The origin of today's ruminating comes from what happened about five minutes after, which was when I found this on my desk:(Note: talk about the ubiquitousness of Tim Hortons on another occasion.)
Now, I knew that I didn't leave it there, on account of the fact that I'm too cheap to purchase a beverage on school grounds. Which meant that the student left it. (Or, as just occurs to me, my office mate left it on my desk. Unlikely, but possible.) It was unopened, and still warm. What to do with this drink filled my mind with moral intrigue and possible scenarios:
- Too much time had passed for me to catch up with the student.
- Similarly, too much time had passed to expect the student to return looking for it, since returning after this length of time would imply a disproportionate attachment to said coffee on the part of the student, and would thus be a bad impression to make with someone who marks her papers. And I couldn't wait around, since I had my own meeting with a professor ahead.
- Taking the coffee myself is technically stealing.
- Coffee should not be wasted, especially when free. (That's the rural Someplace Else influence coming out, BTW.)
- I don't actually drink coffee.
- Was the student attempting to bribe me?
- How would drinking the coffee affect my relationship with the student? Was there now a sense of obligation on my part towards her, one that disrupted the authoritative basis for our future interactions?
- Was it possible that the coffee was actually hot chocolate? (This is a crucial point; any action is morally defensible in the pursuit of chocolate; it's the Klondike principle.)
Ok, this is a fairly trivial event in the larger scheme of things. But in a way, it's a microcosm of the awkward side of student/teacher interactions, and my own unease in being on the teacher side of that equation. If the student had been a friend, I wouldn't have hesitated in chugging the Tim Hortons cup, and just paid them back later. If she had been a stranger, I wouldn't have touched the cup with a ten-foot pole. (Although how a stranger got into my office raises a different set of hypothetical questions) But because the encounter happened in this quasi-undefined context, I went through an entire discourse of labrythian proportions in figuring out the "right" course of action. (And the assumption that there is a right course of action suggests an absolutist perspective of social engagements that bear investigating elsewhere.) So...
So buttons, I guess.
Additional question: I'm considering paying the student back next tutorial class. Is this the proper course of action? Discuss.