Winders: Here’s a ‘tip’. Question it all

Sure, Ariff Kachra may need a little help honing his narrative, as not everyone got the point of his recent in-class social experiment. But the lessons remain.

Last month, the Ivey professor collected $500 in ‘tips’ from his students. With the promise of extra access and bonus lessons, he solicited in class and through e-mails to his MBA section.

In a Sept. 12 e-mail, he promised a more convenient, online method of tipping. On Sept. 20, he expressed disappointment at tipping levels. On Sept. 23, he offered a special lecture for those who tipped more than $15.

“One important measure of engagement for me is your tips,” Kachra wrote in an Oct. 2 e-mail. “Therefore, I was hoping that those of you who have tipped me more than $30 could please send me your name, so I know who to recommend next time I am asked by a potential employer to recommend my most engaged students.”

Now, before you question the man’s sanity, know this whole process was an educational ruse. Kachra’s hard sell was part of an exercise to teach his class about value distribution.

He returned the money after his ‘big reveal’ earlier this month.

It was a bold move, and one that irritated a few students. Sure, they’re all laughing now. But read a portion of a letter I received from one student:

“I am shocked and astonished that the purveyor of private education that I am paying for is coercing his students to compensate him beyond tuition … While this smacks of a corrupted Third World education model, as a Canadian business student, I feel it is unacceptable.”

Certainly, Kachra hit a nerve. The anger in that note is real. But I loved the quote the professor gave The Globe and Mail last week:

“The world has changed. You have to educate young people today based on understanding, not information. Information is passé.”

Methods aside, and I realize that is difficult, I wonder about another issue: Why were the protests not louder?

Oh sure, everyone now says they knew – wink and nod – it was an experiment and they just played along. But I don’t buy it.

A respected professor. A competitive environment. A strange request with obvious personal benefits. Of course this idea intrigued. Even students who told The Globe they thought something was fishy still ‘tipped.’

The recently released 2011 Survey of Graduating Students found four in 10 Western students thought evaluations – marks and exams – were unfair during their time at the university. Those numbers were echoed among business students. The same survey showed another four in 10 students didn’t see any personal improvement in their awareness of ethical issues.

And would there be any bolder example influencing both categories – even if it was pure fiction in this case – than this? So where was the outrage?

To be honest, I expect so much more from Western students. Especially MBAs.

Remember, you have a lot to live down beyond your control. It was your real-world brethren who crashed the economy because everyone was willing to go along with a preposterous concept. I am sure sub-prime mortgages were hilarious at one point.

Listen, I am not picking on MBAs here. If English majors had broken the world, then I would be on them. But they didn’t.

This next generation of MBAs not only faces a difficult job market, but must carry the sins of their predecessors. And now we’re sort of laughing off this experiment as a lesson learned.

That’s fine. But remember even in fiction, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it is. And that’s when you need to speak up.

Just wonder why more didn’t do it.