Thursday, 30 May 2013

Email row

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

There has been a bit of a row here today after rumours started circulating that the Dean, Professor Paige Turner, had asked the IT section to search through the email accounts of some Business School staff and students. In a story that has echoes of what happened at Harvard University earlier in the year, reports had reached her that some staff were looking into accusations that final year students had helped some level two students with their coursework in return for money.

Of course all the students concerned denied that this was happening and the plagiarism detection software was unable to show any similarities between the second year students' work and that of any coursework produced by the third year students when they were second years. However it was rumored that Professor Turner was sufficiently concerned about this to request the Head of IT to examine student email accounts to see what email contact there was between level two and level three students. The Head of IT Services, Arthur Milner, said that his department would never look at any staff or student email correspondence, except perhaps if requested to by the police in connection with a criminal investigation. What some people noticed though was that, although this statement said that IT services wouldn't look inside an email message, it didn't rule out reporting information about who had been emailing whom, and what the subject line might suggest.

One or two third year students that I spoke to said that you couldn't rule out third students giving help and advice to second year students. Some had girlfriends in the year below them and they were sure to provide some assistance. But it would be unlikely that anyone offering more than this would leave an electronic trail that could be picked up. Did the Dean really think that they would be that stupid?

What we have noticed, though, is that this year's second year coursework marks are quite a bit better than last year's. Meanwhile the Dean has furiously denied the allegations that she did anything other than ask Heads of Department to look into the potential cheating problem. I wonder if she sent any emails about this?

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