The first class of my first day in college was a poli-sci class. I was nervous as hell. I was underage, and it seemed a lot more serious than high school. The professor walked in and stopped in front of an attractive young woman.
"Would you sleep with me for a dollar?"
Taken aback, she delivered an emphatic "No!" There was shock mixed with some nervous laughter among my classmates.
"I'm sorry," said the prof. "Would you sleep with me for $20?"
Again there were gasps. "No!"
"How about $50?" "A hundred?"
"No! No!" she responded.
You'd like to think we would have objected more to the proceedings, but many students learn early that disagreeing with some instructors can cost you your grade and perhaps your livelihood.
"How about 500?" "A thousand?"
By this time most of us figured he was doing this as some kind of object lesson. At $2,000, he noted that for $1,995 she could buy a then brand new 1972 Ford Maverick. She wavered a bit, but still said no.
"Five thousand? Ten thousand would pay your tuition, pay off your student loans."
The answer was still the same.
"You mean you would give me $100,000 to sleep with you? On a professor's salary?"
Some laughed. He shrugged, "I married rich. I can afford it."
"I'd only have to sleep with you once? For $100,000?"
Responding to what she believed was a hypothetical situation, she replied in the affirmative.
He walked away and said, "Well, we knew what you were. We just had to establish the price."
Again, shock registered throughout the class. Some bravely yelled out that he shouldn't have done that.
"Look, all I wanted to do was teach you that $1 to one person is like $100,000 to another. Try not to be so judgmental about people in political systems or the poor around the world who sell out because they are starving or need to feed and clothe their kids or pay for tuition. People who don't have to sell out do it all the time for a lot less."
He'd made his point, but I still think he could have done it without humiliating our classmate. Years later, I learned the professor's "lesson" was based on an old joke.
In Mark Twain's "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," the town folk learn "virtue untested is no virtue at all." The story was inspired by the time Clemens lived in a small burg in Western New York.
Lately I've been reflecting on my first day of college, the Clemens story and the time I spent learning and working in small town and large city schools and colleges or universities from here to Alaska.
I've seen educators roll over and play dead supporting policies they know to be harmful or otherwise wrong. I've seen good students, teachers and professors harshly punished by administrators in order to create climates of fear. I've seen cheating on tests and lying on state and federal reports to maintain a school's funding or accreditation.
How many teachers and professors, given the opportunity, would sell out their colleagues or students for some teaching materials or a handful of grant money? How many others remain silent when they know about discrimination and bullying? How many remain silent about sexual, drug or alcohol abuse? Too often, too many of us sell out too easily without even considering the consequences or receiving much, if anything, in return.
Dan Schwartz, a five-time graduate of UB, is a multi-award receiving educator and former librarian living in Amherst.