While I was browsing faculty websites, I came across this page. Near the bottom there is a section called Top 6 Most Stupid Questions & Remarks That I'he Heard from my Students where one can find a question and the first name (followed by one letter) of the student who asked it! Screenshot

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No. This is completely unacceptable. Sometimes faculty rant on social media and email lists where they do not think students will see the comments. Even this is frowned upon if the student could realize it is them being made fun of. It is completely inappropriate to make fun of students on a public website with students names.

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    It is completely inappropriate to make fun of students on a public website, regardless of whether it includes student names or not. – Gimelist Dec 3 at 7:45
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ff524 Dec 4 at 20:45
  • Does the same apply to ex-students? There is nothing in the material quoted which rules out the possibility that all of the students quoted have graduated or otherwise left the institution. – James Martin Dec 9 at 14:30
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    I find it completely inappropriate to make fun of people trying to learn - full stop. I'd say calling that page "teaching.php" is really misleading. – mgarciaisaia Dec 10 at 15:14
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    @PeterA.Schneider Mockery hinders innovation. Good luck. – sean 2 days ago

In addition to StrongBad's answer, this kind of behavior would also discourage students from asking questions in fear of finding themselves on the “stupid questions and answers” list. Given that “unacceptable” wasn’t defined further in the original question, I think this is also an important aspect that makes this sort of student shaming unacceptable. Except if the Professor doesn’t actually want any questions asked of course :-)


I'd like to add that additionally, I don't think posting photos of test answers online (like this specific professor did) is ethical or even legal. According to this website (archive link), handwriting is personal data according to the EUs GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and can almost certainly not be published without permission.

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    I think this is an important answer, as it highlights that the consequences of riddiculing students for their answers is more far-reaching than just affecting the riddiculed students. As teachers, we should be encouraging the students to ask questions, not trying to deter them from it. Sure, everynow and then we will get a question that might seem "trivial", but I'd much rather have that than not getting questions at all. – Phil Dec 3 at 9:16
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    xkcd.com/1053 – BurnsBA Dec 3 at 14:43
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    Yup to all of this. I can almost guarantee that for every student with the courage to ask a "stupid question" there are half a dozen more who are keeping quiet and waiting for somebody else to ask. – Geoffrey Brent Dec 3 at 23:09
  • Better link for whether handwriting is personal data since it deals with pretty much exactly this issue and references the court case. – Voo Dec 10 at 15:59

It's not only that such ridiculing is absolutely unacceptable and counterproductive (as others mentioned already) but it also puts the academic themselves in a kind of bad light as a lecturer/teacher. If my third year math/engineering students didn't know what the cotangent is I would consider it much more of my own fault rather than theirs.

And most importantly, one shouldn't be embarrassed of not knowing something but of not wanting to get to know it. Most people don't even bother to ask a question even being proud of their ignorance sometimes. So I believe that no curiosity should be frowned upon.

UPDATE: Having said the above, it could still be considered a good attitude for a student to come up with some answer themselves (i.e. do some research/thinking) prior to asking their professor a question.

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    +1 for putting the onus back on the lecturer for the student lack of knowledge. I also like your point about "no curiosity should be frowned upon". I've got a friend who has been teaching in another part of the world for a number of years. He's run into an interesting cultural issue, where the students are bought up to accept things without questioning anything. Obviously this can cause some big problems. Imagine having students who don't question any basic assumptions, ever. They're good at learning things as rote, but cannot handle problems outside of exactly what they've been taught. – Doctor Jones Dec 3 at 12:14
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    This echoes my thoughts, except that I'd add it's either my fault, or else the collective fault of the institutional program. (Maybe it's something that should have been taught in a prerequisite, but it wasn't taught well.) "Despite the extreme simplicity of this question, many students did not respond correctly" – that sounds like an indictment on the professor! Also, a note on your update: That might not apply in the middle of a lecture, when I've just mentioned something, so there's no time for a student to do the research. – J.R. Dec 3 at 15:24
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    Blaming the professor or "system" makes sense if every student does not know basic facts. But most students will, the dumb questions come from a select few. Also engineering students generally need to cover trig (and more) in high school. – A Simple Algorithm Dec 3 at 17:54
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    @A Simple Algorithm still the professor/system's fault. No student should get to the 3rd year not knowing the basics either by being taught appropriately or by being kicked out of the establishment. – ayorgo Dec 3 at 18:04
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    @ASimpleAlgorithm - From the OP's graphic: What is a decibel? – several 4th-year students. If several 4th-year students don't know what a decibel is, and the professor feels like that's a "Most Stupid Question," then it might be time to take a hard look at the curriculum. And "covering trig in high school" doesn't mean everyone has what they learned three years ago locked into short-term memory. – J.R. Dec 3 at 18:13

This is a bad taste, for sure (IMHO), but since there are plenty of websites where students are more than welcome to tell anything they want about their professors with full names etc., I guess this may be viewed as a kind of "symmetric response". I'm pretty much against internet trashing of anybody (usually it does more bad than good for all parties involved) but, alas, it has became a pretty common culture nowadays, so I am not surprised that some professors resort to it too.

As to the questions listed, they do not show stupidity, just utter ignorance, so I personally would object more to calling them "stupid questions" than to listing the student names. If a third year student asks me what a geometric progression is, I just answer with a definition and an example and consider the case closed. Moreover, I can openly announce that at the moment of this writing I don't remember what exactly a decibel is myself. All I remember is that it is a unit of measure of sound intensity and that the scale is logarithmic. If the student is not able to process an answer appropriately, it is, of course, a completely different story, but if one just doesn't know something, there is no shame in asking.

This means that I would neither call such questions stupid, nor list the names myself and would, probably, discourage my friends from doing so, but I wouldn't cry out loud "Unforgivable crime!" or "Unethical behavior!" if I see somebody else doing it either. For me it is bad taste, period.

That was the "common sense" part. As to the legal part, it is country dependent and I'm not really familiar enough with the European laws to discuss the corresponding subtleties.

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    "They did it first" is not an acceptable defense, especially when it's likely that the "they" in this case have nothing to do with the "it." – fluffy Dec 5 at 4:07
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    -1 There is an enormous power imbalance between lecturers and their students. As a result, for a student to complain about a lecturer is often petty and immature, but for a lecturer to publicly complain about individual students by name is always abusive. This is not, as you claim, a "symmetric response." – Kevin Dec 5 at 18:35
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    -1 Also, teachers are paid to teach students and answer questions. What if a restaurant publishes a list of "things stupid customers do"? Students are obliged to abide by a set of rules indeed, but "no stupid questions" is not one of them. Asking what cotangent is would embarrass the student badly and perhaps signal that the student shouldn't have been there, but it is not a "wrong" thing to do. In fact, the student is being responsible to themself, as they asked questions when they do not understand. – xuq01 Dec 5 at 21:28
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    @fedja You seem to be confused. People want education so that they can form a career. They (or the government) pays other people for that education. So, unless you're not being paid, then you're providing a service, by the literal definition. Also, I find your notion's about ratings delusional. A student does not need to be an expert in Physics to know that their science professor is bad at teaching others. If you want to "pass on the knowledge you possess", do it for free. Otherwise, offer your services for money, and be subject to those who want to be informed before spending money. – Clay07g Dec 7 at 2:44
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    @xuq01 There are lists where employees rant about customers, and it's a fun read. Yet the important part is that it's fully anonymous, for entertainment or insight into the daily life of said jobs, not to trash a particular person, which doesn't apply here. – Darkwing Dec 7 at 14:01

Not only the ethic behind this is very doubtful as StrongBad said, but this is also probably illegal under the loi informatique et liberté & the GDPR because it falls under the definition of "Donnée Personnelle" (see the CNIL definition). If someone decide to warn the CNIL about this page, it could put the university and the teacher at risk.

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    Accordingly to CNIL site the first name (le prénom) is not a personal data. – Mark S. Dec 4 at 12:17
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    "Nom" is a catch all word. I can mean the familly name or a full name. In anycase, you have to add to this that the university of the student and the year they were in is also mentioned which would make it trivial to identify the student. How many "Mathieu C." in ISITV had Iaroslav Blagouchine has a teacher in 3rd Year in the Higher Mathematics class ? – Maeln Dec 4 at 12:23
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    Because personal data are any information that identify someone directly or indirectly. Here the mention of the university name and the year they were in (plus the teacher name and the name of the class) would be considered indirect personal data when mixed with a mention of their (not full) name. – Maeln Dec 4 at 12:24
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    @MarkS. I don't disagree with you (although getting a students list through alumini network is usually fairly easy), but it doesn't matter what we think. If the CNIL decide that this is personal data and if there is no trace that student gave explicit consent to appear in this list, then it is illegal. – Maeln Dec 5 at 9:36
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    @MarkS. yeah, lucky students who were given common first names at birth. But if your first name is Robinson or Zeus or Orion or Kami or Iaroslav, then you're out of luck? – Cœur 2 days ago

As has been said in prior answers, it is NEVER acceptable to make fun of students or otherwise say or do something that could prevent them from learning.

Many sites on the Stack Exchange network would not be the same without “stupid questions” and you could view students asking them in the same way. Even if it seems utterly ridiculous to you, the student likely is honestly wondering about it and laughing at their questions somewhere where they could potentially see them could encourage them to not ask questions for fear of being laughed at. Students who hold their questions for this reason often never get them answered and as a result earn a lower grade.

1) First of all, it seems that the leading question of the discussion "Is it acceptable to publish student names with the label stupid question?" is not correctly formulated. A part of the the question contains a statement which is actually faulty: the names of the students are not revealed, only the first names are mentioned, which are all very common ones. The format like Donald T. or Emmanuel M. does not permit to identify the person, so that the anonymity is fully kept (hence, GDPR has nothing to do with this). Moreover, such a format of names is usual in classic literature. Actually, to name the person only with her/his first name means precisely that you do not want to reveal the identity of the person.

2) I don't think that the objective was to ridicule the students, but rather to make them attend more or/and to make them understand that they are simply too lazy (since they do not recall even basic notions). In engineering schools, as was remarked earlier by @A Simple Algorithm, students should have at least basic notions of the trigonometry (the trigonometry is usually covered in high school before the university), because it is used throughout all the university curriculum. Same remark concerns decibels: this is a very basic notion, which is covered during the 1st year of studies. So (@J.R.) nobody mocks. After all, it ain’t funny to have students with such a poor level.

3) In France, the higher education is free, so that it is easily accessible even for the lazy students. Don't you think about those students from other countries, who have a talent and would like to study, but can't do this because their parents can't pay??

4) Also, I don’t understand why it is acceptable to widely rank teachers and professors on the Web sites, and why it is not acceptable to do the same with the students (thought on this Web site the rank of the students is not published)? And on the Web sites, the professors are fully named, not as Antoine W. or Sven F. So strangely, nobody thinks about GDPR or FERPA for the professors and teachers.

UPD: the initial question was modified so that now it is clear that the actual names are not revealed on the website in question.

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    1) A name in the pattern of Rashad Gabriel B.–K. (changed for privacy) is distinguishable enough. 2) This behavior makes me want to stay away from class instead of attend. Also I'd rather have a few stupid questions than none at all because students are to afraid to ask. 3) Yes, free education might attract/support more lazy students, but they don't prevent other countries from offering free education. 4) Bit of a Whataboutism, this is a different topic. One might argue that professors are public figures, though the ethics of ranking them are a different topic. – Marv Dec 3 at 21:58
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    "I don't think that the objective was to ridiculize the students" – "Top 6 Most Stupid Questions" in bold letters including actual names. Really? – dasdingonesin Dec 4 at 10:28
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    It's strange that the author of this answer believes that the first-name-last-initial format is adequately anonymous, yet chose as his handle "Mark S." and not "Iaroslav B." – Will Dec 4 at 11:48
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    @MarkS. If a professor sees you taking pictures and doesn't say anything, he most likely doesn't care. If he sees it and tells you to stop and you keep taking pictures, or if you do it without him noticing, then you already know you might be doing something that's not okay. But again, this is a Whataboutism. This thread is about professors publishing personal data of students and students doing the same to professors doesn't make it okay. Your argumenting with "an eye for an eye" logic. – Marv Dec 4 at 12:06
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    1) "First name - Last initial" isn't the only information being shared. We're also given their university, the fact that they've had this professor, and which year they had him in. That's a tiny pool of people. 2) Objective is irrelevant against results. This is ridicule - plain and simple; it doesn't matter if the professor didn't intend it that way, and this also discourages asking any question out of fear it might be "dumb". 3) This just makes no sense as a justification of any kind. 4) Because it's a common rule of decency that in a position of authority, you don't punch down. – Lord Farquaad Dec 5 at 20:03

protected by StrongBad Dec 4 at 12:26

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