03 July 2007

Ethics and being railroaded

I took a call from a pushy mum this morning that left me feeling distinctly ill at ease. The woman's daughter is applying for university (Oxford, in fact) and will have to fill in a UCAS form, including the "personal statement". Would I be available in early September?

Gut feeling told me this was a job not to accept. Thinking on my feet, I said I'd be away at a conference for the whole first week of that month (partly true - I will be at a conference but only for 3 days). Pushy mum persisted - her daughter really needs someone to help her with her statement. I politely but firmly told her I'd feel uncomfortable taking on a job I feel should be the student's sole responsibility. I also informed her that I don't take on editorial work for students unless they have the permission of their tutor.

Pushy mum remained undeterred and said she wouldn't be asking me to rewrite anything or even change anything, well except for the odd word here and there (if that was the case why was she trying to hire me?). Then she let slip that UCAS had told her they had no objection to candidates receiving parental help. I pointed out that there was a big difference between a parent going through a personal statement and hiring a professional wordsmith. And I mentioned that I am bound by the code of practice of my professional body (not to mention my own moral code). She asked if I knew any other editors who would help. I do, I said, but commented that they too would be probably be unwilling to take on a job like this.

I was adamant in my refusal and by now distinctly irritated. If the daughter is bright enough to apply for Oxford, surely she is bright enough to write a decent personal statement.

But I really resented the enormous pressure this woman was putting on me to cave in. She was relentless in her attempts to dismantle every barrier I put up to taking on such a job (even offering to pay me double my normal rate!). In the end, I suggested she buy a booklet called Perfect Statements and then call me again in late August if she really felt her daughter still needed help. Not that I have any intention of helping, but if she does call I'll be able to say I'm too busy to take on this job at short notice. I hate being railroaded - I can be very stubborn and the more someone tries to get me to agree to do something I have already said is ethically unacceptable to me, the more I am going to refuse.


See Me Repeat Me said...

Damn, talk about an indulgent parent. I mean, we all know that when you're applying for admission to colleges, scholarships, that sort of post-high school thing (I know it's supposed to be post-something else in the UK), you're supposed to write all these essays, and sometimes those essays can be a little on the tedious side, but heck, that's part of the effort one needs to put into the process if one wants to enjoy the privilege of higher education! You're right -- if this girl is smart enough to be seriously talking about Oxford, she should have the smarts to write her own essays, and should never even have to look twice in the direction of a PROFESSIONAL WRITER. She deserves more, and you as heck certainly deserve more.

GhK said...

I admire your ethical stance. Which of the following do you think may be valid?

a) She will only hire some other (inferior) wordsmith.

b) All other pushy parents are doing the same. You could give the girl an even break here.

c) Take the job and screw her chances in a creative manner. (You could ethically deal with this by failing to cash the cheque or by donating proceeds to an 'access to Oxbridge' charity.)

Of course, the point about ethics is, I suppose, that they do not allow for such practical concerns. I suspect, therefore, that you have done the right thing.

Thank you.