Friday, March 4, 2011

There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Laundry

Ten years ago, universities were at last taking an interest in Barrie Central Collegiate's class of 2001. I remember that time well - it was stressful, trying to figure out where to go, weighing the advantages of one university against another, and hoping that the one you wanted wouldn't reject you. Nevertheless, the fact was that for an OAC student at that time, if you had the means there was one university that would absolutely take you: Carleton University in Ottawa. I clearly recall the time in Writer's Craft class where Expressposted application packages from Carleton arrived for everyone in the class, no questions asked. I don't know if it's changed in the last decade, but back then the joke was that the only thing you needed to attend Carleton was a pulse... and even that might have been negotiable.

It's been years since I thought about Carleton - the only reason I am now is because of an article on CBC News which demonstrates that a sense of ethics is another thing you don't necessarily need to go to Carleton. But I'll admit that's a cheap shot, though - not to mention unfair. This sort of thing could have happened anywhere.

Money can be exchanged for goods and services!

This sort of thing was the abuse of a computer glitch in the dorm's laundry - as a result, one particular machine would process payment for a load without actually deducting it from the student's card, and the system was set up in such a way that students exploiting this glitch could then use any machine for free. To say that it caught on is understating the situation a bit; before this loophole was noticed, students ran up $28,000 in free laundry charges - charges that the university is now charging back to them.

The CBC News story reports that some students "are furious with the university's decision to nail them with an unforeseen fee." The way I see it, they should be furious with themselves, their teachers, or their parents for not instilling them with ethics or an awareness of what "free" is. All too often, people don't stop to consider that free is just another way of saying "someone else paid for this."

The story also provides a student quote that nearly bowled me over from the sheer entitlement of it - "As a student you just gotta kind of go for the cheapest route. And if that comes down to kind of screwing the laundry machine for free laundry machine services … then of course why wouldn't you, right?"

Because it's wrong. Because it's unethical. Because, if you really need some reason that can be denominated in dollars and cents, the university will be forced to jack up its tuition fees to cover the money it loses from students abusing the system - or it would have had to, had it not put the responsibility back on those who created it in the first place.

It's true that people steal casually - because they don't bother to worry their pretty little heads about what they're doing, or they chase themselves around in circles justifying it. Back when I was in university I worked as a gas station attendant for some extra bucks, and there were times where people would glug down $5 or $10 or $15 worth of gasoline and then drive off before I could get their license plate number down. Maybe they really were desperate - or maybe they just didn't care, or told themselves they were stealing from some big, faceless corporation - which, as The Simpsons tells us, makes it okay. But that money came out of my paycheck, one that was never very big to begin with.

Maybe we need more of an emphasis on basic ethics in education. It's sad that this sort of thing doesn't seem to be emphasized in many families, and we can see the results now - how much of the Wall Street antics that led up to the economic crash would you quantify as ethical?


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