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I, a graduate student, have started tutoring undergraduates in computer science at my university to help make ends meet. One student who inquired about my services turned me down upon hearing my rates and remarked (in writing) that they might as well just buy solutions to their projects on a particular freelancing website for that price, as their friends do.

Should I tell the professor about this student, in case he wants to review their submissions more closely? I don't have any proof that they have already cheated, but to me their exact words (which to protect my anonymity, I have chosen not to publish) and phrasing suggest strongly that they are likely to. In this question, the OP appears to have evidence to suggest that cheating has taken place already, which seems more clear-cut.

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    Stories like this are one of the reasons I have moved away from projects as assessments - many projects suffer the "two day crash" preparation along with the well-prepared students "helping" the ones doing a late piece of work. – Solar Mike Feb 11 at 4:59
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    I don't agree that the student is likely to cheat. If he wants to, he wouldn't have told you. He is complaining that other get faster / better results for cheating. Don't kill the messenger, fix the problem. – Chris Feb 11 at 10:37
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    -1 for "constitutes strong evidence that they are likely to". What you have is evidence that the student is aware that such services exist and are being used by others, and is aware of what the prices are. – JBentley Feb 11 at 13:53
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    @SolarMike One way to avoid the two-day-crash-project and the hire-someone-to-wrtie-it project is to require incremental deliverables - design documents, working submodules. That models real software development, and you get much better results. English professors do the same by requiring regular drafts for comment and revision. – Ethan Bolker Feb 11 at 16:50
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    Have you simply reported that this "certain website" is suspected of being used by students to subcontract their homework? This way you need not to accuse any particular student, and faculty can watch said website and possibly punish actual offenders. Hard to trace back to you if it happens, and you did pass through the credible information. – Mefitico Feb 11 at 16:54
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In dubio pro reo. Evaluations of projects is already a highly subjective process. If you tell someone "Please evaluate this project, it is very likely the author cheated" they will probably give a worse grade than if simply told to evaluate the exact same project. What if the student then didn't cheat?

If your institution has no way of properly assessing a candidate, i.e., one could "buy" a degree by having external services do the work, then this is an institutional problem and you won't fix it by suggesting to a professor that one of their students may cheat.

Lastly, think about the effects your behavior has on the institutional climate. Would you like to study in an environment in which people tell professors "Arnold may be cheating, I watched him visit that freelancing website"?

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    There is a huge difference between “Check this particular project; the author may have cheated.” and “Check out this freelancing site; you may have a systemic cheating problem.” – JeffE Feb 11 at 5:55
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Feb 12 at 16:32
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[The student] remarked (in writing) that they might as well just buy solutions to their projects on a particular freelancing website for that price, as their friends do.

That does not sound to me like "admitting" that they "would" cheat. If I said to a prospective financial advisor, "your rates are so high I may as well just declare bankruptcy now", that does not mean that I am going to declare bankruptcy, it is merely a way to express that the advisor's services do not seem cost-effective.

Given this, I would do nothing -- you offered legitimate tutoring services and the student declined your offer. You have no compelling reason to suspect that the student will actually cheat.

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    I agree with this analysis of the student's (lack of) guilt. However, the last four words of the quote outright say they have knowledge of other students cheating. – Ben Voigt Feb 11 at 3:54
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    It's hard to know whether the student was making an actual claim ("I've seen others cheat") or just demonstrating superiority bias (it's easy to assume "lots of people" are cheating and that we're one of the few honest ones). Even in the former case, it is very difficult to prosecute such an indirect offense. I think OP should do nothing -- at most, they could tell the professor to watch for cheating generally, but that's not terribly helpful. – cag51 Feb 11 at 4:26
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    ...After all, this may all be just a naive attempt to drop the price. – Zeus Feb 11 at 8:23
  • I chose not to publish their exact words out of fear of deanonymizing myself. (And seeing that this question reached HNQ - yikes! - I am glad I did this) I am quite sure this student is willing to cheat, particularly given their phrasing regarding their friends. – ArnoldF Feb 17 at 10:49
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You need to find and read your University's honor policy. Assuming that:

  1. It makes cheating an offense
  2. It requires reporting violations of the policy

then it puts a reporting burden on the student who knows of cheating to report it, and either (a) they did report it (to you), which you need to relay or (b) their failure to report it is a violation which you know about, making you responsible to report that. Yuck!

As a graduate student, the best thing to do is to just kick this up the chain. Do not tell the professor that the student you met with is cheating, or tried to cheat, or is likely to cheat. Stick to the facts that they told you cheating was going on but you don't know the details.

The professor has a lot more latitude to stop the process at that point, perhaps by making a point during the next class to inform students that cheating has not gone unnoticed and needs to stop immediately. You can even make a suggestion to not drag the student in for questioning. The professor has (probably) the authority to make that decision; you do not.


Note that while you may feel that reporting is not ethically required, the correct way to fight back against such a policy is to tell your school you think (2) is unjust, not to go around disregarding it.

  • Very much this. "Stick to the facts that they told you cheating was going on but you don't know the details.". Naked facts without any interpretation, suspicion or blame. Especially without blaming student who was just seeking legitimate tutor and not cheating, at least not yet. – Mołot Feb 14 at 11:33
  • Good answer. -- Note about the facts: You seem to have heard cheating was going on, but perhaps it is not really. – Dennis Jaheruddin Feb 15 at 14:36
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You're actually bringing up two separate possible things to do:

  1. Telling on the specific student, and
  2. Discussing the general situation of students buying intended project outputs online.

I suggest you pursue the second action with the Professor, without incriminating the person who gave you the tip (i.e. without the first item).

As for what to do about this problem - that's a matter for another question.

  • Fully agree, also keep in mind that if you DON'T bring this to the professors attention, you actually disadvantage all the other students (including the ones that you are helping). – Dennis Jaheruddin Feb 15 at 14:31
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I think it's clear the students motivation for this comment could have been too stress you are charging to much. I think he would be well within reason to be upset by you earmarking him for cheating.

  • I would agree with this opinion and add that freelancing as tutor while course TA is itself a conflict of interest. If tutor T who failed to sell services to/get respect from student S, reports S for possibly cheating in his capacity as a course TA without good evidence, another way to view this is that teaching assistant T may have retaliated against student S over an unrelated commercial or personal matter. T appears to have used their trusted university position to settle a personal score. T may also have slandered S. That's enough for lots of nasty things to begin to happen. – Paul Feb 17 at 9:42
  • @Paul, Agreed, perhaps I overstated 'clear' but I don't see away through this that doesn't run into those issues. – ANone Feb 18 at 10:56
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First, I'll guess that the prof already recognizes the possibility.

Second, if you have a contractual obligation to the student you need to honor it. I doubt that is the case here since you were turned down. But you can't, ethically, act against the interests of your clients. You can, of course, back out of a client relationship if you think the client is abusing it or otherwise acting unethically.

Don't interpret the above to imply that you must do what the client wants you to do if it is unethical. Some relationships are governed by law, but those laws, i think, just try to codify what good ethics suggests. Lawyer-client relationships for example have legal constraints.

But even in the case you have such an obligation, you still could inform the prof that you have some evidence that such cheating is being contemplated. If asked by who, you may need to decline to answer. In particular, naming a student may well be very unfair as the student might just have been expressing frustration out loud, with no intent to break the rules.

If the prof is a bit naive, you can inform him/her about the likely web-sites that enable such things. But it is the professors responsibility to "police" the class.

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No, you shouldn't tell the professor about this student. He hasn't done anything except telling you that some other students cheat.

Instead, you could approach the university and report that you have second-hand knowledge about students cheating by hiring freelancers to do their work. However, don't expect that anyone will be thankful for your service. It's safe to assume that this is no well-kept secret. There are probably plenty of students - not only your potential customer - who know at least as much as you do. If they choose to stay silent, why should you interfere? They are the victims who have to work more, while others obtain undeservedly good marks.

  • Interesting perspective, however, do consider that not alerting the professor may be harmful to the honest students (they are indeed victims of this fraud) who might not dare to alert the professor due to the risk to their image. – Dennis Jaheruddin Feb 15 at 14:34
  • @Jaheruddin: Yes, that's why I would leave the choice of action at the discretion of the OP. Ultimately, I think that the professors would be alerted quickly - at least anonymously - of the cheating, once it is perceived as a major issue. At first, other students wouldn't do anything because of friendships, perceived breach of confidentiality, pity etc., even if they disapprove. – Frank from Frankfurt Feb 17 at 9:23
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I would probably forward the email on to the professor and let him make the judgement call. It sounds like this particular student doesn't want to cheat and may do the work on their own but does appear to know that cheating is taking place (potentially on a pretty wide scale) in the class. I think it would be good for the professor to know this. If the professor applies a stricter measure of analysis to all projects to detect cheating, it is still fair to those who didn't cheat. If you really don't think the student should be mentioned explicitly, it may be appropriate to anonymize the email, but I don't really think that is necessary.

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