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Chapter 31
My focus on self-improvement meant that I had little time toconsider and respond to the Dean’s threat of dismissal. I haddecided not to take up Gene’s offer to construct an alibi; nowthat the breach of rules was in my conscious mind, it wouldbe a violation of my personal integrity to compound the error.
I succeeded in suppressing thoughts of my professional future,but could not stop the Dean’s parting comment about KevinYu and my plagiarism complaint from intruding into myconscious mind. After much thought, I concluded that the Deanwas not offering me an unethical deal: ‘Withdraw the complaintand you can keep your job.’
What she said was bothering me because I had myself brokenthe rules in pursuing the Father Project. Gene had once toldme a religious joke when I questioned the morality of hisbehaviour.
Jesus addresses the angry mob who are stoning a prostitute:
‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ A stone fliesthrough the air and hits the woman. Jesus turns around andsays, ‘Sometimes you really piss me off, Mother.’
246/290I could no longer be equated with the Virgin Mary. I had beencorrupted. I was like everyone else. My stone-casting credibilityhad been significantly compromised.
I summoned Kevin to a meeting in my office. He was frommainland China, and aged approximately twenty-eight (estimatedBMI nineteen). I interpreted his expression and demeanour as‘nervous’.
I had his essay, partly or entirely written by his tutor, in myhand and showed it to him. I asked the obvious question: Whyhad he not written it himself?
He averted his gaze – which I interpreted as a cultural signalof respect rather than of shiftiness – but instead of answeringmy question, he started to explain the consequences of hisprobable expulsion. He had a wife and child in China, and hadnot yet told them of the problem. He hoped some day toemigrate, or, if not, at least to work in genetics. His unwisebehaviour would mean the end of his dreams and those of hiswife, who had managed for almost four years without him.
He was crying.
In the past, I would have regarded this as sad but irrelevant.
A rule had been broken. But now I was also a rule-breaker. Ihad not broken the rules deliberately, or at least not with anyconscious thought. Perhaps Kevin’s behaviour had been similarlyunconsidered.
I asked Kevin, ‘What are the principal arguments advancedagainst the use of genetically modified crops?’ The essay hadbeen on the ethical and legal issues raised by advances ingenetics. Kevin gave a comprehensive summary. I followed withfurther questions, which Kevin also answered well. He seemedto have a good knowledge of the topic.
‘Why didn’t you write this yourself?’ I asked.
‘I am a scientist. I am not confident writing in English aboutmoral and cultural questions. I wanted to be sure not to fail. Idid not think.’
I did not know how to respond to Kevin. Acting withoutthinking was anathema to me, and I did not want toencourage it in future247/290scientists. Nor did I want my own weakness to affect a correctdecision regarding Kevin. I would pay for my own error in thisregard, as I deserved to. But losing my job would not havethe same consequences for me as expulsion would for Kevin. Idoubted he would be offered a potentially lucrative partnershipin a cocktail bar as an alternative.
I thought for quite a long time. Kevin just sat. He must haverealised that I was considering some form of reprieve. But Iwas incredibly uncomfortable in this position of judgement as Iweighed the impact of various decisions. Was this what theDean had to do every day? For the first time, I felt somerespect for her.
I was not confident I could solve the problem in a short time.
But I realised that it would be cruel to leave Kevin wonderingif his life had been destroyed.
‘I understand …’ I started, and realised that this was not aphrase I was accustomed to using when talking about people. Istopped the sentence and thought for a while longer. ‘I willcreate a supplementary task – probably an essay on personalethics. As an alternative to expulsion.’
I interpreted Kevin’s expression as ecstatic.
I was conscious that there was more to social skills thanknowing how to order coffee and being faithful to your partner.
Since my school days, I had selected my clothes without regardto fashion. I started out not caring how I looked, thendiscovered that people found what I wore amusing. I enjoyedbeing seen as someone not tied to the norms of society. Butnow I had no idea how to dress.
I asked Claudia to buy me some suitable clothes. She hadproved her expertise with the jeans and shirt, but she insistedon me accompany-ing her.
‘I may not be around forever,’ she said. After some reflection,I deduced that she was ............
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