teaching-related issues to consider. Take, for instance, this scenario outlined by a colleague:
Say a student left a thank you card and a gift certificate to a local restaurant in my mailbox. I received it yesterday, after grades were already due. Is it ok for me to spend it? Does the university have any kind of policy about students giving gifts?
A little research on the university website leads me to believe that no policy exists to address this question. The Bok Center website does have a page on Professional Conduct that includes some relevant discussion of teacher-student relationships:
Interpersonal Relations. The power teachers exercise over students to penalize or reward in the
form of grades and recommendations requires caution in interpersonal interactions, and the need to avoid the
kind of familiarity that compromises objective and fair evaluation of a student’s work. In particular, sexual
advances towards or liaisons with one’s students are inappropriate, and violate University policy. Within these
limits, however, intellectual mentoring and friendly interaction are important elements of the learning and
In other words, before accepting a gift, it might make sense to ask yourself some questions:
- Did the student know that grades had already gone in?
- Is there any way he or she might think they’re influencing you even if that’s not the case?
- Are you personally comfortable with the gift?
A gift received at the end of the semester – one that isn’t attached to a request for a letter of recommendation or a grade change – seems innocuous enough. Still, secondary schools around the country are beginning to ban gift-giving entirely. and depending on where you teach, state ethics laws may proscribe gifts over a certain amount. The issue remains a murky one, definitely worthy of “Case Studies in Teaching” status.
Have you ever received a gift from a student? If you haven’t, under what circumstances would you or wouldn’t you accept a gift?
This post was written by Louis Epstein.