Texas A&M | Bottom Line Ethics

I look out through the blinds at the twelve-foot-strip of grass that is my prison yard this morning. As I write, I am on day 3 of my banishment for testing positive for COVID, despite being fully vaccinated. The “privacy” fence out my window would feel more appropriate with a stretch of barbed wire across the top.

I managed to get through one week of classes, suitably confident because I tested negative for the umpteenth time the week before, this time as mandated by the University. Unlike virtually all those in my building, I wear my mask consistently around other people. I taught without it, but I put it on if anyone approached me. My wife, the World’s Most Beautiful Woman, encouraged me to get tested again after my first week’s teaching, and it is a good thing she did.

A man and a woman at the beach

I am asymptomatic, which in technical terms means I was able to yell at my computer screen for each of the Aggies’ turnovers Saturday night. I certainly feel better than the Kent State kicker who missed two short field goals in the last minutes, with all the gambling world waiting to see if the Golden Flashes could cover the spread. Now that is pressure.

My wife, who is vulnerable because of underlying conditions, has had one negative test since I was incarcerated. We pray for a second. Having each lost a parent in the last year, we are both reeling a bit, even though we know we have so much to be thankful for. It is one of those times in a marriage when you see hopelessness in the eyes of the one you love, and you feel powerless to change things.

I am scheduled to receive the monoclonal antibody treatment, Regeneron, because of my age. I await the results of a second test to confirm my positive status before undergoing the regimen. It is humbling to feel like a carrier and to feel like I need special attention because of my condition in life. I am used to being the one bearing up others through their challenges, particularly students much younger than me.

I have had several friends go to prison, and I have one long-time friend who will be sentenced soon. I am feeling new empathy for them this morning. But I pace this room like a caged cat when I am not feeling reflective or yelling at the Aggies. And I know in my mind that most prisoners do not have what I have; many have cells squeezing two people into half the space I have, with an open toilet. I struggle to understand what that does to a mind. How would you turn it into a positive and not go crazy?

Someone encouraged me to remember that the apostle Paul was in prison. But, to be honest, I am no Paul. And I know that Paul called himself the “chief of sinners,” but I am pretty confident he would not have yelled at Ainias Smith trying to field a punt over his shoulder inside the 10. And if I had not received the Curative curse word, “Positive,” I would have been doing so along with 97,000 of my closest friends in person, including my wife and brother-in-law. I wore my blue shirt for the 9/11 remembrance game anyway.

This week, assuming I am feeling well enough and not receiving an infusion, I will conduct my classes from the confines of this room. The past year and a half have provided me a lot of Zoom experience, and it is not an intimidating prospect. But oh, I miss being face to face, and not just with students—with anybody. It has become clearer to me in the last year than it has ever been that we are all designed to need others, even those of us who are introverts.

It is incredibly unnatural to make myself stay away, to pace the floor of this 12 by 15 room, and I am not alone in feeling this. I recognize that it is “selfless service,” and that it is my duty to wait. But I want so much to burst out that door and go to the office, or get a snow cone, or mow the lawn, or kiss my wife. (Well, maybe not mow the lawn.) Honestly, we are in a time like no other that I have experienced.

Perhaps, if I remain asymptomatic, a week from now I will be free. Or, if I get a mild case, two weeks. Of course, it could go badly, and it could be longer. My challenge today is to quiet my soul enough to reflect on what is going on inside me. I hoped to have built up the emotional and spiritual resources to deal with the hard things God allows to happen late in life. Our parents’ deaths and missing walking my daughter down the aisle during COVID made it clear I am not who I thought I was. Now I wonder when I might see my grandson, who is due in the next two weeks.

But my challenges are small, and I am very conscious of those who have lost loved ones to this scourge. Sitting still and being quiet is the least that could be asked of me. I am also sympathetic to those who are having to make difficult decisions about who meets for classes, and who goes to football games. Their challenge is so much greater than mine.

If I could wish for anything, it would be for fewer accusations of being stupid and foolish, or Luddites, or ignoring the science, or of government conspiracies. Even if I knew the source of this, or the volume of mistakes that have been made in trying to manage it, I would not be more informed about human nature. People do evil things, and people do stupid things. In fact, I study that for a living.

But what I am missing most is people, the same broken people who make mistakes of judgment and of arrogance. Long after I am done teaching, I will need people in my life. And I have no desire at this stage to burn the bridges that connect me to them, however much those bridges may swing and wobble in the wind. I would give anything right now to be with them. And this is true even though what I want more than anything is to protect my wife.

So, I will wait quietly on the Lord, and on the results of the second test, and on the infusion. I will step forward into this unknown week and do the best I can. My hope is that I will be a different and better person for having this experience.

But if we turn it over five times next week, all bets are off.

Categories: Athletics, Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Texas A&M

When I was in elementary school, I lived with my four brothers in a Leave It to Beaver house in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. My brother Pat and I slept upstairs, as did our parents. On Sunday mornings, I could usually count on a theater performance between my Mom and Dad, and that always included only three lines.

My Mom was very particular about how she dressed, and it was important to her that her makeup was perfect to go to church. She loved to wear a pillbox hat like Jackie Kennedy wore, and it had to ride just so on her beautiful hair. Dad waited patiently downstairs while his five sons tended toward increasingly dysfunctional behavior. Inevitably, the performance would begin with my Dad shouting upstairs, “Kay, come on!” My Mom would always answer, “Coming!” And then would come the words that would define my Dad for me: “So is Christmas!”

Well, for Dad, Christmas has come. Over three decades ago we lost Mom to cancer, and there has not been a day since that time that Dad hasn’t longed to have her beside him. In the last two years, while I have had the privilege of Dad living near me, he has often wondered where she is. I never had the heart to tell him. Innumerable times I stared at him and nodded my head when he told me she had been gone for a week, or a month. The pictures in his room reflect that undying love. There is the glamorous photo of Mom in the corner of the room sent to him during World War II asking him, “Am I still in the doghouse?” There is the succession of photos from the 1940’s and 1950’s after getting married, and with one son, then two, then three. There are pictures of Mom, stylish in the middle years in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He has been waiting for her to arrive.

For a little boy who watched two people who loved each other dance the complex Kabuki dance that is marriage and parenthood, it is beyond ironic to consider that the day my Dad finally let go of life after 100 years was Christmas. I had six or seven hours with him that day to say goodbye. My wife says that he was just waiting for me to leave to let go. Perhaps he was. But I didn’t want to go.

These last two years have allowed me a friendship with Dad that was rare. He was one of the few I know who loved me for who I was, not for what I did. Being in the room with him was enough for him to be happy. I grew to treasure those moments sitting across from him, especially after I was allowed to begin visiting him again after a COVID-related hiatus.

But I was reminded on every visit what a lifelong love looks like, and what it is to be a product of that love. Last month would have been Mom and Dad’s 75th anniversary; instead, they had only 43 years together. Coincidentally, Linda and I have had 43 years together as well.

So, to me, every day I have with her now is a gift not given to my Dad, and one that I need to treasure. Perhaps there will be a day when I sit in a room, and my kids come to visit, and I ask them where Mom is. And perhaps they will nod knowingly, and sadly, and wonder what in the world they can say to me.

Here’s what they can say to me. Dad, she’s gone home, and she’s waiting. This room is not all there is, and there is hope beyond life. We know because you taught us it was true, and we believe it for ourselves. And, believe it or not, Dad, that life beyond is even sweeter than Mom.

Dad, Christmas is coming.

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics, Family, Texas A&M

Today is the first day of the most unique fall semester of my career as a professor. I will be back in a physical classroom for the first time in months, masked and ready to go. In one of my classes, over 90 percent of students have decided to attend in person. This speaks to me of the longing for human contact, and the fundamentally different experience of even the most humdrum college classroom when compared to a technology link.

Dr. Mike Shaub, in a Baltimore Orioles maskSocial media is atwitter with stories of reckless college students gathering in droves, and the anticipation is that it is only a matter of time before universities go online. Some prominent universities already have. But there is a certain recklessness, at least a modest amount of risk-seeking behavior, in all of us who are not hypochondriacs. Certain needs will prompt us to assume risk because of what we get in return. We may try to tightly control the extent of that risk. But five months into this COVID adventure, we all have a much better read on our propensity to assume risk.

And, to be honest, it is a lot higher across the spectrum than I would have guessed, and not just for college students. My desire for normalcy in the classroom and in my workplace drive me to assume risk. I feel pressure from peers in my church community to regather, even though it still seems like a bad idea to me. Most people who know me would see me as risk averse; I am, after all, an accountant. And yet later on today I will be face-to-face with new MS Accounting students in a professional seminar in a classroom down the hall.

Many who see college students as selfish would characterize professors going into the classroom as heroic. I think that is a bit of a caricature. Of course, there are a number of college students engaging in purely self-interested behavior because they believe the downside risk is minimal. This is nothing new, and it is the reason we have organizations like CARPOOL at Texas A&M to minimize the consequences of this type of behavior by offering rides home from bars to those who need them.

But professors have needs, too. And when I look in the mirror, I have to ask myself—why have I chosen face-to-face instruction rather than teaching online? Part of it is that I taught online in the spring and summer. To be honest, it would be a lot easier than the hybrid version I will start with this fall, where I try to attend to the needs of students in the classroom and those Zooming in. But I give up a lot sitting in front of a screen, physically detached from my students. My career has been about life-on-life investment, and as hard as I try to make the online experience seamless for my students, it is not the same. Am I being selfless, or is it just evident to me that the experience of being a professor without human contact is, for me, a lifeless one, and less worth doing?

I have often told my students, “If you can’t self-regulate, you WILL be regulated.” I certainly know people who will wear a mask only under force of rule, and complaining all the while. But it is pretty clear at this point that the only thing that can make this fall semester happen the way we want it to is for students and faculty to self-regulate at uncomfortable levels. Around here, we call that selfless service.

Can we do it? Who knows? I know that I will be washing my hands every time I walk by a bathroom, and soaking my paper cuts in hand sanitizer constantly. (Again, I’m an accountant.) I have the equivalent of a “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” sign on my office door. I have an assortment of masks for every occasion, from N-95 on down to casual dinner wear. The last thing I want to do is bring this scourge home to the World’s Most Beautiful Woman, and not just because I will be relegated to a distant room (or a tent outside) for two weeks. Protecting her is all that really matters.

It is hard to know how much I will resemble last year’s Dr. Shaub as I go back in the classroom. I feel like a bit of an imposter. But if it protects her, I am okay with that. Whoever I am, I am hopeful, and strangely happy, about this opportunity. I want to do the things I can to prolong it, and I want my students to have fun learning along the way.

But who am I to criticize them for being risk-seeking? My presence with them says that they are not alone. Here’s hoping we are all able to self-regulate sufficiently to prolong the joy that comes from the beauty that is the university classroom.


Explore my recent post “100” and the news story it prompted on KBTX.com.

 

Categories: Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Family, Friends, Politics, Society, Texas A&M

In the midst of a pandemic that has made me more risk averse than I have ever been, I am witness to a standard of longevity that stands as a monument to tenacity and grace. This week, my Dad, who survived Iwo Jima among a series of Pacific battles that engaged the 4th Marine Division, will turn 100.

When I was growing up, my chain-smoking Dad was the last person I would have thought would live to a ripe old age. I am pretty confident that I never saw my Dad participate in athletic activity when I lived at home, unless you count yelling at Little League umpires. He never worked out between the ages of 30 and 70. He was not careful about what he ate or drank. He was just my Dad, and not anyone you would think of as an icon.

Today, he is one of the most popular people on the third floor of the Isle at Watercrest, still getting around with his walker and, whenever possible, refusing help. But for the last four months, this has been invisible to us, and we have relied on others to provide all of his care and comfort. We are the outsiders, banned from visiting because of the COVID threat to residents.

I would give anything to sit across the room from him in the reading chair that I bought when he moved here a year and a half ago. We would have a meandering conversation about life in Pennsylvania shooting rabbits with his father, or coming of age in Baltimore, or the war. None of the discussion would involve politics or the Astros, as it might have a decade or less ago.

We would look at pictures of Mom on the wall, gone three decades now, but very much alive in his heart still. Next year Linda and I will pass the number of years given to my parents together, but I can guarantee you that the fire still burns bright for my Dad, and it gives me hope that we can continue to kindle something that our kids and grandkids will use in the years ahead to warm their lives.

The pictures in his room also include frozen moments in time of my parents just after the war, and then with one, two, and three children. The last of these is my first birthday, on the porch in Baltimore in my Mom’s arms with me wearing a classic birthday hat, with my two older brothers looking mildly disinterested. I have not seen these pictures for four months because of COVID. But I see them clearly in my mind, and they connect me to my Dad in ways that are hard to describe.

One day, I suppose, similar pictures will hang above my recliner in a similar place, telling a story of days already long ago in which my life was formed and shaped. And my children and grandchildren will, I hope, visit long enough to have that unique mixture of sadness and sweetness that goes with encountering life at the stage where the battery is flashing.

But amidst the long, slow decline, we have this amazing moment. 100. How could it be that he could have gotten to this point, and that he still acts as if the road goes on forever? This man who has witnessed over 40 percent of the history of our nation, who was born just after World War I and the flu pandemic and while Woodrow Wilson was still president, soldiers on in the summer of COVID. And he does it without a single visitor, though we are chomping at the bit to be with him.

All the cultural battles being fought today are the culmination of history he has witnessed. When I was young, it felt like I could never make him happy. Now, he never complains, unless you try to help him. When I talk to him, one of his most common phrases is, “So be it.” It is a mix of resignation and contentment. After Mom died, he spent almost thirty years alone in the home I grew up in. I suppose he is as prepared as anyone I know to be alone in this pandemic, and I am pretty certain that he is content with the periodic visits throughout the day from his caregivers.

But, if I am being honest, I am not. I want to see my Dad, and hug his neck, and let him know face-to-face how much I love him. I almost never talk to him without him telling me how proud he is of me. How many men my age are hearing that? How many men of any age are hearing that?

I have the voice of my father telling me I am worthwhile for one more day. I do not take this day for granted.

I love you, Dad. Here’s to you. 100.

Categories: Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Family, Friends, Religion, Society, Texas A&M

Updated 12/4/2019 11:24 AM with scholarship information at end.

There are times along the road of life that we are given to cynicism. In my world, that cynicism can come from following closely the stories of people in the business world, and in the accounting profession, who live on the edge ethically. They deflect criticism and offer a litany of excuses when they wrong others or take their money. They largely avoid punishments they deserve, and they move on to hurt others in similar ways. There are days when I wonder if there is any hope of changing the environment my students will go into in the business world.

And then you meet someone like Maegan Sanders. Raised in a family deeply rooted in its faith, in a close-knit community, the kind of small town that sends its best to Texas A&M. A gentle, effervescent soul who could dominate you intellectually, but refuses to make you feel small. Maegan is the kind of person you design exams around; the goal is not to challenge her, but to see if you can create an exam on which she will not make 100.

She has been a presence in these halls even before she was in these halls, the precious daughter of a colleague who shapes some of the very best of our Accounting students with the information technology skills that put them in high demand on the market. Her mom is one of the most influential members of our faculty, and I have spent the entirety of my 13+ years here officed in the same hallway, watching her children go in and out of her door as they became formative Aggies.

Maegan hit the ground running here, accelerating through Business Honors into our Professional Program in Accounting (PPA), and she was headed out the door next May to work for Ernst & Young in San Antonio, and to begin her new life with her beloved fiancé. Last Sunday her life was cut short in a moment on a too busy holiday highway.

The tragic accident that took Maegan and her brother, Wesley, from us is the type of event that could make us cynical as well. The unexplainable is often the root of doubt and despair. A decade ago we lost one of our very best in the Professional Program in a similar sudden and unexplainable way, and I am affected by that seeming injustice to this day.

But I also see in these tragedies the hope that springs from faith and from community, and from a life well-lived, whether for 22 or 92 years. I received word of the accident barely 48 hours ago, and yet I have seen an outpouring of love and commitment from the Aggie family and from the students in our program that humbles me. Within hours a 24/7 prayer vigil for the family was launched by PPA students that is continuing at this moment. Money for an urgent need was raised through a Venmo outreach—in 20 minutes. A scholarship is being established to remember Maegan and Wesley, and Aggies from all over are asking how they can be a part.

I try with everything in me to teach and to model a life worth living in the business world. And then someone like Maegan Sanders enters my classroom, already living the joint life of technical excellence, even brilliance, and unquestioned integrity. I wonder exactly how God puts together a person like that.

I can give you a clue. In my Accounting Ethics class, my students are required to develop principles to guide their professional lives. Maegan’s first and last principles came from the same source—her mom. “Always listen to your little voice.” That little voice was “built and sculpted by the way I was raised,” Maegan wrote. And the second principle that was her guiding force in the voice of her mother was this: “Just be nice. It’s as simple as that.”

Tonight I will attend the visitation, and tomorrow the funeral, for two precious lives taken too soon. I will wear something green for Wesley, and yellow for Maegan, as the family has requested. And as I sit there, I will listen to my little voice. It is the same little voice that told me to write this.

And then tomorrow, in the challenges that go with directing a program and caring for aging parents, I will try to remember to just be nice. Because, in the end, it’s as simple as that.

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The Accounting department has created a scholarship endowment in memory of Maegan and Wesley Sanders. Income from the endowment will be used to provide an annual scholarship for an outstanding accounting major and to help create a lasting legacy for Maegan and Wesley. If you would like to contribute to this fund, please visit the Texas A&M Foundation page and choose The General Memorial Fund.  Under gift details, check the box in honor of someone special, select “In Memory” of “Maegan and Wesley Sanders” for the “Memorial Scholarship” and notify “The Sanders Family”. For information on where to send checks, please email ppa@tamu.edu. Thank you.

Categories: Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Family, Friends, Religion, Texas A&M

On this August day, the University of Nebraska at Omaha flags fly at half-mast for a man whose heart was as beautiful as his mind. David Swanson could have done any number of things with that extraordinary intellect. What he chose to do was to quietly make life better for thousands of Nebraskans by investing himself in a critical role that impacted its university system. It is not the kind of thing that engenders a hero’s respect in most people’s eyes. But then Dave is not most people.

David SwansonI met David when I was a young professor at Nebraska, about the time he married Ronda. He was a bike-riding graduate student who thought on a different plane. As they grew into their marriage and encountered parenthood, our friendship blossomed. Linda and I were hopelessly overwhelmed with three, and then four, children, so we welcomed their curiosity and their practical help.

He loved the Twins. The first two times I typed that, it came out “loves” as if my fingers couldn’t type the past tense. He loved them stupidly, like a child, against all evidence, the way I love the Orioles. I still remember a camping trip our families took together, our boys tossing the baseball back and forth as proxies for us. My last memory of Lincoln before leaving for good is a whiffle ball game at his son’s first birthday party.

He loved the Huskers, too, even through a long period of gradual decline after three national championships. But even in frustrating times, he could always laugh at the irony of decisions that were being made. He had a lightness to his heart that did not, with rare exception, allow the blows of life to drive him to despair.

And so he served as a sort of flotation device for many, including me, a combination of humor and relentless rationality that kept us from sinking too deep. He was not just rational about science and math, but he understood the rational implications of the faith in Christ he so boldly proclaimed for all the years I knew him.

Right now I am emotional and dazed at this tragic and seemingly pointless loss. And then I start thinking of him talking to me in that uniquely nasal tone I could immediately identify if I heard it in a crowded room. He is finishing every other sentence with a rat-a-tat laugh that says, “What did you expect?” It is not a cynical question.

So much of our lives as believers is ironic. What would make Dave and me friends? How would we both marry above ourselves to women who, though born a decade apart, cannot seem to get enough of being together? Dave and I would have been stuck with each other even if we had not found so much to like in each other. But I cannot remember spending five minutes in David Swanson’s presence without laughing, even in the bad times.

You don’t lower a flag to half-mast for Ph.D. types who are computer gurus, but on the day I write this, they are lowering it for Dave. He would be laughing and saying, “Are you kidding me?” No, dear friend, we’re not. You have lived a life worthy of that. You have made a meaningful impact on so many, one life at a time, not just one professional accomplishment at a time. What you could do with your mind gave you access to our hearts. And your unselfish devotion to each of us, to your family, and to your Lord is the reason we feel not just regret, but pain, in losing you.

I know you are hearing even better commendations now. But I wanted you to hear it from me, too. Well done, beloved friend.

Related: Two funds set up to support Swanson family

Categories: Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Family, Friends, Religion, Society, Texas A&M

My wife and I were walking up from the beach together, past a house that had a pickup truck whose bass speakers were sufficient to physically rattle the windows of our house across the street. I looked over at the truck, and an older man (and, by that, I mean younger than me) shouted at his daughter to turn the music down out of consideration for us. Her immediate reply to him before complying was, “They were young once!”

Indeed they were. Once they held hands and talked of a future together. He whispered in her ear and she giggled and pulled away, only to have him gently grab her arm and pull her back to him. He looked in those clear blue eyes and felt his heart fly away to places he never knew existed. He wooed her as a college student and married her right after. They spent restless nights sleeping in an unairconditioned house with a box fan whirring in a window and a baby in the next room. They spent a dozen years living in more than that many homes, stopping and starting a career in fits and spurts until a Ph.D. program spat out a professor equipped with an inquisitive mind, two more kids and that same blue-eyed girl. Those three kids grew to five, and the seasons flew by, hardly noticed. Life for them was a continuum, pulsing from one stage to another until all those kids were gone and the grandkids had long since begun arriving.

Only then did it begin to occur to them that they might be growing old. That they—that he—might be on the backside of his usefulness. He noticed that more of his questions were “why” and fewer of them were “how.” It was not that he just didn’t remember as much; he didn’t understand as much. Because as you get older, while still in the continuing desperate pursuit of those things you never comprehended, you realize that you are quickly being caught from behind by those things that you never knew to ask about, as well as those things you no longer understand. Those deep consternations reflect themselves not just in your specific discipline or expertise, but in music and art and culture and religion. They are accelerated by changes in technology, but they are not a result of it. All generations have faced this inevitable passage in their own ways.

I sit on the cusp of freedom and despair. My life today is the opportunity to finish strong, to fulfill many of my hopes and to see so many good things happen in the lives of those I love. It is the chance to pass the baton on to the next generation, which has already begun accelerating in the exchange lane. In fact, they are quite quickly matching my speed, which is necessary for a successful handoff.

But it is also a recognition that my contribution, my leg of the race, is reaching its end. I am still running hard, and I have to in order to keep up with them. But not for long.

There is a reason I am not running the anchor leg, and that is because I am not the fastest runner. But I have done my best on my leg. I am free to enjoy, in the not too distant future, the rest of the race from the infield. The despair comes in knowing that soon, all that will be left for me to do is cheer.

My Dad turns 99 this month. In his room hangs the picture of a confident 26-year-old, with his civilian arms wrapped around my Mom’s waist after having survived both the worst of the Pacific War and two years apart from her. The whole world lies before them—like us, a return to school, five kids, and a career of the mind. They were young once. Today, he wonders where she has gone.

The pickup truck just pulled back into the neighbor’s driveway, the speakers booming life, the future, possibilities. The guy on the porch across the street from that pickup truck watches, reflecting on what it is to have meaning and confidence without youth. He knows deep in his heart that he is one of the lucky ones, still stimulated by a meaningful job that includes the opportunity to teach, and to be influenced by, a remarkable group of college students who continue to make him feel young. And to still be carried away by those gorgeous blue eyes not just to unseen places, but to memories built together, full of whimsy and wonder.

They were young once. And, to be honest, perhaps more often than you think, they still are. The immeasurable gift of a lifetime together is hard to top, even by the highest highs of youth.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to go back and try.

Categories: Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Family, Friends, Society, Texas A&M

She will graduate in two days and move on to a successful career far from these bustling university halls. And yet here she is this morning, double checking final grades and inputting data for a research project we have worked on together. And she is doing this for minimum wage when she could literally be working for twice the money at her second job down the street at a local bank.

She recently told me she was the second busiest teller in the state for her bank holding company, and she is rewarded accordingly. Still, she focuses, making sure my students get their due, and that I have a chance to move my research forward once she is gone.

To say that Johnna Heller is my teaching assistant is to speak to me of the highest order of student imaginable. She has perhaps been busier than any TA in recent memory, and at the same time she has been finishing coursework and preparing for the CPA exam.

She holds her longsuffering boyfriend at bay while she plows through another set of questionnaires or does the first pass on a grading assignment for 106 students. He knows she will let him buy her dinner eventually and, since he is also studying for the CPA exam, he busies himself with the task at hand. Such is the price of dating excellence.

A legacy of excellence

I have had a number of remarkable TAs in my years as a professor who have made a real difference in moving my work forward and allowing me to more effectively do my real job, which is investing in people. This semester I had the privilege of seeing two of them in one day who have moved into significant roles of influence in their firms. One trained my son’s analytical mind to deal with data while he was still in high school, setting the table for his time in business school and his career as a consultant. Another made sure that son had a ticket to an Aggie Cotton Bowl, and still takes the time during many of her monthly visits to Connecticut with her firm to take the train to New York City and buy my daughter dinner. My flash drive is named for a third.

Now I am in an administrative role that forces me to delegate more to my TA than I have historically done. But I sensed from the first day that Johnna worked for me that this was a job that she really wanted to do. It makes me wonder, in a world where business school students seem more focused on success than growth, what lies ahead of her.

I remember a young man once who began working on a master’s degree when he was married, with two small children in tow. Without many alternatives, he sought out a TA job in his chosen field of accounting. Because all the accounting slots were filled, he was assigned a teaching responsibility in statistics, managing to stay about two days ahead of the students all semester long. But in those frantic days, he discovered something remarkable that he had not seen in his first few years of work—his work made a difference in students’ lives, and it made them better. Like Johnna, he didn’t make much money doing it. But that experience changed the course of his life. After public accounting and another visit to industry, he returned for his Ph.D., and the rest, as they say—is my life.

Thankful for a teacher

That professor I first worked for would not remember me now, nor the difference he made in my life, though he is still teaching today. His mentoring and friendship as I first tried my wings allowed me the confidence to chart a new course, one that has been meaningful to me in so many ways. And I have never really stopped to express my gratitude. So let this be my thank you to Dr. Gary Kelley at West Texas A&M University.

This week I will say goodbye to a person who cannot be measured by her wage or by her accomplishments. As with the other remarkable people who have gone before her, the life ahead of her is far removed from the cluttered office of an aging professor, with memos stuck in pincushion walls, and the dusty memories of a career measured in plaques and diplomas.

Her boyfriend—and the world—wait for the emergence of one significant life at the other end of that graduation stage. What lies ahead for her is a life of impact and meaning, one with purpose and direction. She is going to make a difference.

Next week I will turn from my computer to my doorway, half expecting her to be standing there silently, waiting to ask a clarifying question. The ghosts of those who went before her hover outside my door, apparent only to me in my quieter moments.

In truth, as I wrote these words, she appeared in my doorway one last time, for the best conversation we have ever had. It is one that I will remember for a while, and it made me reflect on who I really am inside, and who I want to be. It also made me love my wife and children more.

Around Aggieland, this is a week of rejoicing and laughter. And I will readily join in with the students and their families as they celebrate.

But there’s a certain melancholy for me, as well. Because, this week, I will be saying goodbye to my TA.

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics, Texas A&M

Two seemingly unrelated stories in the news, one in the entertainment industry and one in the world of sports, have me thinking about how difficult it can be to summon the moral courage to do what everyone agrees, in retrospect, should be easy to do. The numerous charges of sexual misconduct against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein have dominated the headlines, particularly since entertainment and news are a bit hard to separate nowadays. And this week, former Baylor and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon revealed how he was able to pass drug tests while he was a college student and remain eligible to play.

Harvey Weinstein

While the scope and importance of these two stories may be fundamentally different, what they have in common is this—enablers are always necessary for someone to escape justice over a prolonged period of time. Weinstein was allegedly enabled by a long line of subordinates and friends, some of whom were likely on his payroll for that very purpose. Gordon claims that an assistant coach provided him with cleansing drinks and taught him how to drink them so that his system would be free of evidence he had been taking drugs whenever he was tested.

Many people would rather spend their lives around successful people than people of integrity. This is true not just because some of these people are dishonest, but because successful people can offer them things that people of integrity may not be capable of providing. These folks want to project that they are successful and that their success is merit based. This was true of numerous people engaged in the Galleon Group insider trading scheme headed by Raj Rajara

tnam, projecting skill in trading when they were really masters of getting people to divulge information illegally. Volkswagen engineers followed the orders from above to design defeat devices for their vehicles that would shut down emission controls and maximize gas mileage, except when the vehicles were being tested by emissions control experts. …Read more

Categories: Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Texas A&M

I often write about establishing and maintaining values, but I rarely speak about passing on values. Last weekend afforded me a remarkable opportunity to observe what values have been passed on to my children, and made me reconsider who I need to be today. My wife and I gathered with our five children to attend a University of Nebraska home football game, something we had not done since I was an assistant professor there 20 years ago.

The trip allowed me to wrestle with what it is to be content, to look regret in the eye and stare it down. But mostly, it made me thankful for what I had then, and for what I have now. And it helped me to focus on three things I hope will guide me in the last third of my life.

photo

Remember the Past

Our trip to Lincoln included a tour of old sights, including homes, schools and restaurants that were important to us. We were able to renew faithful friendships that have endured through the years and have significant conversations with people important to us. We laughed at old memories as a family, some that were triggered just by driving by a location. We searched in the half-light of dusk to find a brick on campus dedicated to my mother shortly after she died. I wrestled far less with regrets and mistakes than I might have expected, perhaps because there was such joy in what we were doing together as a family, and in part because I am so happy doing what I do today.

Embrace the Present

I soaked up every moment of 36 hours I spent with people, drinking long and deeply of relationships. Everywhere we went, from our first night’s dinner with old friends to the last gathering of 25 of us for pizza after the football game, was rich with laughter and remembrances. We were even witnesses to a Hail Mary miracle touchdown on the game’s last play that secured victory for the home team and set off bedlam in the stadium. The word serendipity came to mind.

Anticipate the Future

My wife and I became empty nesters less than three months ago after 35 years of children at home, and we are still navigating what it means for it to be just the two of us. Recent health challenges in our family have reminded us of the brevity of life and of how important it is to live each day fully. But while we cannot insure a life free of pain, we can live with anticipation that the ways that we have invested our lives over the last three-and-a-half decades will bear fruit in beautiful ways. I couldn’t help but think that was true as I stared at my precious 3-year-old granddaughter who was on the trip, and thought of her brother and two cousins. I have lived to see – and enjoy – my children’s children.

But I said this column was about passing on values, and these are the values I observed in my children. First, people are more important than things. The kids sacrificed financially in significant ways to be there, and there was not a note of regret that this might have been as expensive a trip as they had taken on a per-hour basis. Second, listening is more important than telling. I looked around the room at Valentino’s Pizza’s party room and saw all my children engaged in deep conversation, just as their mom was. (Obviously I wasn’t, since I was looking around the room.) I think they realized that some of these conversations were ones they might not have the opportunity to enjoy again.

And, importantly, remembering where you come from matters. My children have attended five different universities, and they have each developed their own allegiances, just as I have. But there was a time when we all wore the same color on Saturdays, when we were together in every sense. Our two youngest, one of whom was born in Lincoln and one just after we left, were able to experience for a few hours something of what that unity felt like. Nebraska didn’t give us our faith or our core values, but our older children will say it is where we became, fully, a family. And this trip was a tip of our cap to that place, to that time and to those people.

There is no place I would rather be today than Aggieland, but last weekend I was reminded that there was a different place that helped shape my children into who they are today. In remembering, I found myself overflowing with gratitude.

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics, Family, Friends, Texas A&M

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