Thursday, February 7, 2013

Karma Police

           "Arrest this man."
           I believe in karma, as I have felt the wheel roll over me too many times to ignore it. When I hear about people who prey on the pain or loss or generosity of others, I know that at some point, the scales will balance. I'm sure that isn't much comfort to those who were the victims of deception, but it is something.
           With each day comes new tragedy. People come together to aid their fellow man, but there are always a greed-driven few looking to make a buck off tragedy. I'm going to tell you a story about one such person.
           Fred, let's call him, started graduate school the year I came back. Though his undergraduate record wasn't stellar, he received a full ride (tuition waiver, stipend, book money, housing allowance) at the department's expense. An older student with a wife and seven-year-old daughter, he wanted to get his PhD, try to better his position in life, etc.
           He'd never taught before, and if you've never taught before and have no training, it's in your best interest to seek the help and guidance of a veteran. Fred did not. The first semester, he was never on-time to class. Several times, he never showed, forcing other teachers to fill-in for him and leave their tutoring spots. He was always late to do his floor hours, practically hid while in the lab, and left early.
           Because of him, the lab director made a new policy that all the workers had to swipe in and out, like punching a time clock the same way the students did. She claimed that the information collected would be used for the department chair to decide who got benefits and how much in following semesters.
           When Fred learned of this, his work ethic improved. He asked for help, called or emailed people to cover for him, and so on. And we did help him and cover for him, even when he didn't repay us or failed to show for the shift he swapped with us.
           After his first semester, he lost his stipend but not because of his shoddy work. No, his grades were too low. As graduate student in our department, you can't make C's, and if you make too many B's, the department will cut your funding in favor of giving a better student and worker more benefits.
           Since his family depended on the money and he had 18 graduate credit hours, the department head took pity on him and kept him as a part-time instructor (same work load). Because of his lack of teaching skills, he was put in a course with no instruction time. He couldn't possibly teach his students wrong because there is no teaching in that class. All he had to do was show up, and of course he didn't.
           Now, you might be thinking, "So he's a dirt bag. I'm not seeing how this should exact karmic retribution." I'm getting there.
           Right around spring break, he just disappeared. The two people in the department who were friends with him couldn't get in touch with him. Finally, he answered an email from the department head stating that his wife was in the hospital.
           She had some kind of stomach bug. He spent two days nursing her before deciding it was too severe and took her to the emergency room. They said it was a bug, sent her home, etc. When she wasn't better five days later, he took her back, and she was diagnosed with a bacterial infection so rampant that the antibiotics couldn't fight it. After another week, she died.
           We were shocked and appalled for him. In this day and age, in the United States, how could this happen? Well, it does. Every day.
           We covered his classes. We covered his hours. We sent food, money, cards, flowers. We asked after funeral arrangements. Then, one of his friends saw him out one night with his wife! Here, we were supporting him while he grieved for the loss of the love of his life and the mother of his daughter, and she wasn't dead. She hadn't even been ill.
           Even though there are people like Fred out there, who will use and abuse the goodwill of others, we should still extend it to those in need. Even if we can't be sure that the need is real, giving and helping is what a decent human does. If you've been burned, please don't let it discourage you. Just think of it as good karma.

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