information wants to be free but not in my class
October 26, 2011 7:38 PM   Subscribe

I've been accused of cheating on an exam, and I am in danger of losing my scholarship, but I don't think I cheated. Help!

The exam was an short-essay based test. The professor gave us the case-study that the exam would be based on the night before. We were allowed to read the case as well as discuss with other students our analysis of the case the night before but would come into school and take the exam individually.

As an aid in studying, I used a syllabus from another university that had the same case-study as the exam, along with study questions ranging from the general (what is this case about) to more specific (do this calculation based on this table etc). I shared these questions with other classmates.

I go in to take the test and the test questions are the EXACT SAME questions as the ones in the syllabus from the other school. Somehow word got to the professor that I had these questions prior to the test and now I'm being punished very severely. His argument is that he explicitly told us not to "look things up on the Internet" but I interpreted that as looking up answers or papers or cases written by other people (and that this warning was mostly about plagiarism) not study questions. He dismisses the distinction and is punishing me as harshly as if I intended to actually cheat, even though I did not know that the questions were going to be the same, and everything I wrote on the test I came up with myself. I did not steal a previous years exam, nor did I have insider information that these questions would be on the test.

Has anyone encountered anything like this before? Should I appeal? What complicates things is I have this professor again in another class that is required for my major (and he's the only one who teachers this class) and he has suggested that appealing will make things harder for me in this other class.

Please, if you want more details, e-mail me at .

Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Education (80 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The guy is too lazy to write his own exam and instead uses one from some other school? I'd complain to the head of the department.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:42 PM on October 26, 2011 [22 favorites]

Its a tough one, i'd make sure to get someone else at the school on your side...
does your school or department have an ombudsmen? They normally could be a source for guidance... if not, go to student services/counseling center... you have to make sure you know the schools policy and have a clear understanding of them so that your arguments are valid...
posted by fozzie33 at 7:44 PM on October 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


I also maybe might start looking at lawyers. That's a lot to lose.
posted by jbenben at 7:44 PM on October 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Hellz yes you should appeal. And if he then makes things harder for you in the next class you go talk to the dean about that too.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:45 PM on October 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

Sounds like an ass. Anyone who uses a canned exam and expects no one to google can't be taken seriously. That said, depending on department politics, his chair might have his back. Seconding talking to an ombudsman or lawyering up.
posted by LucretiusJones at 7:45 PM on October 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

In fact, when you talk to ombudsman or the dean or who ever you are going to talk to about this first incident, I'd go ahead and mention that you were hesitant to talk to them because the teacher had threatened to retaliate against you in the future.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:46 PM on October 26, 2011 [100 favorites]

You need to find an impartial third party to help you out here. Ideally, your university has an ombudsman or similar person, whose job is to mediate these kinds of disputes. If your institution has such a person, go to them first - do not complain to the department chair or anyone else.

Without knowing more details, it's tough to determine exactly whether what you did was against the rules or not. However, this -

What complicates things is I have this professor again in another class that is required for my major (and he's the only one who teachers this class) and he has suggested that appealing will make things harder for me in this other class.

- is completely out of line, regardless of what you did.

Also,vdocument everything, including all communications with your professor (write notes if they are phone or in person). The more documentation you have, the better.
posted by googly at 7:49 PM on October 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

You may have a dean of student affairs or something like that, if not an ombudsperson. Also, if you have his description of what was legitimate studying for the test either on tape (if someone was recording lecture) or in writing, you will want to hold onto that.
posted by cobaltnine at 7:50 PM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yes, appeal this.

I'm pretty sure, incidentally, that he shouldn't be threatening you in the other class if you exercise your process rights here.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:54 PM on October 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

He copied a test verbatim from publicly available materials easily found on the internet? And it's your fault that you studied from that test?

Retaliation is a big no-no as has been noted. Since he's been threatening you, I'd ask for some other accommodation to meet that requirement.

Document as much as you can. Even just notes from your memory now is better than waiting until later.

Ombudsman first if you have one. If not, then department chair, then assistant/associate student dean for your college for student or academic affairs.
posted by grouse at 7:54 PM on October 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

It sounds to me like the professor is embarrassed that you found him to merely be copying someone else's test questions verbatim. It makes him look bad. He probably knew that "looking things up on the internet" would direct you right to his test questions. His response is totally over the top, and the thing about how appealing would make your other class with him more difficult sounds like blackmail to me. This is mostly about his ego. Keep that in mind when you appeal, which you should definitely do.
posted by wondermouse at 7:57 PM on October 26, 2011 [10 favorites]

This is going to depend very specifically on your school's policy on what constitutes cheating, as well as what he specifically wrote in your syllabus about cheating. You need to read these first and see if there's any specification on this type of situation (or if it doesn't mention it at all and thus makes you innocent by exemption).

But you definitely need to get help from some sort of guidance personnel at your school. It's possible you did violate the policy here, but considering that he gave you the case study ahead of time, he might not have a strong case against you.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:03 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does your school have an Honor Board or a Student Academic Integrity Board or something similar? Schools should have a process that any student accused of cheating has to go through. Normally this involves the professor presenting evidence and the student being allowed to present their own side of the story, working with some third party - either a dean, an ombudsman, a committee of students and faculty, etc. You need to find out right now what your school's procedure is. Talk to your dean of students office, your RA, look around your student handbook (which is probably also online).

If the professor told you that you weren't allowed to use online materials and you did, then you violated the rules.
But on the other hand, if you misunderstood the rules, maybe a third party would be inclined to be lenient. You need to figure out how to get a third party (within your school) involved. Figure out what avenues are open to you before you tell your prof whether you will appeal.

Appealing or using your school's established procedures does not make it ok for this prof to be harder on you next semester. Going through official channels may give you some protection here or may not. You need to talk to a third party within the school (ombudsman, dean of students, your academic advisor, ...?) to see the lay of the land.

Talk of lawyers is totally misplaced in this context.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:04 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

What DoubleLune said, but also: whenever you believe a decision against you is unfair, and there is an appeal process: appeal. That's what it's there for.
posted by looli at 8:05 PM on October 26, 2011

This is the (only) bit that I find problematic:

The prof gave you the case study the day before the test. Until then you did not know what case study he was going to give you. He told you not to look stuff up on the internet.

In order to find out that another syllabus and sample questions about this case study existed, you must have googled the case study that evening: after you had been told not to look stuff up online.

You didn't know the syllabus about this case study existed before then, so you weren't googling for it specifically. What exactly WERE you googling for? This is the question the prof will be asking himself.

Otherwise, I think LobsterMitten's advice is good.
posted by lollusc at 8:07 PM on October 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

Wait, did the professor have permission to "borrow" the questions? Maybe, once this is settled, you should report that to the relevant ethics board.
posted by wnissen at 8:12 PM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, what would you have done if your google terms (even assuming the best of intentions, and that the terms were something like "[specific case study]" + "discussion questions" + "syllabus" had turned up answers or papers or cases, or any of the stuff that you KNEW you weren't allowed to look at? You probably wouldn't have known the material was the prohibited sort until after you had clicked on it to see. Were you planning to somehow "unsee" the answers, papers, etc if you found them by mistake?

(To clarify, though, that I'm not taking sides here: I think the prof is a lazy dick for reusing other people's exam questions.)
posted by lollusc at 8:12 PM on October 26, 2011

IAAP, although IANYP.

First, the professor's instructions. If he explicitly told you "no Internet," then you may have a problem. You will need to be able to explain why you thought "no Internet" only meant "no answers by other people," as opposed to "no further research, period."

However, taking someone else's easily-accessible materials and handing them out to your own students falls under the heading of "not exactly best practices" (and seems to be the primary reason for the ban on the Interwebz).

That being said. Threatening a student with retaliation is a no-no of substantial proportions. Grouse is on target: document everything, head to ombudsman, then chair, then appropriate dean, etc.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:15 PM on October 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Talk of lawyers is totally misplaced in this context.

No, it is most certainly not misplaced. It is an excellent idea to secure an independent representative with experience in argumentation, standards of proof, and following quasi-judicial procedures in situations where one cannot rely on a particular system to protect one's rights. It is even more appropriate where an abuse of the system to further a powerful person's own vendetta against a less powerful person has already been suggested by said powerful person.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:16 PM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Go straight to the ombudsman. With documentation.

If it were me, I probably wouldn't be able to resist pointing out the irony in being accused of cheating by a professor who plagarized a test. (I'm presuming, here, that there was no attribution to the original author, and that he was not the original author.) I wouldn't overtly make such an accusation, though. I'd just lay out the facts and let others draw their own conclusions.

Just explain that your behaviour was that of a diligent student, nothing more. I mean, you couldn't have been expected to know that the professor was going to copy someone else's test verbatim, could you? Seriously, could you? If you knew in advance that the professor liked to reuse exams, you might be in for a rough ride. But this is extremely rare, at least in all the schools I've studied at. Plus, this part:
His argument is that he explicitly told us not to "look things up on the Internet" but I interpreted that as looking up answers or papers or cases written by other people (and that this warning was mostly about plagiarism) not study questions.
puts him in a far worse light than you. His intention was to ban students from studying efficiently solely because he knew he cribbed the test from someone else and that it was freely available on the internet. You couldn't have known his intentions in advance. And because you couldn't have known them, your interpretation of his comment seems eminently reasonable.
posted by matlock expressway at 8:20 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would make the case that, if a professor is going to use a publicly available exam as his own without modifying it, then he needs to say something like, "don't look up this publicly available exam," since no one's assumption would be that the exams would be the same. If someone has a problem with making this explicit, that's more reflective of a problem with using publicly available exams without modifying them than of students' honesty.

I don't think you would have looked at the other university's exam if you knew ahead of time your professor would be using it.
posted by alphanerd at 8:21 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

His intention was to ban students from studying efficiently solely because he knew he cribbed the test from someone else and that it was freely available on the internet. You couldn't have known his intentions in advance. And because you couldn't have known them, your interpretation of his comment seems eminently reasonable.

That won't hold water in a student judicial hearing. It's speculation on the professor's intentions.
posted by thewestinggame at 8:22 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

His intention was to ban students from studying efficiently solely because he knew he cribbed the test from someone else and that it was freely available on the internet.

I suspect you are right that this is why he did ban use of the internet.

He would probably be able to get away with arguing, however, that he banned it because he wanted to test your own abilities to interpret the case and to apply material from the course to it, rather than testing how well you can remember and regurgitate other people's analyses.

Of course this STILL makes him a dick, because if that's what you want to test, you don't give people a take-home problem - you provide them with the case study during the exam, and give them lots of time to think about it there.
posted by lollusc at 8:24 PM on October 26, 2011

Whether the prof is right to re-use exam questions is not really what you want to get hung up on, though. Maybe he's lazy and doing something that's not ethical, or maybe those questions are from a commonly used bank of questions that are put out by a publisher, or maybe those questions are ones he wrote years ago and one of his former grad students now uses them in her course, who knows. There are various reasons why duplicate questions can show up, some sketchy and some innocent.

There are also perfectly good educational reasons to say "don't go look stuff up online as part of your studying". Efficiency of getting answers is not always the best thing to seek in studying - for example in philosophy exams we often require students not to use the internet when answering a particular question, because they're supposed to be thinking things through for themselves.

Don't get so focused on the prof that you forget your own role.
That is what will matter when you go in front of an appeals/honor board hearing.

Did you do something you could should have known was against the rules?
Or did you act with totally above-board intentions, following the rules as you understood them, and a weird coincidence made it look like you had snuck a copy of the prof's exam?

thomas j wise is absolutely right that if the prof has explicitly said he will retaliate against you, you need to document that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:26 PM on October 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

Wow. The way you're being treated is outrageous. First of all, who ever heard of giving someone a case study ahead of time (you could be clearer, but I'm guessing this was sort of like a business case study), then punishing you for learning more about the case study. Secondly, he should be fired for plagiarizing someone else's questions. He's the plagiarist, not you. Third, he should be fired for his threat of retaliation if you defend your rights. I'm not saying you should try to get him fired, I'm saying if your dean has half a brain, he or she will realize that your professor is in the wrong.

Talk of a lawyer is absolutely not misplaced. You are being screwed by a lazy, vengeful professor, and you have a lot at stake. It wouldn't be my first resort, but I would consider it.

Your biggest problem is that while his studying guidelines were ridiculous, you did violate them. On the other hand, his guidelines sounded rather unclear; and the real reason why makes him look awful. Your case isn't slam dunk, but you absolutely should appeal your punishment. And make sure you don't have to take another class with him, or if you do, that he doesn't mark another assignment for the duration of your time there. Implications of retaliation are seriously, seriously wrong.
posted by Dasein at 8:29 PM on October 26, 2011

Talk of lawyers is totally misplaced in this context.

I am a lawyer. Lawyers are trained advocates, and just because their license authorizes them to cross the bar in a courtroom doesn't mean that clients don't also hire lawyers to represent them in myriad other contexts. I have never personally handled a case exactly like the OP describes, but the circumstance is definitely within the parameters of what lawyers do.

To the OP: If you can afford a lawyer, I would recommend talking with one. Visit the website for your state's bar association and look for its lawyer referral service. Usually you can get a short consultation with a lawyer familiar with the area of your problem, for a nominal fee. Representation beyond that short consultation would cost more, but (1) the consultation may have some value for you, and (2) you may be able to afford the representation, if you conclude that it would help.

Having a scholarship at stake is a serious matter, and it sounds like you have a slightly complicated argument ahead of you. (Meaning, not precisely black-&-white.) Having an advocate on your behalf to help you construct and present that argument might be worthwhile. Whether that's a lawyer, a trusted advisor at the school, etc., it's definitely worth considering enlisting some help. Good luck.
posted by red clover at 8:37 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Thank you so much everyone for your advice and feedback. Here is what the syllabus of the course says: The context is that throughout the semester before the exam we have been writing papers or "case write-ups". We were given, by the professor, study questions similar to the ones on the exam to consider while writing our essays (but we were not supposed to actually explicitly answer those questions in our papers, they were just there to "guide our thinking"). This is why I felt it would be OK to use questions to aid in my studying for an exam. We had been using them all year. I really did not intend to cheat (in fact he conceded at some point that this was more like, in his words, "incidental cheating") and if the professor is trying to teach me a lesson as he says I am not sure what that lesson is.
posted by AceRock at 8:50 PM on October 26, 2011

About lawyers in appealing academic integrity charges:

Your first move is to figure out what your school's existing procedures are for handling accusations of student cheating. I guarantee you (if you're in the US anyway) that there is a procedure, and an appeals procedure, spelled out somewhere for this. You need to find out who's involved, what the hearings are like (who comes, who gets to talk, do you get to bring evidence, who has the decision power, what penalties can they impose, can they overrule the prof), what if you want to appeal the decision, etc.

What I meant was that your first move is NOT to go back to the prof and say "I'm getting a lawyer and suing your ass" before figuring out what your school's existing procedure is. You risk antagonizing the prof and making the whole situation much worse. Lawyer should not be your first move. Take a day or so and make phone calls and meet with deans or whoever is the relevant person who will tell you about the school's procedures, to see what you're going to need to do. Maybe you will find that the road is clear. Maybe you'll find that you're going to have a hearing, and then you can think about whether you want/can have a lawyer with you in the hearing.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:52 PM on October 26, 2011

OP, your linked text mentions the Honor Code. That suggests to me that your school has an Honor Board or similar body to adjudicate cases involving violations of the Honor Code. (In many such schools, the prof does not have final authority as to what penalty to impose, the Honor Board does. And in some such schools the prof is not allowed to impose penalties without bringing you in front of the Honor Board for a hearing. Is that true at your school? Find your student handbook and look it up. Find the phone number of the dean of students etc and ask what the procedures are.)

I'm sorry you're in this scary position. Take a deep breath, don't panic, and start figuring out who to contact within your school.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:10 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, I find your explanation of your behavior unconvincing. You say you interpreted his admonition not to look stuff up on the Internet as being mainly about plagiarism and meaning not to look up answers and cases and papers written by others ... But how could you have used answers by others or plagiarized anything without knowing the question, which he didn't give you until test day? I think you clearly violated the letter and spirit of his prohibition.

That being said, I think he sleazily plagiarized someone else's work and he's worried about being called out on it.

You both behaved poorly and violated academic integrity, in my opinion.
posted by jayder at 9:23 PM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, to me, "information from the internet" in the context of the syllabus wouldn't mean any information from the internet, but specifically write-ups that were found on the internet, as well as write-ups from previous years' classes. It sounds like maybe your professor meant to put "You may not use the internet as a study aid" but instead it just sounds like he doesn't want you to look up people's essays.
posted by wondermouse at 9:30 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Those red bold underlined instructions of his are quite vague and should have been more clear for how emphatically he felt about them.

That said, I'm not sure about the distinction you are making. The syllabus prohibits looking up prior "write-ups" of the case study from "previous years' classes." You looked up the case study, from a syllabus from a previous year's class (albeit at another school), then located and reviewed prior questions (and answers to those questions, possibly?) relating to the case study. Are those "write-ups?" Did it occur to you that those were or could be "write-ups?" Do you think it should have occurred to you?

I'm not trying to be argumentative about this; it's just that if you are going to go before an honor board about it, these are the kinds of questions you need real, solid, non-mealy-mouthed answers to. In simplest terms, it sounds like your professor told you (in a somewhat obfuscated way) not to look up info on the internet about the case you were given, and you went and did that. You're going to need to make a compelling case for why you thought this was okay, because there will be a presumption that anything you say now is just a post hoc rationalization.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 9:39 PM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've had good friends over the years that are professors at some pretty good universities. I really think a lawyer should be considered, but not immediately deployed or even mentioned.

My problem is that there's a lot of politics at universities. The OP might be unlucky and initially approach a higher up who is allied with the professor in question, or get lucky and hit upon someone else that is not allied with that professor and will likely be of far more unbiased help.

I think if the OP can get even a few attorney phone consultations out of the way (usually free for a quick screening to see if the case is in their expertise, plus if the OP clicks with a particular lawyer during this process, they'll know who to call and retain if the situation goes south...) then the OP will know much much better what to expect when they begin petitioning for assistance from the university.


Yes. Documentation. All conversations, instructions given in class, but especially their test answers vs. the screen grabs and print outs of the online research material. If the answers do not match, as the OP indicated, that is kinda the best proof of all regarding not cheating. Unless the "no internet" thing carries more weight.

I'm thinking of the OP's scholarship here...

I'm thinking that depending on the biases of whoever decides the appeal, well, I'd like to have secure sound advice from someone who is only on my side - not the professor's or the university's.

The retaliation threat looms larger for me than a dispute about cheating in regards to my grave concern about behind the scenes politics. I would be very wary of pulling that card before having a knowledgeable independent consultation. It could be the difference between getting things to blow over amicably ("Oops! Just a misunderstanding!") and losing the scholarship. Or getting kicked out of school. Or having to change majors and garnering a bad rep in the process. Etc..


OP, there is a lot for you to lose at someone's whim. And I DO NOT think you should tell ANYONE that you phoned around to lawyers. But you should do it so you know your rights and feel comfortable going in. If you can afford to pay for some real guidance prior to any meeting or hearing, do so!
posted by jbenben at 9:44 PM on October 26, 2011

As someone who has challenged corrupt teachers in the past, and who lost a year of sanity because of it, I urge you to do your best to find witnesses if you want to win this. If your teacher has genuinely threatened to try to make your grade in another class more difficult to earn, you will need proof to fight this, because as I see it, you did violate his terms by googling questions. He meant for you to take the test as cold as possible.

Good luck. You are about to embark on an incredibly draining and upsetting experience.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:44 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

OP again:
Thank you everyone again, and thank you for the devil's advocate POVs here. Just to clarify, the professor did not give a "don't look anything up" warning when briefing us on the test. That warning was given at the start of the semester (the text in question was a final exam) and, I believe, was in the context of plagiarism because he was talking about paper/essay homework assignments. Adding to the ambiguity is that later when he was briefing us about the exam, he encouraged us to discuss the case in study groups the night before. Similarly, we were encouraged to discuss cases in groups before writing our papers. And there might be some post-hoc rationalization going on right now -- it is hard to remember exactly what I was thinking when I found that syllabus -- but it just seemed like as long as I used my own ideas and calculations, and did the work myself (which I did -- I did not seek or find answers to the questions on the exam) that that would be OK. The hypothetical that I keep returning to is: if the questions were not exactly the same, would I still be in trouble? Anyway, again thank you, trying to write out answers to possible questions is really helpful in clarifying my thinking.
posted by AceRock at 9:52 PM on October 26, 2011

Armed with knowledge from the lawyer research...

OP, you might go to the Professor directly, first. Admit no wrong doing, APOLOGIZE, appeal to ego, subtly beg, etc. etc. Be truly humble.

Professor might welcome the chance to (indirectly) back off from disreputable act of threatening your future grades. If you strike just the right tone, remain professional while giving as little incriminating evidence as possible, you might walk away with a verbal warning.

I would try one careful and respectful personal appeal to the professor before escalating.

Everyone has noted you are likely both wrong in this situation. There is a Japanese thing about always giving your adversary a graceful out. You might try this.
posted by jbenben at 9:53 PM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would take a different tact here. I think the prof is concerned about his behavior and is bullying you in order to protect his ass. I would take an aggressive, not apologetic, tact when i meet with him.

I would tell him you are upset about the entire incident including his use of other people's tests and you see two solutions here. One, you both sit down with the department chair or the Dean and discuss the incident and his use of other school's tests verbatim ss well as your unintentional and inadvertent discovery of such. I would tell him you did not cheat. Or, the other solution is for you both to learn a lesson here and that the best course is to recognize the situation is all grey and it should just be put aside. Either your grade includes what you got on the test or he gives you a retest or you drop the test and he gives you a grade that is what you were already carrying in the class.

He is using his leverage by virtue of his position as a professor and you being subserviant student to cover up for his own lazinessplagerismineptitude.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:11 PM on October 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

I work at a University and I have served on the Univ judicial board. lobsterMitten gives great advice. Find out your schools procedure and use it. You can consult with a lawyer, but the lawyer can't (usually) represent you in the Univ. Judicial have to represent yourself (but can be advised).

I also think you should take JohnnyGunn's advice to speak to the professor about this. What exactly has he done so far? Did he fail you on the test? Appeal the grade calmly and professionally using the grade appeal procedure. Did he report you to the conduct office for judicial proceedings? You should have a hearing...present your side calmly and professionally without "pointing fingers" at the professor. I have been on many hearing that should have resulted in suspension but we chose not to suspend because the student was remorseful, understood their error, and was able to stay calm and show us what happened from their side. You may avoid a plagiarism charge and keep your scholarship, but instead get a bad grade on that exam. All is not lost yet, but you must educate yourself on the procedures available to you.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:26 PM on October 26, 2011

I actually think that JohnnyGunn is spot on about what the prof's motives are in terms of how he has been dealing with me. He has tried to dissuade me twice from exercising my rights as a student and appealing. First by suggesting that he will make things hard for me if I appeal, and second by telling me that he already has the support of the dean, administration, and faculty to deal with this as he sees fit, and that if I appeal I have a losing case. According to my student handbook I have a few days within which to express my intent to appeal in writing, so I definitely am allowed to appeal and go through a more formal process. Not only did he not mention that I have the option of appealing until I asked him if I did, but he did not say anything about the time period, and even said that he still has to think about certain details about my punishment, seemingly trying to buy time and letting my clock run out. All of these things suggest that he does not want me to appeal and he does not want anyone to hear my side of the story, and as JohnnyGunn says, he is using his position of power to bully me into foregoing my right to appeal. Well, screw that noise.
posted by AceRock at 10:28 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh. He wants time to "think" about your punishment?

Be a political master! Nose him into dropping the issue while keeping your options open.

Good luck!

(I usually win these subtle-type battles by being better informed than my adversary, but not threatening them AT ALL directly. My expertise shines through and it's enough. Be well-informed, yet humble. You'll likely prevail. keep the Big Guns in reserve.)
posted by jbenben at 10:39 PM on October 26, 2011

Unless you decide to bring a lawyer into this, you will likely lose.

You will also lose if you aren't done with your academic career at this location, because bringing about an appeals case will mark you as trouble, especially if you bring a lawyer in to play ball.

Please, please, please tread carefully. Play your cards exceptionally close to your chest and gather as much physical evidence as you can. Get everything in writing, everything in email. Tape him if you have to.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:41 PM on October 26, 2011

You have nothing to gain by trying to figure out the professor's motivations, or for looking for malice in his actions. When you start to think of this in personal terms, you start to lose. You start screaming the professor is out to get you, etc, people will not take you seriously. There's no reason for you to care what the professor's motivations are, and you will do better once you realize this. Trust me: everyone in academia has encountered plenty of hot-headed students who are upset with their grade and so they start screaming about how dishonest, inappropriate, immoral their professor is. Those students are a dime a dozen.

Please also keep in mind your situation. You may not have intended to cheat, but you did in fact do something that was inappropriate. And then you didn't confess to it once you realized the situation -- someone else brought it to the professor's attention. And while you may know you didn't intend to cheat, your professor has no reason to believe you about this. Again, everyone in academia has seen plenty of students who will claim innocence and who suddenly have a lot of complaints about a professor as soon as the student has been caught doing something inappropriate. This isn't a matter of groundless accusations, and you're not going to be able to refocus that conversation onto the professor's methods.

Here's your situation: you thought the rules in the course allowed X, the professor is saying the rules of the course clearly did not allow X. This is a technical matter, and it's possible for two reasonable people (you and prof) to disagree about it. This is what the appeals process will focus on figuring out: whether your actions, given the language in the syllabus, constitute academic dishonesty. Keep your focus clear: all you care about is explaining that the specific rules in the syllabus were not sufficiently clear, and your concern that this misunderstanding will negatively affect your grade or future in that department. That's all you need to care about.

Take JohnnyGunn's advice and barge into your professor's office and start demanding meetings about his dishonesty and talking about "options" and "learning lessons," and you will get nowhere. Start obsessing over the professor's motivations, and you're going to lose sight of your goal, and you're going to really hurt yourself. Go talk to your adviser, go talk to an ombudsman, figure out what the appeals process entails, and prepare to stand up for yourself. Just don't get distracted.
posted by meese at 11:00 PM on October 26, 2011 [23 favorites]

You will also lose if you aren't done with your academic career at this location, because bringing about an appeals case will mark you as trouble,

FYI, this is definitely not a blanket rule, and it's disappointing that people still intimate appeals processes presumably at an undergraduate level, would harm your nascent academic career. I appealed many things as an undergrad in small departments with courtesy and respect, and it would be absolutely no impediment to any further progress I wished to make. Indeed, one of the people I appealed against invited me to apply for a phd on completion of my honours.
posted by smoke at 11:20 PM on October 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

You need to talk to the DEAN IMMEDIATELY.

"Don't look up things on the internet". Yeah. Awesome. Like in all my classes when the professors say "don't look up stuff at the library".

Go to the dean...I have experience with this.

posted by hal_c_on at 11:24 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would take an aggressive, not apologetic, tact when i meet with him. ... I would tell him you are upset about the entire incident including his use of other people's tests and you see two solutions here.

Unless you decide to bring a lawyer into this, you will likely lose. ... You will also lose if you aren't done with your academic career at this location, ... Tape him if you have to.

OP, there are a lot of unknowns that we can only speculate about from our detached position. Sometimes situations like this resolve just fine through normal channels, sometimes it's a big headache, there is no way for us to know. It's hard to know what your prof's considered position will be, it's hard to know if administrators will have his back or if they will see that your situation is an "honest mistake" kind of deal, it's hard to know if his test was copied from someone illicitly or if he has a right to use the test material (either because he wrote it, or it's a package from a textbook company, or whatever). You are in the best position to judge your own situation, but don't let people here talk you into thinking your situation is hopeless or that the normal procedures can't work.

Taking an aggressive tone with your prof seems like terrible advice. You don't have any leverage over him, you can't negotiate here. Threats will destroy any chance of a face-saving exit for him or a simple change of heart motivated by seeing your diligence and calm; also they'll make you look weird if they are later revealed to the honor board (you threatened the prof? crazy times). He could have the right to use those exam questions, and if you approached him aggressively about it you would look like a fool or like you were trying to extort a good grade from him. If you actually go to the honor board, the issue about the duplicate exam questions will come up naturally as part of the hearing. He knows this already.

I agree with everything meese said about keeping calm and focusing just on the facts about your situation, working through the proper channels on the prescribed timeline etc. You're doing a good thing now by reading your honor code booklet, and writing down your answers to questions about what you did. You may be able to go to a trusted faculty advisor, dean, etc tomorrow and just sit in their office until they have a few minutes to talk with you; they'll know the prof and the process and the politics at your school.

If you think your prof will try to delay your appeal or threaten you, do all your communication with him by email so that you have a paper trail of what exactly he said. If you believe that he would carry through on a threat to retaliate against you, it might be best for you to insist on an appeal/hearing so that there is a paper trail you can refer to in future semesters.

But your tone should be calm: I am a diligent student, I didn't intend to do anything like cheating, I was studying in a way I thought was within the rules (and here's how the rules were explained, here's why I thought my actions were within the rules), my grade in the course is important for me to keep my scholarship so I feel I must appeal, I will take my side of the story to the honor board.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:33 PM on October 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think the thing that gives me pause is that your professor heard about this from someone else. It's possible that this is a university culture difference, but I think if I had been in your situation, the first thing I would have done upon leaving that exam would have been to contact the prof, explain the situation and see whether they wanted to arrange an alternate exam or something. Setting aside whether the prof was legitimately using the questions and the meaning of his "no internet" instruction, once you saw that they were the same questions you presumably realised that you'd (unintentionally, granted) gained an advantage you weren't meant to have. I suspect if the professor had heard about this from you, things might have gone differently.

Dissuading you from exercising your right to appeal is totally inappropriate, though. I just don't know how far you'll get with that if you don't have any evidence, especially as given the context, you may well come off as a cheater just trying to get out of being punished.
posted by lwb at 12:10 AM on October 27, 2011

If I were sitting on an academic dishonesty review board for this case, I would be pretty interested in hearing precisely how you came across the material in question. It's not even clear that you got it from the internet, from what you've said so far, but I would want to know down to the search term that you used.

Another way to put this is, why were YOU the one who had special access to the material and are now taking the fall? Did no one else google at all? That doesn't look very good for you, if the instructions were that clear.

I also share lwb's concern. Why didn't you talk to the professor about this right after the exam?
posted by Kwine at 12:28 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

he has suggested that appealing will make things harder for me in this other class

Can you get the prick to put that in writing?
posted by flabdablet at 1:52 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

The story as told seems a little weird to me - how did you find the test, etc. (was it in someone's test bank for instance). Also I think he is upset that you shared this with other people before the exam.

So, I'd therefore repeat a lot of the advice here -

- keep calm
- see the ombusdman
- be familiar with academic honesty codes
- document everything
- be prepared to explain exactly what you did and why

It's probably not a good idea to get into direct fights. You need someone to mediate.
posted by carter at 3:43 AM on October 27, 2011

Your position is weak because you didn't point the problem out to the professor yourself. It's probably excusable that you found the stuff on the internet. But you should not have answered the exam. You did so even though you knew that you had an unfair advantage.

You had a second opportunity to redeem yourself -- you should have told the professor after the exam. You chose not to, strongly suggesting that you planned to keep your advantage a secret. This constitutes cheating in every academic context I have encountered.

I think it extremely unlikely that the professor is concerned about having lifted the exam questions from the internet himself. Such things happen all the time. It's not something to be proud of, but hardly a disciplinary offence. More likely, he is angry because you covered this up, and he wants to teach you a lesson.

My advice is to eat the humblest pie you can. First, apologise. Second, explain to the professor that, at the time, you did not realise you were doing anything wrong. Third, tell him/her that you now understand that it was wrong to look stuff up on the internet when told not to, and more importantly, that it was wrong to cover up the problem. Fourth, say you've learned your lesson and won't do anything like this again. I think it is very unwise to aggressively approach him about the source of the questions -- your position is far weaker than his.
posted by beniamino at 5:11 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

There was a law prof at the University of Texas maybe ten years ago who took an exam from a commercial study guide, unaltered (I believe), and it turns out some students had a copy of it that they were using as a study aid, and it caused a shitstorm that brought significant problems and embarrassment for the professor. Your situation reminds me of that. During your very civil chat with the professor, it would be worth emphasizing "how was I ever to anticipate that you would adopt, without any alteration, someone else's test that was freely available on the Internet? Are you sure that's in line with university plagiarism rules?"
posted by jayder at 5:20 AM on October 27, 2011

As someone whose SO was involved in a similar shake down earlier this year - why didn't you alert the professor that you had seen the exact exam and had in fact distributed it to other members of the class? The fact that you didn't come clean about that I think is the most damning part of all.

I can see what you mean about the wording about not using the internet being a bit wishy washy, but I can't understand, once you realized that you had literally seen the exam word for word before, not alerting the proctor, or the professor, or SOMEONE that some portion of the class was given an unfair advantage going into that test.
posted by CharlieSue at 5:29 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

In addition to documenting everything, have him either coverse with you over email or do an email verification after each conversation ("You said you could make things very difficult for me, correct?") in order to preserve a record of his actions. Encourage those who studied with you to capture & document their actions (and their recollections of your actions) ASAP as well.
posted by anildash at 5:32 AM on October 27, 2011

I run 2 UG courses and I can tell you that I would look very dimly if one of my lecturers presented an exam to the students that had been cribbed off the net. It is unprofessional and creates signficiant danger of undermining the validity of the module (and thus the degree and the degree granting body), since it actively creates a danger of allowing students to achieve marks which are not reflective of their ability. The same is true of lecturers who then threaten to punish students who invoke the regulatory process which they are entitled too, again it means a student is being marked other than on academic ability. Both these elements are indicative of unprofessional behaviour and should be unacceptable to any serious educatonal institution. I am not surprised your Prof does not want the exam cribbing to become an issue, he is very much the one in the wrong here.
posted by biffa at 5:35 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

During your very civil chat with the professor, it would be worth emphasizing "how was I ever to anticipate that you would adopt, without any alteration, someone else's test that was freely available on the Internet? Are you sure that's in line with university plagiarism rules?"

I may have missed this, but how do we know that the professor cribbed this test from someone else and not the other way around?

I'd be VERY careful, as LobsterMitten suggests, about convincing yourself that you are morally superior to the professor in this situation. You may have a case here, but I think there are plenty of things you already could have done differently or better. I would not seek to compound that problem.

In my experience, as a professor, students who have been engaged in some kind of wrongdoing frequently adopt a kind of defensive righteousness that really damages the possibility of reaching a diplomatic solution. This guy sound a bit jerky (although we only have the student's word about it), but meeting jerk with jerk almost guarantees things will not go well.
posted by OmieWise at 6:39 AM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

For everyone who is saying that the OP acted unethically -- the OP found the same case study with what they probably assumed were DIFFERENT questions, and did the questions as a study aid. (And shared them freely, which indicates that the OP did not think they were doing anything wrong.) Why would the OP suspect that questions from another university would be repeated verbatim on their exam?

OP, I would write up a careful description of exactly what you did (when did you download that syllabus, how did you find it, who did you share it with, why did you choose that one to study in detail). Find an administrator and learn exactly what your rights are, and exercise them. Don't go back to the professor by yourself -- work through the process. If you know of friendly administrators who could be in a position to help, try to talk with them personally.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:59 AM on October 27, 2011

As far as I can tell, the OP is essentially in the right. The syllabus warns against using "previous write-ups to aid you - this includes information from the internet, or from previous years' classes". My reading of "write-up" is a completed case study - in other words, what he is warning against is looking at others' answers to the case study, since he wants students to do their own thinking and all the necessary information is in the question. By definition, a "write-up" is something "written up", i.e. an answer. The OP's description of his professor's verbal instructions at the beginning of the semester jibe with this reading. The OP says that at the beginning of the semester, his professor warned the class against looking things up on the internet, in the context of a discussion about plagiarism. Like the OP, I also would have interpreted this as not looking at answers that others have written on the internet. If the professor meant the very draconian interpretation that he now claims, he needed to be much more explicit, because what he wrote can legitimately (and, in my opinion, most readily) be interpreted to refer just to cribbing answers off others, which the OP did not do.

My understanding is that the OP used questions publicly available on the internet, in order to stimulate his own (and his classmates') thinking about the case. He was not copying someone else's work; rather, he was trying to think round the issue. The professor gave the students questions to use for this purpose, so it seems reasonable that once he had exhausted those, he would Google around for more questions in order to probe aspects of the original more fully. It's ludicrous to assume that the OP should have known that the professor would be using questions verbatim from online. Why the professor did this (plagiarism on his part, or something more innocuous that they are from an opensource resource for teachers) is a total red herring. The key issue is that the OP did not use someone's "write up" of the case study, and was not borrowing answers from others.

OP: You need to write out what your understanding of the policy was, and the write out exactly what happened, clearly and in chronological order. Find the university's ombudsman to get advice, because your professor is clearly manipulative and vindictive (threatening your future grades is totally not on). On preview, I agree with chickenmagazine!
posted by UniversityNomad at 7:12 AM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I do that kind of research on tests to get study guides from other professors, because it helps me test myself on the material. However, I have also told the professor when I felt that something gave me an unfair advantage, like the time the random test bank spat out the same question for twenty of the forty quiz questions. I've never had it happen that I got the exact same test from which I'd studied, but if I did I would not take that test and explain why immediately to the professor.

You need to have a solid explanation for why you did not inform the professor immediately that you'd researched the exact test he gave you. That is the part of the story that is going to give people pause, despite the professor's conduct. Also, if your score on that test was higher than your normal performance in that class it will look very bad for you.

In future let your classmates do their own googling.
posted by winna at 7:46 AM on October 27, 2011

Rereading my very long response, it seems to me that in my brain flurry I may not have been entirely clear. So let me summarize in brief. The question of whether the professor himself plagiarized is an interesting one, and would lend a pleasing symmetry to the story. However it is a red herring in the case of the OP's blameworthiness or otherwise. To determine this, there is only one relevant question: Did the OP use others' "write-ups" of the case, or not? Official definitions of "write-up":

(1) M-W: "a written account"
(2) American Heritage Dictionary: "a published account, review, or notice, especially a favorable one
(3) Webster: "a written report or description, as in a newspaper, magazine, etc.; sometimes, specif., a favorable account, as for a publicity release"
(4) MacMillan: "to write a report, article, etc. using notes that you wrote earlier". Example sentence from MacMillan: "Now the experiments are completed, he just has to write up his findings."

From these, it seems to me pretty clear that a "write-up", officially, is the culmination of one's thought process about a question: or alternatively, a "write-up" is one's findings, put in polished prose. All of these definitions exclude the idea that questions about a case study are a "write-up" of it. The OP did not disobey the professor's instructions, either in letter (as seen right above) or in spirit, since the professor - by giving them study questions - made clear that thinking through questions was the appropriate study strategy for the course. The OP has no blame here.
posted by UniversityNomad at 7:59 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

he has suggested that appealing will make things harder for me in this other class.

Make sure the dean knows this. And you need to move now. By now, I mean stop reading this.
posted by spaltavian at 8:01 AM on October 27, 2011

One more thing, to respond to Winna, and the idea that he should have told the professor immediately that he happened to study the exact same questions. Just to play Devil's Advocate: when studying for an exam, all of us make decisions about what material to study, and what material we have to ignore for time constraints. Sometimes gambles pay off and sometimes they don't. Sometimes you study questions, none of which show up on an exam. If you're unlucky, do you then go to the professor to get a new test? If not, I'm not sure that you're under any responsibility to 'fess up and retest when your gambles pay off. Otherwise, we're advocating a heads-you-lose/tails-you-lose study strategy, where you can get unlucky but never lucky on an exam.

I could see the argument that this is a unique case, because the whole exam was verbatim what he studied, and also because so many others studied the same lucky questions that it might throw off the curve for everyone. But by that logic, all the others who had the questions ahead of time had the same responsibility - OP is not uniquely responsible. In any case, the professor should retest the entire class, punish no one, and learn for next year that he needs both to be far more explicit on the syllabus, and also to make sure his exams don't exist on the internet, verbatim and easily Googleable. Because this clearly won't happen, and the professor has shown himself to be unprofessional in dealing with the situation, the OP needs to go to a neutral party to explain his case, pronto!
posted by UniversityNomad at 8:12 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

However it is a red herring in the case of the OP's blameworthiness or otherwise.

I disagree, the institution should make all effort to present assignments and exams to students which provide the opportunity to demonstrate their level of command of a topic, without favour. To this end the institution should employ good practice, which includes variation in the specifics of assigned work such that engagement with learning outcomes are adequately tested on an equitable basis. The institution - in the person of the Prof - is at fault here as it has failed to apply good practice.

The institution should make an effort to prevent cheating and since cheating is punished severely what can be regarded as cheating must be clearly defined. This does not appear to be the case here, so again the institution is at fault.

The institution has effectively placed a student in a situation where they have behaved in a way which was not clearly defined as inappropriate and which as a result of the institutions poor exam practice has caused the student to be threatened. The whole thing is a disgrace frankly.

The important issue here is what action should the student take. A complaint would be justified but possibly not politic, depending on the long term outcomes. However one should not underestimate whether the faculty are less or more likely to interefere with marks from someone who has kicked up a fuss. It can be the latter since most faculty prefer a quiet life. I would certainly think the student should look at the structure for making complaints and should consider going to a head of dept or similar, preferably with someone else in tow who has the student's interests at heart. File a complaint if there is no satisfaction.
posted by biffa at 8:22 AM on October 27, 2011

Definitely he need to explain his case to someone. But I'll be honest, the fact that he didn't tell someone that he had the actual test beforehand looks really bad. Any attempt to hand wave away that fact with dictionary definitions is not going to help him not lose his scholarship. The fact that it's completely inappropriate to use a test available on the Internet is irrelevant when it comes to the question of whether or not this was an error on the student's part. 'But the professor was wrong, too!' is not going to make the question of why the student didn't bring this to anyone's attention go away.

If I were the GA in this case, I'd not have used a test off the Internet, or I'd've changed it in such a way that the foreknowledge of the information did not benefit the test taker. But if I were so lazy as to use a test completely unaltered from the Internet, I'd still look askance at a student who did what the OP did. Would I, personally, call it cheating? I really don't know, even with the clarification we received.

That's why I'm saying the OP needs a clear explanation of his actions and documentation on every step of this process before he goes to people with this- most of the people on the other side of the table are not going to care about how what the professor did was wrong when they are sitting down to decide if the OP cheated or not.
posted by winna at 8:35 AM on October 27, 2011

I would also recommend meese's approach, focusing solely on the technical aspect of this misunderstanding instead of pursuing who is completely at fault, or who is completely innocent. Although the insights given here on that matter are very educational, making that the focus of the argument will most likely end up bad.

The important questions to consider are:
1. Semantics: What exactly did the professor mean by prohibiting the aid of past write-ups?
I also understood this as prohibiting research for response to questions/topic on the specific case study. This would be consistent with the OP's description of how the professor previously conducted his class giving different questions to consider for writing essays, or write-ups.

2. That leads to the question, did you only look for questions and only find study-guide questions on that particular case study? Or did you find insights and answer examples as well? How did you come up with that search result? Can you prove that you weren't looking for answers and analysis?

3. What do your friends think about this? This may seem trivial, but they have the first-hand experience that we don't on this matter. The students with whom you shared your information with, do they support you and believe in your innocence? If they can testify and back you up, that might be of your help.

And lastly,
4. The question of how much did that put you to an advantage. We are talking about business I suppose, and though encountering the questions beforehand will naturally give you more time to think about the case study, it does not give you definite answers like in other subjects like Science. Insofar as I know, since the task given was to prepare one self before taking the exam, I wouldn't accuse the OP severely for not reporting that he had found the questions beforehand. That was part of his way of familiarizing and analyzing the case study as he was told, and he simply just happened to find verbatim questions. To think of it another way, had the professor paraphrased those questions, would that have diminished the OP's responsibility to report in this case? I don't think so.
posted by snufkin5 at 8:36 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Remember - it's not just the professor's instructions that are relevant here (nor even the short extract that has been posted) - it's the whole Honor Code. The student's behavior will be measured against this. It's actually kind of hard to make a judgment without seeing the whole Code.
posted by carter at 8:40 AM on October 27, 2011

When I was in college a fellow student knew I had taken, in the previous year, a course she was currently taking. She asked me if she could borrow my course materials including the short answer exams the professor gave, which included my answers. (I got 100 % correct or close to it.) I lent them to her. Turns out he gave the exact same exams. She, of course, aced the exams and the course. Was it incumbent upon her to tell the professor that she had an "unfair advantage"? Was the advantage unfair? I think the answer to both of those questions is no.

And in this case, I don't think you had an unfair advantage either. It is the professor's responsibility to write exams that are not freely and easily available. And if the prof fails to do that, your advantage gained by sheer happenstance by showing initiative enough to review other exam questions, is not "unfair." Questions are not "write ups." The bizarre, arbitrary proscription of looking things up on the Internet to cloak the prof's laziness still does not put you in the wrong on this.
posted by jayder at 8:52 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Stepping away from the Devil's Advocate position, I do agree the OP ideally should have told his professor that he happened to stumble upon the test questions verbatim the night before, and that several others in the class studied them too.

But why is the OP being held uniquely culpable for this?

If he is indeed at fault, he is not alone in it, and all his classmates with whom he unintentionally shared the actual exam should be punished equally alongside him (save the one who informed the professor, if there was one).
posted by UniversityNomad at 8:52 AM on October 27, 2011

Was it incumbent upon her to tell the professor that she had an "unfair advantage"? Was the advantage unfair? I think the answer to both of those questions is no.

The schools I have worked at would not have answered 'yes' to both these questions, they would have answered OH HELLZ YES.

Which is the main point that the OP should pay attention to: nothing any of us in this thread think about this situation matters. The OP's school's policy is what matters. Trying to figure out, independent of the school's specific honor code, what culpability the OP has is pointless and may very well actually hurt the OP.

OP, don't listen to our musings in this thread. Listen to people at your school who actually know what they're talking about. I know this is a difficult situation, and I know that it's really hard to have to defend yourself against such painful claims, but you need to stay focused very specifically on the rules in the course, the rules at your school, and the appeals process.
posted by meese at 9:01 AM on October 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Quick message from OP, who is between classes right now:
Hi all, thank you so much, again. Here is the relevant section, I believe, of the honor code. I will check back in later after class! Oh and just for the record, the prof said that I was on track for a solid/high A in the class prior to the test.
posted by AceRock at 9:04 AM on October 27, 2011

I served as a student representative on my university's academic discipline committee and heard dozens of academic integrity cases. I also sat on bodies that heard appeals at every level of the process, that wrote the university academic conduct codes and that hired the ombudsman. I also oversaw the student advocacy service, a group of law students that provided representation and advice to students accused of academic misconduct.

My school had a very complicated, quasi-judicial academic integrity system and the regulations at your school may be very different. That said, there are some general things I've learned that may apply here.

First of all, this is a huge deal. You've mentioned that your scholarship is at stake. There may be other serious repercussions.

Second, many of your next steps will depend on the specific regulations and procedures at your school. If the ombudsman has the ability to work out these issues outside of the judicial process, that may be your first, best bet, rather than a straight appeal. Some outside pressure on the professor may be all it takes.

Another example: if your university has a regulation that only instructions written in the syllabus are binding and the professor only delivered his "no internet" instructions orally, then your case looks very different than it might otherwise.

The first thing you should do is figure out who within the system is there to help you. Is it the ombudsperson? Is there representation through your student union or student government? Some university department or employee? Hopefully there will be someone tasked with helping you navigate the procedures of your school, which are likely unique and complicated.

Unless there is no on-campus help at all, I would recommend against hiring a lawyer. While they may have good knowledge of administrative law in general, they won't know the specifics of the processes at your school and the presence of a lawyer could heighten the stakes for everyone and could make some parties less likely to concede or compromise.

The advice above about taking notes and collecting information is excellent.

Finally, something that might make you feel better: most cases of academic dishonesty are cut and dry. It's amazing how many outright cheats and plagiarists there are and how stupid they are in committing these acts. Whatever the process, once you get beyond this one professor, I imagine that the ambiguity of your case, your specific intentions and (I presume) lack of a record of dishonesty will lead to you being treated reasonably and/or leniently.

tl;dr: Get knowledgeable help and work the system.
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 9:17 AM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

One more thought: based on your OP and follow-ups, it seems the prof really wants to avoid you appealing this (maybe, as you say, he doesn't want his methods to be scrutinized or maybe he just doesn't want the time and hassle).

If there is an extra-judicial way to resolve this (such as through the ombudsman or you working out an agreement with him where you receive only an informal warning) now is the time to take advantage of it, as you can use the possibility of appeal as a bargaining chip.

First, though, get knowledgeable help.
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 9:27 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm less clear than I originally was that you are in the clear here, but there's certainly an argument to be made.

One of your recent updates was disheartening in the defiant tone it took. Do not let the authorities see your attitude here, even if you think the prof is just trying to cover up his wrongdoing. If it looks like you are retaliating, it will totally torpedo any sort of moral high ground you might have and you'll look like just another student grasping at straws to get themselves out of a sticky situation and make it someone else's fault.

Your focus is on getting yourself out of trouble. Let other people with clean hands complain about the prof's plagiarism, if it exists.
posted by grouse at 9:39 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I sit on my university's appeals panel.

1) Only deal with this person in writing (if possible).
2) Save every shred of communication about this.
3) Write a letter to the department head. Include any documentation as appendices. Save that person's response.
4) No lawyer will be necessary unless you actually get kicked out and decide you want to sue; the appeals process isn't a legal proceeding.

If it goes to the next level, appeal. If he in fact said, "Do not use the internet for research" and you did, you may lose (even though that's an unbelievably lazy instruction, and implies that he can't be bothered to create a decent test).

Unless you decide to bring a lawyer into this, you will likely lose.

You will also lose if you aren't done with your academic career at this location, because bringing about an appeals case will mark you as trouble, especially if you bring a lawyer in to play ball.

This is the biggest load of crap I've seen in a long time on AskMeFi.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:02 AM on October 27, 2011

...the appeals process isn't a legal proceeding.

Actually, depending on your school's charter, it can be. At my university, the committee was given some judicial standing and decisions could be appealed to the provincial supreme court. I'd agree with the lawyer not usually necessary bit though.

This is the biggest load of crap...

posted by Vectorcon Systems at 10:20 AM on October 27, 2011

posted by lalochezia at 10:55 AM on October 27, 2011

Here's what I'd do in your shoes.

First, separate actions from intentions.
You didn't intend to cheat, your intention was to learn and study. You encountered the duplicated test while researching.

Your actions however seem to be in a gray area in the honor code. I would recommend making a two column list, the first column is what you did: i.e., googled this term, went to this site, used this material for study, discussed x material with other students, etc. In the second column I would find the nearest guideline for that action in any of the official sources (Prof's syllabus, honor code, etc). Depending on how the list shakes out, you may or may not want to share it, but what it will do is put clearer light on where you objectively stand.

Next, is distinguishing between breaking the honor code vs outright plagiarizing.
Hopefully you have a copy of the test. The list above addresses potential honor code violations, the test will show whether you formed your own ideas and thoughts independently.

If the honor code list doesn't show any egregious infractions, and that the test shows that you did your own work, then what you have is a fairly good body of evidence that supports your position of no intention on cheating.

Finally, request a meeting with the ombudsman (or even the professor if you think he can be fair at this point) and present the data you have as objectively as possible. If there are some areas of the honor code that you ran afoul of, be prepared to take responsibility for them (as long as the punishment is consistent with the infraction). For example, if it was made clear that online research was forbidden, and you actually did research online (but that was the sole infraction); then realize that some punishment should and likely will be meted out. It would seem to me that a blatant infraction like my example would seem to call for (at worst) taking a zero on the test. But only because you have other evidence that shows it wasn't your intention to violate the honor code.

I think the Prof was hoping to make an example out of you because he thought/felt this was a deliberate act on your part. Hence the significant penalties being thrown around.

Now, let's say you went direct to the professor with the objective data listed above, and pointed out that there were some gray areas in the instructions and that in retrospect you can see how the Prof might assume ill intent even when none was actually there. If you then asked if you could retake the test (or maybe take a letter grade hit on the current test if retaking is out of the question), while stating that less than ideal it would be acceptable, but also hinting that anything worse than that and you would be left no choice but to appeal. In that situation I'd imagine the prof might go along with the idea, unless he was emotionally invested or of a vindictive mindset. He might want to negotiate a bit (maybe two letter grades on the current test, or what have you). If so, I'd recommend negotiating as long as it keeps you in good standing. He'll be able to save face, you'll be able to move on from this class and keep your scholarship.

It's up to you to read the professor and figure out if the above approach would be worthwhile. If not, then just proceed to the Ombudsman (or equivalent).

Good luck
posted by forforf at 11:52 AM on October 27, 2011

> His intention was to ban students from studying efficiently solely because he knew he cribbed the test from someone else and that it was freely available on the internet. You couldn't have known his intentions in advance. And because you couldn't have known them, your interpretation of his comment seems eminently reasonable.

> That won't hold water in a student judicial hearing. It's speculation on the professor's intentions.

I think you mean that the first sentence won't hold water. The seond two will: they don't speculate on the professor's intentions, and they present the student's action in a reasonble light. Of course, I don't know what sort of hokey standards these quasi-judicial bodies hold themselves to, but if reasonablility is one of them, there's a decent chance that the "judges" will recognize that his actions were based on a perfectly reasonable interpretation of a lazy professor's smokescreen.
posted by matlock expressway at 12:56 PM on October 28, 2011

Whether the professor cribbed his exams from another source is irrelevant to the question of whether you broke the rules. I would avoid bringing up the former, since it's really not part of your case.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:35 PM on October 28, 2011

Lawyer up. It will cost less than losing your scholarship. You want a lawyer who's a good negotiator, good at making both sides happy.
posted by theora55 at 9:45 AM on October 29, 2011

Anonymous: Please listen to meese. They are absolutely right that the focus of this conflict has to be your interpretation of the academic policy, not the professor's supposed motivations. Keep it calm and civil and you will be fine.
posted by Think_Long at 10:43 AM on November 1, 2011

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