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When money shouldn't talk

(Global Times)

09:06, August 09, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, a finance teacher at Shanghai Maritime University came under fire on Weibo after he told his students they would need an iPad to take his class next semester.

The teacher, Henry Liang, was deservedly mocked for both his classroom rules, which he quickly retreated from, and the arrogant tone of the missive that he posted to his students on Weibo.

"The iPad represents the latest trend and superiority, so do my chosen students," Liang wrote, according to a story in local media. "If you don't have one, take part-time work to buy one; if you cannot earn merely 4,000 yuan ($618.40) in the two-month summer vacation, you are not suitable to learn finance or be my students."

Liang requires his students to come to class dressed in a way that he feels is appropriate for the financial workplace. Boys must wear suits and the girls have to wear light make-up.

Many critics correctly pointed out that the iPad requirement discriminated against poorer students. Like them, I don't buy Liang's argument that a student is unsuited for his class if he or she can't earn 4,000 yuan in a summer. I agree that many students might be able to earn the money, but Liang assumes that they can all afford to spend the sum entirely on his class and only for what he himself described as a "luxury."

Liang might consider that some of his students may need that money for tuition, room and board fees or materials for other classes.

Now I can understand that some of the more charismatic Chinese teachers have a penchant for hyperbole, so I can excuse Liang if he was just being theatrical to motivate his students.

My problem with the iPad requirement is that it teaches students that appearance matters more than substance, an especially dangerous notion in a field like finance, where perception already has far too much influence over reality.

We shouldn't forget that the global financial crisis was perpetrated - or at least severely exacerbated - by finance types who figured out that they could pass off junk securities as triple-A-rated, safe-as-money investments by packaging them in a way that looked good to rating agencies. Inside, however, they were poison.

I'm all for encouraging students to look professional, so I like that Liang instituted a dress code for his class. But the iPad is unnecessary for a finance class. Making it a requirement reeks of ego. It brings to mind a picture of pupils in perfectly pressed suits marching into their classroom, each with an iPad tucked under their arm. It's a nice image. It might raise Liang's standing among his peers. It might attract more ambitious students to his class. But in the end, it is just an image.

If Liang truly wants his students to become sophisticated finance professionals, he needs to teach them how to see through images, not embrace them.

The iPad may represent the latest and greatest that technology has to offer. But if Liang represents the latest that China's finance education system has to offer, it is far from great.


Leave your comment1 comments

  1. Name

Lee at 2011-08-0946.19.138.*
Liang is a moron. He should not be teaching. Why do we have so many idiots and misfits in our society? I am self made millionaire and i think Liang thinks and talks garbage. Please get rid of him.

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