You don’t have to be an economic sociologist to understand that as a professor, it is not straight forward to get gifts from students. It’s that time of the year (or maybe one of those times in addition to the end of the academic year) when gifts might appear. What to do? I haven’t developed a formal policy about this, but maybe I should.
My preference is for students not to give me gifts. And if it were to come up, I would say no ahead of time. But it doesn’t usually come up (people don’t usually say: “I’ll be stopping by to give you a gift.”) and it’s awkward and rude to reject something when someone’s already giving it to you. So what to do?
This year, I received a very nice card from an undergraduate student whom I have mentored considerably and who was expressing an appreciation for that. With the note came a gift card to a local cafe whose value I have not checked. I am not grading this person, but I am writing letters of recommendation for graduate school. (I had already written the letters when I got the card.)
I also received something homemade from a graduate student. This student is in the beginning of our program and may become my advisee so we are looking at years of interaction ahead, but no classes with me right now and thus no grading. I got the impression that this student gave something to several faculty, but also shared some of these goodies with peers.
In both of these cases, I accepted the gift. But I also don’t want to set a precedent. I certainly wouldn’t want other students to think that this is in any way expected. I don’t think other students know about these incidents so I’m hoping this won’t be an issue. But I’m uncomfortable with all this. I haven’t had too many such cases so far in my career so I haven’t had to deal with it much, but if this is the start of a trend then perhaps I should start thinking about it more.
I could see being more strict in cases where someone is in the midst of taking a class with me and I have to assign them a grade. But that’s just one of many related situations that may come up as evidenced by the above examples.