Boston University, 1949
Background: As an aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion in China which was put down in 1900 by a combination of Western nations, the United States had set up a program of scholarships to enable Chinese graduate students to study here. The selection of the scholars was left to the Chinese Government. Many of those chosen were government officials or their political friends.
1948-49 was a critical period for China. In that year, the Chinese Communists took over the government of the mainland. There was a wholesale purge of the officials of the old regime, including all leaders of local governments. For those Chinese who were here on those scholarships, returning to China could mean imprisonment or death. However, to stay in the United States under the scholarship program, a student had to maintain grades of B or better in every subject.
In the Spring semester, 1949, I had such a student in my American Government class. Let’s call him “Mr. Chou.” Please keep in mind that this course was Political Science 1, an entry level subject and that Mr. Chou was a graduate student, who had been in the United States for at least eight months before the following incident took place.
Mr. Chou had flunked every one of my tests. He was a very pleasant man, always smiling, always polite. But he had flunked, and flunked badly. I gave him a final mark of F. He came to see me and asked me to change his mark to a B for that if I did not do that he would have to go back to China and an uncertain fate. I told him that I could not in good conscience do that. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I wasn’t his only problem and I asked about his other marks. He had taken four other classes and in each one, his final grade was an F. I pointed this out to Mr. Chou, showing him that I was not his only problem. He thanked me profusely and left. This gave me a great sense of relief.
About a week later, Mr. Chou came to see me again. With a smile, he produced the revised list of his marks and to my surprise, he now had a B in all four of the other subjects. Somehow to my dismay, he had moved the four other teachers and I was now solely on the spot. He renewed his request, and I said that my decision was based upon his test results. He seized upon the “test” and asked for another test. And so I agreed. About two days later, he took another one of my open-book multiple-choice tests and flunked it totally. Smiling, he asked me for a B final mark, now that he had taken another test. Clearly he had not understood the concept. I explained it to him as we walked out of the classroom.
Now we were standing in the school center hall, with students walking by us on both sides, talking as they went. Mr. Chou was pleading his case. He was somewhat short and he was fat. As he spoke- no, begged- the perspiration rolled down his cheeks. “Another test,” he pleaded.
Finally, wanting to preserve some aspect of academic integrity, I said, “All right, Mr. Chou, one last test. You know that we have a Congress in the United States, how many houses are there in our Congress?” And then, trying to be a bit more helpful, I said, “One or two?”
Mr. Chou did not know. He stood there sweating heavily. His life now depended on guessing one or two. The students were all around us. We could be there all day. The situation was becoming ridiculous. “OK, Mr. Chou,” I said “I’ll give you the B.”
And thus I lost my professional virginity.
© Steven E. Schanes 2000