"I work as a waiter at a restaurant on Maine Street, and in my years of experience I have found that Bowdoin students don't tip. Ethicist, please address proper tipping practice." -Samuel Sabasteanski '13

My seventh grade math teacher taught that tipping is a diner's way of saying "thank you." My teacher recounted that, on one occasion, he was subjected to such atrocious service that he left his server a single penny as a tip. In Mr. Walsh's mind, he had acknowledged the poor service, but responded politely. Much to the regret of my 13 year-old self, Mr. Walsh's sentiment was right, but his actions were misguided.

Earlier this month, New York's NPR affiliate station, WNYC, hosted a forum titled "Out From Behind the Apron," where servers, bartenders and diners aired their grievances about restaurant practices, including hiring and tipping. Most servers at the conference claimed that a tip must be 20 percent of the service charge.

But, in reality, people aren't required to tip. Michael Lynn, an associate professor at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration, has conducted a series of studies on tipping. Lynn notes that tipping is an "interesting behavior because tips are voluntary payments given after services have already been rendered." Consumers rarely pay for goods and services that would otherwise still be provided.

In 2005, superstar chef Thomas Keller got rid of tipping altogether at his four-star New York restaurant Per Se. Instead, Keller attaches a flat service fee of 20 percent to every bill. Patrons and waiters were outraged by the switch. Unlike in Europe where a flat service fee is common practice in restaurants and cafes, clients in America cherish their power to tip. Waiters at Per Se—where bills are $250 a head—see the change as Keller's attempt to divert a larger portion of the service fee to kitchen workers.

Most Americans, myself included, believe that a tip is a reward for good service. If the service provided exceeds your expectations, or if you have a rapport with your server, you may tip generously. If service is spotty, you may tip a little bit less. But as a rule, tips should amount to between 15 and 20 percent of the service charge.

I'm surprised that Bowdoin students don't tip. I am hopeful that will change.

"I am enrolled in four classes; three for credit, one pass/fail. Is it ethical to skip my pass/fail class in order to study for a class I'm taking for credit? I know that if I miss one class I won't fall behind and it won't affect my grade. Still, skipping feels kind of wrong. Lay it on me, Ethicist." -Anonymous '12

You shouldn't judge the rightness of your actions based on the potential repercussions. Do not be content to skip class because you know your grade will not be adversely affected. The fact that you're skipping class in order to study for another class does not change the rightness of your decision. Your absence may demonstrate disrespect for a professor, regardless of your justifications.

As far as I can tell, skipping class is not a violation of the Academic Honor Code and Social Code, unless your absence obstructs or prevents the professor from performing his or her duties.

The Attendance Policy, published on the College website is an excerpt from the Conduct of Instruction for Faculty in the Faculty Handbook. It emphasizes the balance between academic and extracurricular activities, not the necessity of a gold-star-worthy attendance record.

Many professors indicate the number of absences permitted during the semester. In such cases, professors stipulate that the allotted absences must be "excused." But if the hypothetical absences are "excused," why would they ever be punishable? The fact is, professors know that for various reasons, students sometimes decide not to attend class and sometimes accommodate the behavior.

Ultimately you are of liberty to decide to skip class. Weigh the pros and cons of skipping and make an informed decision. If you could benefit from studying for another hour and a half, maybe it's a good idea to tie yourself to a carrel. You are the only person who could bear the ill effect precipitated by your actions. My advice: don't make it a habit.

If you have a dilemma you would like the ethicist to address, send it to dgruber@bowdoin.edu.