“I Made It From Scratch. Enjoy!”

TRUE FACT:  In a course offered in the Master of Business and Science program at Rutgers University, students “are challenged to perform five random acts of kindness.”  This is part of an overall effort to “instill empathy in business professionals,” so that “future leaders will put the power of empathy to work alongside science, business, and innovation” (online advertisement in The Chronicle of Higher Education Review, April 8th).  

Oh my.  

It should come as no surprise that this vehicle for transforming business students into human beings has hit a few potholes on the Garden State Parkway of higher education.  For example:

—  A student recently sued the school when he failed to receive extra credit for performing a sixth act of kindness during the course.  Torrance Nufsen had taken down a box of Cocoa Puffs from the top shelf of the cereal aisle in a New Brunswick ShopRite and given it to a short, stooped, 92-year-old woman standing next to him.  Unfortunately, she did not want the cereal and swatted the box out of his hand.  

Says Nufsen: “This is so f**ked up, man!  I did a good thing.  If Grandma Cranky doesn’t like Cocoa Puffs, that’s on her.”

The University’s position is that the course syllabus clearly indicates that extra credit is not given for “extra kindness.”  “Mr. Nufsen should have read that document a bit more carefully,” states the Dean of the Business School.  

The trial is scheduled to begin in late May.

—  Last November, Cynthia Flambé donated one of her kidneys to a German Shepherd on dialysis at a local animal shelter in Bayonne.  Ms. Flambé protested the B-minus she ended up getting in the course, claiming that her act of kindness was so profound that she deserved a much higher grade.

The instructor disagreed: “Donating your kidney to a German Shepherd is stupid.  The dog’s body rejected the organ and he died two days later.  That animal would have been better off if the donation had never taken place.  Cynthia is lucky that I didn’t give her an F.”   

— Timothy Gallinski lent an acquaintance $50 to buy illegal street drugs in February, but received no academic credit for the act.  An outraged Gallinski notes that “my friend Toby is hopelessly addicted to Fentanyl.  What am I supposed to do?  Tell him to get on a 6-month waiting list for a detox program in Newark?  Give me a break!”

The instructor stands by her decision:  “Mr. Gallinski admits that he expected to be paid back in full when Toby got his next paycheck from Jersey Mike’s.  I would have been much more impressed if Timothy had forgiven the loan.  Now THAT would have been an act of kindness consistent with the spirit of the course.”

Problems like this have prompted institutions to explore alternative methods for developing empathy in business students.  Foremost among these is the University of Pennsylvania, where new students at the Wharton School undergo a brain transplant before enrolling in classes.  The donors are elderly, cloistered nuns who reside in convents throughout Portugal, Spain, and Italy.  

“Let’s be honest,” says Erika James, Wharton’s Dean.  “Most applicants to our master’s program are high-achieving, ruthlessly ambitious, self-centered dipwads.  Courses requiring acts of kindness will not change these folks.  Brain surgery will.  We’re pleased with the results so far.”

Penn’s massive endowment provides the funds for all medical expenses associated with the transplant.  “Our students don’t pay a penny,” says James.  “If that isn’t an act of kindness, I don’t know what is.”