Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sticking it to the Martlett

If you grew up in the 1970's, the exploits of Frank Serpico left an indellible stamp on your concept of right and wrong. Here was an ordinary man taking on a seemingly unflappable giant - the New York Police Department. The idea of someone taking on the system was common at the time. Afterall, the United States was grappling with the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal among other things. This however, was a little different. A cop, symbol of opression to an angry generation looking to break down the existing order of things, was turning against his own in a campaign to rid his force of corruption, cheating in effect. It almost got him killed.

Two generations later, the university I work for has its own Frank Serpico. I have had the pleasure of knowing Jeremy Cooperstock for a couple of years. Both of our boys share a class at the McGill Childcare Centre, and I become friendly with Jeremy and his family. A professor in the Faculty of Engineering, this guy is brilliant, almost to the point of intimidation. He is the type of person who will analyze almost any statement - not to criticize - but merely to see if it makes sense or whether or not another solution is possible. As a professor, he is a hard ass, and students are expected to work a fair amount for a decent grade. They are also expected to do honest work. I know little of the Faculty of Engineering, except to say the students are for the most part, conservative and bland, and will be staunchly successful, managing projects to develop the type of bedroom communities that will enable them to live in peace with their efficient, sensible, and equally bland partners. There, prejudices revealed. In any case, it appears that the definition of honest work varies somewhat from faculty to faculty, and there appears to be a "define what you mean by zero" tolerance in his own. After seeing cheating students threaten to sue the University and succeed in passing (a new concept of extra work for a grade), my buddy has had enough. He has launched a website to take on what he feels is an administration that claims to take a stance on academic integrity, but really uses this term for a little public relations exercise. It will be a tough fight, as the Goliath in this case is powerful, and the David is virtuous, but not.

Despite having worked at McGill for 18+ years, I am not the type of employee who would have the University Martlett symbol ( a fictitious bird, much like the aformentioned concept of integrity) tattooed on my ass. I have an attitude problem. I love my job, advising undergraduate students. I try to help them work around an administration that is often disorganized, ill-informed, or apathetic. If I have a run in with a student, they should seriously examine the flaws in their personality that led them to piss me off. If I have a run in with an employee - its because I think they may be taking themselves a little too seriously or they are unfairly contemptuous of students whose youth and potential they envy. With that attitude, if I am forced to work with you, I will not do so quitely.

I wish Jeremy the best of luck in this campaign. While I am morally indifferent to the concept of cheating - we all bend the rules in some way - the idea that a student can use their finanical or political power to threaten an institution and win is disgusting, and if rewarded, is just another example of one bully protecting another. When they make the movie, I can see a role for Jon Cryer as Jeremy Cooperstock. It will allow him to escape having to share a sitcom with notorious rule breaker, Charlie Sheen.

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