When my office phone rang, I answered it to find the chairman of the C.I.S. (Computer Information Systems) department on the other end of the line. He was very upset. “You tell your students to stop it!”
“To stop what?” I asked.
“Just tell them to stop it!” he said angrily, ignoring my question. “And to stop it now!”
He then hung up the phone before I could say anything else.
My own department was both math and computer science. I headed the computer science end of it in addition to my full-time job teaching. In the evening, I also worked as a part time programmer for an I.N.E.L (Idaho Nuclear Engineering Laboratory) contractor. At the time I was working on a project that was a forerunner to what is now the Internet. We did network programming that was right on the cutting edge of technology.
I taught a network class at the university, and I used the skills I developed in this outside work to enhance my teaching. My students were known far and wide for their expertise in that field, and were recruited heavily.
The problem is, the students in the CIS department and students in our department had a bit of a rivalry going on between them, each group of students saying they were the best. This rivalry led to many pranks being played on the other department. Unfortunately, with the skills I taught my students, they had a real edge, and I often found myself apologizing for some prank they had played, and then trying to fix the things they had done.
Not knowing what my students had been doing this time that made the other department so angry made my task even harder. Still, I had to address the problem with them.
As part of the networking class each semester, I always taught a segment on ethics. I would teach my students that there was a wide division between what was legal and what was truly right. Just because something was legal did not make it right. This is especially true in the area of technology where the laws have a hard time keeping up with the pace of change. I told my students that with the power of the things I was teaching them came a bigger responsibility to use it properly. But it didn’t seem to help, as my students still pushed the boundaries.
So I had no sooner started my class than I informed them of the phone call. “I don’t know what you are or were doing, and I don’t really care what it was, but you had better stop!”
The students all feigned innocence, and acted like they weren’t doing anything wrong. They also pretended they didn’t know what I was talking about. But I could tell by the way they looked at each other with impish smiles that the truth was far different. They knew very well.
As is often the case, after a short time, one of them had his conscience begin to bother him. It was later in the same day when a young man knocked on my door. As I invited him to come in and sit down, he seemed slightly embarrassed.
“I just thought I ought to come and tell you what we had done.”
I sat back in my chair and looked at him. “Okay, tell me.”
“I won’t get in trouble will I?”
“If it isn’t a horrible thing, we will try to do what we can to fix the problem, and also do what we can to avoid a punishment.”
He looked at the floor as he spoke. “Well, we hacked into the print ques in the C.I.S. department, and made it so they added two extra pages to everything that was printed from them.”
“And what did these pages say?” I asked, fearing that they might be something profane or vulgar.
“Well, the first one said, ‘What does a C.I.S. major say if they ever get a job after graduation?'”
“And what did the second one say?’
He looked up with an embarrassed grin. “Hello, welcome to McDonalds. May I take your order?”
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