My first class at Cornell was Terrence Irwin’s 200-level Ethics lecture. It was a big-ideas kind of course. What is justice? What is fairness? When is it right to punish, praise or blame? I loved it — all of it — and have since devoted my undergraduate experience to grappling with its big ideas in the philosophy department, among other places.
To be sure, Professor Irwin deserves an ode, some poetic praise for his thoughtful manner, elegant curriculum and ever-present fanny pack. But this ode must be put on hold. There is a more pressing matter to consider. Why, when I think back on that course, do I remember not just late nights with classical texts or in-class repartee, but the ugly irony of a cluster of ethics students swapping answers to last night’s take-home quiz right outside the lecture hall, minutes before class? Why must I recall my neighbor to the right leaning forward to bum an answer off of another student, only to find out she had solicited a baby-faced, and now snarling, T.A.? Do we not care about doing the right thing or, at the very least, keeping our noses clean?