Professor suing students who he thinks cheated on his exams

Originally published at: Professor suing students who he thinks cheated on his exams | Boing Boing


I read the WaPo article; he’s not concerned about the copyright infringement. He asked Course Hero for the students’ names and they told him he’d need to get a subpoena. Apparently suing the students for copyright is the way he’ll be able to get one. He’s said he’s going to drop the suit once he gets the names. In the article he points out that the cheaters’ raising of the curve (and thus lowering others’ grades) could theoretically jeopardize merit based scholarships.

It looks like he could see that the questions were literally posted during the time he was administering the exam.

Also there’s some law that slips my mind right now that gives websites like that a lot of protection from being held responsible for user created content.


Just write different questions


I do not understand why grading to the curve is so popular in the US. Why mark, or adjust marks, on the assumption that only a certain percentage of students are capable of understanding your material at a certain level?
I work in the Vocational Education and Training sector in Australia. We work by nationally recognised standards. There are clear Elements of Conmpetency in each educational unit with clear Performance Criteria. There are Performance and Knowledge Evidence that have to adhere to the ASQA Rules of Evidence (Validity, Sufficiency, Authenticity, Currency). Our job is to make sure the maximum number of students achieve the highest possible understanding of the material by giving them the most effective education we can manage in accordance with all of that. Marking is based on what you earned according to those standards, not some statistical prediction of what the cohort should have earned.
Our universities also work to the same national standards (they simply go to higher levels of accreditation - VET is typically AQF levels 1 to 8, Uni is 5 to 10), and very few grade to the curve. What’s the point? As far as I’m concerned, if a student believes they could miss out on a grade not because of their own ability, but because there’s only a certain number of slots open for it? It can only encourage many of them to give up and either work to the middling grade or cheat to get the highest. Either way, you’re not doing a good job as an educator.


If the work was created while being paid by the University and for their purposes- doesn’t the University own the rights to the tests?


Per the above, apparently questions were posted in real time (i.e. as the exam was being administered).


The cheating is indeed a problem, but so is grading on a curve.


I generally don’t put any heroic effort into investigating if my students are cheating on their projects or tests in my class under the “you’re really only cheating yourself” theory of education, though I’ve had to take disciplinary steps against a couple of students who were so sloppy about it I couldn’t help notice.

However this professor does have a legitimate point that it’s not a victimless crime if the cheaters are getting merit-based scholarships that might otherwise go to more deserving students.


Eight comments in and no Son of Sam jokes yet??
(I’m sorry I don’t have a worthy one.)


University grades are a little bit more nuanced than a C or an NYC though. Maybe things have changed recently (my TAE has been gathering cobwebs for a number of years).

As a current student who painfully owns my own failures. I’m OK with this.

Not the lengths and the use of copyright law it has to be*, but the fact that they have to go these lengths means that the cheating was obvious and egregious enough that they couldn’t let it pass. I have had a prof just announce to the class that they knew there was cheating going on, but that they couldn’t be bothered to pursue it because of the work it would take. Another who told the class they hated it, especially because of all the extra time it took to process that could spend doing other things. He also couldn’t release grades until it was resolved. One I’m pretty sure rewrote the test every semester to make it nigh impossible to cheat without being obvious, but it took him so much longer to do and he didn’t seem to like that either. He also couldn’t offer any insights in how to study effectively for the test because of that. So, lots of us wound up rote-studying irrelevant things when we could’ve focused our critical thinking more effectively.

Meanwhile, I’ve watched people in-class copy-paste homework assignments by hand, straight out off of websites within minutes of getting it. This is just regular assignments from profs who sometimes even took the time to make better assignments and coursework, and the cheater can’t be bothered. I’m honestly not sure how it benefits cheaters in the long run as later courses are not-so cookie-cutter in their answers.

  • Yeah, it’s dumb.

I was about to reply that my two college age kids would say that the curve is necessary when a teacher is doing a shitty job of teaching the material.
Then I realized that the curve hides the fact that the teacher is doing a shitty job teaching the material.


Even if didn’t exist, between university specific reddit forums and general chatter, it’s an open secret who the great-academics-but-poor-professors are in my particular university’s department.

That’s not just amongst the students but the profs too.


I’m not going to defend the practice, since I don’t do it, but you could ask what is the purpose of grades, if not to rank the students relative to one another?
(I hate giving grades, and was fortunate to attend an institution where grades weren’t given for the last 2 years, but I don’t think that would work for most students.)

No, unless there are provisions in the contract that specify this. For the same reason, if I put lectures online, my Uni can’t fire me and continue to use my recorded lectures. This aspect of faculty IP has been pretty carefully examined, as on the research end it has led to many disputes in the courts over patent rights.

This. I didn’t put much of an effort into anti-cheating measures when I first started teaching, as it felt like treating the students as adversaries, and not as responsible adults, but early on I had complaints from students, often my best students, about other students cheating, so eventually I became a hardass. (A little less so now, as I mainly have the privilege of teaching honors classes and advanced students.)

Personally, I think this guy is a bit over the top, but I hope he succeeds at least in his suit against the cheat-enabling website.


To rate the student’s mastery of the material?


coughs in BoingBoing


I’m not a fan of grading on a curve but I understand why people do it. Even for an experienced teacher it can be really difficult to judge how difficult a test is unless the test questions are well vetted. It’s surprisingly easy to give a test that is way harder than you expected. That’s all well and good if you have a question bank of questions that have been used in previous years, which is how standardized tests work, but that isn’t always an option for individual instructors. Also keep in mind that the common response to professors complaining about students posting test questions online or sharing them with their fraternity is that they should write new questions every semester. If the class of 2022 gets a 20% harder test than the class of 2021 got and the entire class gets 1 letter grade lower, is that any less unfair than saying only 10% of the class will get As?

I think in most cases professors can and should do better than this, but it isn’t surprising that some solve this by using a curve.


You could do that on a pass/no pass basis.

While I’ve never graded on a curve (in the sense of this percent get As, etc), when I first started teaching I did not have the experience–or maybe just confidence – to discriminate between (say) A and B work, so I did use relative performance to help draw lines. Which was probably a good thing for the students, as in my field new faculty tend to be relatively harsh graders. I’ve now supervised TAs in several top universities, one of the most important tasks is making sure they realize that their standard of success, especially for a course for nonmajors, should not be themselves and their friends (who were of course wildly successful outliers).


In the article he points out that the cheaters’ raising of the curve (and thus lowering others’ grades) could theoretically jeopardize merit based scholarships.

Everything else aside, he should stop grading on a curve. It pits students against each other. And sometimes it means the instructor either isn’t teaching the students to meet the course outcomes or else they’re making their tests too difficult (often testing retention rather than demonstrable understanding). It’s not a great practice.


That’s a lede that was pretty buried! Until I saw that, I was thinkin’, “Lazy prof thinks he can re-use questions? What century does he think he’s living in?” But real time cheating is a whole other thing.