MONEY

The fine line between a gift and a bribe

by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ

Question: A wonderful art teacher at my daughter’s high school was quietly treated to a three-week “sabbatical” in Florence this summer by the wealthy parents of three of my daughter’s classmates. Was it inappropriate for him to accept their gift? If so, what should I do?

Answer: Inappropriate is putting it mildly. Dazzled as he may have been by the prospect of the sabbatical, the teacher should have realized how corrupting it is to accept a gift of that magnitude – a gift that, everyone’s honorable intentions notwithstanding, has all the earmarks of a bribe. After all, no matter how hard he tries to be fair, how can this teacher not give the gift givers’ children the benefit of every doubt when he’s grading their work, writing their college recommendations or simply deciding whom to call on in class?

Shame too on those parents for compromising a good teacher. Even had they waited for their children to graduate, their gesture would have been misguided, signaling as it does that rewards await the teacher who wins favor with the rich.

You need to right these parents’ wrong by bringing their actions to the school’s attention. If you fear this could make trouble for your daughter, do it anonymously. But do it. As fine a man as he may otherwise be, this teacher should be censured and the parents reprimanded. Indeed, the principal needs to make certain that everyone in the school community understands that there’s no place for payola in the classroom.

Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.

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