Photocopying Money

Members of the Caltech community live, learn, and work within an Honor System with one simple guideline, ‘No member shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community.’ While seemingly simple, questions of ethics, honesty, and integrity are sometimes challenging. Share an ethical dilemma that challenged you. What did you do?

“Can you photocopy money?” my teacher asked. I shook my head, slowly reddening. No, I was not involved in some illegal money laundering scheme. But at that moment, my teacher accused me of a crime to the same punishable degree. My junior English teacher graded essays harshly, but made up for harsh grading by rewarding each person “homework passes” worth 20 extra credit points at the end of the semester. My grade was borderline. With the end of the semester, I discovered that my passes were missing, after searching my English binder for the tenth time. When I found out from my friends that I had been late on the day everyone had received the passes, it was too late to ask for replacements. I planned on photocopying my friend’s passes, because in theory, I was doing nothing wrong. However,one morning, I arrived early at school and decided to tell my teacher, just to make sure I wasn’t doing anything wrong. My teacher flatly denied my right to copy the homework passes because they were like “money” in his class. When I told him I had been late, he answered with a nonchalant “Too bad” and told me to buy them off someone.Swallowing my pride, I asked all those I met whether they were willing to sell their passes. All refused. I glumly resolved to receive my first “B” in my life.Yet the day before my teacher collected homework passes, I explained my predicament to a friend. She spontaneously had a change of heart and offered one to me, free of charge with a smile. Humbled I remain.

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