I've Got a PhD in Shut Up

"The Ethicist" is Randy Cohen's long-running advice column in the New York Times. Each week, Gabriel Delahaye's "The Unethicist" will answer the same questions as "The Ethicist," with obvious differences.

This week, a graduate teacher and a graduate student both write in with powerful reminders of why you should never go to grad school, unless you want to be a sad, boring tool. (Gabe has been to grad school).

One of my grad students copied a term paper from the Internet, cutting and pasting from various uncredited sources. The university's rules say expulsion or an F in the course is appropriate, but I proposed that she search out the several dozen articles she used to "compose" her paper and write each author an apology. I will mail the letters. My department chair thinks this is unethical — a cruel and unusual punishment. You? — P.R., Houston

Well, I know something that is definitely cruel and boring punishment. Your question. Next caller, please!

I'm pretty sure there was a Saved by the Bell episode about this very crime, except that was pre-internet, so they probably ordered the offending term paper from the back of Early 90s Teen Interests Magazine. I'm pretty sure the punishment in that episode was that Slater had to wear his wrestling singlet to the winter dance and perform a soliloquy from Hamlet in front of everybody while Screech tried unsuccessfully to fingerbang Lisa under the bleachers, Zach broke the fourth wall and talked to the camera about how him and Kelly were going on spring break together so she could get an abortion without her parents finding out, and Mr. Belding ate all the donuts.

I've Got a PhD in Shut Up


DONUTS PLEASE.

In any case, this was a victimless crime, which is the least interesting kind of crime. Also, who writes letters anymore? It's all about apologetic Facebook status updates now.

I am a graduate student. My schooling is paid for, and I receive a salary for my work on which I can get by, but I live from paycheck to paycheck. I'm eligible for a subsidized student loan, with interest that won't start accruing until I graduate in three to four years. While I don't need the money, would it be ethical to accept the loans for investment? — Sarah Medley, Santa Barbara, Calif.

A couple of years ago, I had a little extra money in the bank, and I thought it would be a good idea to invest it, because I am white, and that is what white people do to remind minorities that we're still in charge. "What, you mean that you get to make money just by having money?" "Yes." I met with a financial advisor and she told me that a really great market was opening up in the water industry, and that within a few years, prices in the water market were going to go through the roof. But instead of thinking "Great, I can't wait to get in on the ground floor of this exciting investment opportunity," I thought, "HOLY SHIT WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO WATER?"

Invest in water, you guys. Something is up. That was your question, right? "Should I invest in water?" Yes. You're welcome.