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Friday, March 04, 2011

Honesty and The Jewish Community II: Professor S.

(continued from here)

When I first signed up for my courses, I met the man who would end up being my professor for a majority of the important classes I would end up taking, Professor S. (I would love to name him to give him the credit he is due, but I am guessing he would be uncomfortable with this.) I only took Principles of Accounting I with him in my first semester, but in later semesters I would take as many as three courses with him.

The first and perhaps most important trait about Professor S. that I found interesting was that he was teaching primarily because he viewed it as his duty to help educate people in the community to assist them in their futures. What I mean by this is that he had no real reason to be coming in twice a week for entire afternoons and early evenings to teach a small class of accounting majors, in a school about one hour from his home, traveling through some nice traffic on occasion to get there. Not only did he put in this extraordinary effort to come teach us, but he did so at the expense of his own practice - he is a partner in a small accounting firm, and the 7-8 hours of his day that he gave up were hours he could have been working and doing far more for himself, and yet he chose to spend this time with - on, us.

One of the other extraordinary traits about Professor S. was his insistence not just on honesty and integrity - but his dedication to not even being placed in a situation that could tempt a person to act without it. For tests, he would make up three to five separate versions of the test, then sit us in far, separated rows where nobody within 10 feet would have a copy in the same order as another. It was almost crazy, but the lesson was clear: Don't even THINK about it. Moreover, it would take a good week or so before we would get our grades back from a test, as he would analyze how everyone answered each question (he was insistent on showing as much work as possible), then determine which portions an inordinate number of students missed - and if it seemed that a sizable group had misunderstood or misapplied a concept, he would sometimes take the blame for not having taught it properly, and weigh that question far lower and raise the weight of others. For a person who did not even need to be teaching, the dedication and sense of responsibility he brought was nothing short of incredible.

My favorite story involving Professor S. is probably from my second semester in Lander. I was dating Serach seriously, and was planning on proposing the next afternoon. I had recently learned that my future mother-in-law had worked for Professor S. in his practice... for ten years. He knew Serach well from when she was a young girl, but did not know I was dating her. I walked into his office and told him that I wanted to tell him something; he said as he sat down, "Yes, what is it?" I said that I wanted to tell him that I was dating someone seriously, and would iy"H be proposing to her the next day, and he said with a big smile "That's great! Mazel tov!" I then added that it was someone he knew and I wanted to tell him who it was, and he waved me off saying, "No, no, it's okay, that's none of my business." I said "No, you have to hear this", and he looked up. "It's Serach Luchins", I said, and his eyes grew wide, he burst out laughing, and he fell right off his chair onto the ground and sat there, cracking up. "Now THAT's amazing. MAZEL TOV!! She's a great girl, great family", he said, shaking his head, just sitting there laughing on the floor.

Professor S. was a great teacher - not because he was necessarily the best educator (though I believe he was quite good), but because he interspersed his teachings with stories from his life and from others - practical advice that would be useful not only for the class at hand, but more so for the future, as we actually began to work in the field. One of the stories that has always stuck out in my mind was one he told us in one of our first classes with him, about thinking. If I am remembering this correctly, he had a friend who had begun working as an auditor for a firm, and one of their clients had huge rolls of material used to make different things. Each quarter, to perform an inventory count, they would have to roll out the entire roll and measure how much there was - and every roll was different. It was a huge pain, taking weeks, but it had to be done. The friend, who was new, asked his manager if he could finish the job earlier than when he wanted and expected it to be finished, could he get the time off until when it was supposed to have been done by. The manager figured that seemed fair, set a target date, and a few weeks later, the friend finished about a day early and asked for his day off. The manager hesitated but ultimately agreed to uphold his end of the bargain. The next quarter, the friend asked the manager about doing the same deal, and the manager figured again why not - it only helps the job get done a little faster. About three days later, the friend walked over, handed over a huge list with all the measurements, and asked for his *weeks* off. The manager balked, and he and the partner demanded to know how the friend had done it. The friend wouldn't agree to tell them unless they agreed to give him a raise and promotion, and upon agreement, explained that he was able the first time around to calculate various points in the roll and therefore create a calculation as to how each type of material on a roll corresponded to a different length. Once he knew how each material expanded on the roll, all he had to do was measure out from the center and run the calculation based on that material.

The friend had essentially figured out how to turn an inefficient job into a completely efficient one, with no sacrifice in quality. He quickly moved up the ranks at his firm, according to Professor S., and that was an approach we should always take to problems: Be creative, use our heads. Think about how we're doing things and see if there's a way to do them better. (He didn't necessarily recommend telling our bosses to give us raises in exchange for telling them how we did things, though.)

That lesson was one of many from Professor S. that have really stayed with me, and have helped me tremendously as I've gone through the past few years, which have not always treated me as kindly as some of his classes did (a couple were pretty tough, admittedly). There is a lot to be said for working efficiently, problem-solving wisely, and thinking through a project to determine the best way to accomplish your goals - and there's even more to be said for sacrificing of yourself for the sake of others and acting with integrity, no matter the circumstances.

(to be continued)

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