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I am a Ph.D. student and I do private tutoring on the side for extra income. Recently a new student contacted me for help with a class, and I met them for one session, which went well overall. They told me they liked my tutoring and want to meet again. This student admitted that they are behind on the course material and are trying to catch up before the final (which is just about two weeks away). However, I recently realized that this same student is in another class which I am TA'ing, and I was grading the homework today and realized they copied the solutions for the last assignment. I had suspected they may have copied solutions to the previous assignment as well but was unsure. This time the copying is blatant, word for word from the solutions from a past year. At this point I have no choice but to bring this to the course instructor (who is also my advisor), who I know will report this student for plagiarism. My question is, should I still meet this student and tutor them in other classes?

A few thoughts that come to mind:

  • I now know this student is in the course I am TA'ing. I feel tutoring them for this course would be a conflict of interest, and I would have to clear it with my advisor. Is it also a conflict of interest to tutor them for a different course, knowing I will be grading their exam/homework for this one?
  • I enjoy tutoring because I enjoy helping students learn, and I do like to help people succeed. In our previous session this student seemed interested in actually learning, but clearly has shown that they are willing to blatantly plagiarise homework solutions. While I do rely on my extra tutoring income, it feels unethical to tutor someone who cheats. At the same time, I would like them to be able to understand what they are doing so they don't feel any need to cheat. But this student also said they have not attended class in recent weeks (for what reason I do not know).
  • If I meet this student again, I will have to tell them that I have reported them for academic dishonesty. This isn't exactly an issue though, they can decide what they want to do from there.
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    Run. This is toxic. You've already made a mistake that could get you into trouble. Go to your advisor or whoever oversees the TA's and tell him everything as soon as possible and before you communicate with this student again. – B. Goddard Mar 28 at 20:06
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    To paraphrase Dr. House, "everyone cheats". – A Simple Algorithm Mar 28 at 21:29
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    Perhaps with a decent tutor the student would have no need to cheat? IOW, do you want to be part of the solution or do you want to pile onto the problems the student already has? With that said, I agree with others that your grading this student's assignments/tests and accepting money from them at the same time is a major problem; so my 2 questions probably aren't very applicable directly to you. – Dunk Mar 28 at 22:05
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    @Dunk I agree, the primary issue is the conflict of interest, if not for that then I likely would still agree to tutor this student. – Kai Mar 29 at 0:26
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    As a side note, you should really suggest that your professor stop assigning the same exact questions year after year. – Clay07g Mar 30 at 0:06
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Whether their cheating should impact your role as a tutor is not the primary issue here, so I'll set it aside.

You should not be tutoring a student for additional money when you are also grading that student as a TA, even if the grading and tutoring are for separate courses. That sets up a financial relationship between a grader and a student. That's a big problem.

I certainly don't believe you've done anything unethical here, but you should most likely report the inadvertent conflict and stop tutoring this student immediately (I'd also offer to your superiors that you return any payment for the one session, or just do it yourself anyways). It's not a big deal that you did this accidentally not realizing the connection. It could be a problem if you continued with it now that you know.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Mar 31 at 1:59
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Stop tutoring him. He's already shown he doesn't play by the rules. And this situation may "go sideways". Disengage ASAP. You don't want to get more enmeshed in this than you already unfortunately are. Things can rebound and hurt you. (Danger, Will Robinson, danger.)

Tutoring is very much a side gig and completely optional for both parties. Disagree with the Buffy advice that you are obligated to continue. I also agree with Bryan's comment about the conflict of interest even without cheating. But I think the cheating situation raises the conflict of interest front and center.

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    -1 for several reasons: 1. Whether or not the student plays by the rules is not a reason for him not to be tutored. 2. If anything, getting a tutor means the student is trying to get his act together rather than continuing his "life of crime". – einpoklum Mar 28 at 20:34
  • This is so funny. Because he got a tutor, his same time frame cheating is changing? With that theory, I guess if I get a gym membership after buying roids, it shows I want to lift clean! Heck, if anything, I suspect that students that want/buy tutoring are (very, very mildly) correlated with students that cheat. (Or at least orthogonal. Definitely not anticorrelated.) After all, they need assistance. – guest Mar 28 at 20:43
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    Please note that you have assumed (despite the OP's careful language) that this student is male. This is an instance of our implicit gender biases, and making such assumptions perpetuates those same biases when we don't notice what we're doing. – Greg Martin Mar 29 at 7:24
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    @guest your analogy is significantly different that einploklums point. A roider would benefit from gym membership, of course they would go. A cheater wouldn't really benefit from tutoring unless the goal was to know the material well enough to do tests without cheating, so it begs the question, why are they getting tutored? – user94036 Mar 29 at 15:59
  • Maybe, just maybe, we have a student who wants to pass his exams, but also wants to learn? Tutoring will make them better. It may not make them good enough to pass, so they may still cheat. But no matter what, the tutoring will benefit the student. – gnasher729 Mar 30 at 17:43
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I mostly agree with @BryanKrauze's answer, but I'll strengthen the point further:

  • It is unethical to be the tutor a student whom you are also grading or otherwise evaluating as his/her TA.
  • It is doubly unethical if the student (or his family etc.) are paying you for this tutoring.

In both cases you are in a conflict of interests, being committed to the success of "your student"; in the latter case your commitment is more significant, since in a sense the payment is intended to ensure their success.

But since you're already conflicted, it's possible that it makes more sense for you to stop grading his HW (while continuing as a TA) rather than to stop tutoring him. I'd consult with the principal teacher for the course, or whoever is in charge of teaching in your department etc. - perhaps mention both options (not tutor him, not grade him). You might also need to have your previous gradings of his assignments reviewed.

Finally, if you stop tutoring him, be kind - despite his cheating - and try to find an alternative tutor to take over for you, if you can, so that he can make a smooth transition. This is regardless of whether he is treated harshly or not for his cheating on a HW assignment in another course!

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    Let's see. You have one position that pays more, helps more people, and is a primary task. You have another that is self-sourced moonlighting. And in that one, you're tutoring a cheater. I vote for 86ing the cheater. Keep your regular TA gig. – guest Mar 28 at 20:46
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    @guest: I didn't suggest not being a TA, just refraining from grading that one particular student. Like in the case of, say, a family member taking a class that you teach. – einpoklum Mar 28 at 21:43
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    @BenVoigt: 1. "Explain" is one thing. A committed relationship as a personal tutor is something else. 2. Mostly agree with your point about the source of payment. – einpoklum Mar 31 at 6:55
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    @BenVoigt: I don't think office hours create a conflict of interests. But that's not like being engaged as someone's tutor. I've edited to (somewhat) clarify. – einpoklum Mar 31 at 7:04
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    @BenVoigt The problem is the financial relationship or personal relationship, not the teaching. – Bryan Krause Mar 31 at 15:00
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I don't believe you have an ethical issue in tutoring them. In fact, there may be issues if you don't (because you may need to accuse them to justify it). But otherwise, you seem to be doing the correct thing in communicating with the professor and telling the student about what you have done. It won't make you popular, of course since no one likes being "ratted out".

But, if you can help them learn and, more important, learn how to learn, maybe they won't be as inclined to cut corners.

I also doubt that tutoring them in one course is in conflict with TA-ing them in another. Your professor, again, might have a different opinion, so you should ask. I don't think it is an especially difficult matter to keep the two relationships separate in a case like this.

In fact, while some commenters to this answer seem to think that accepting money to teach someone while also evaluating/grading them is a "clear conflict of interest" it is exactly what every professor does every day. If you can't handle that you are in the wrong profession.


Note that you haven't given the evidence that they copied in the other course. I hope you have considered other explanations as well. Two identical papers is cause for an investigation, but not necessarily charges. Publishing answers to questions and later claiming that "using the published answer, when the question is given again, is dishonesty" is malfeasance.

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    I don't agree with this answer at all. "In fact, there may be issues if you don't." What? How could there be? "It won't make you popular, of course." What is that -- peer pressure? "I also doubt that tutoring them in one course is in conflict with TA-ing them in another." I feel strongly that it is, and probably the student should also ask university personnel about it -- just because the professor thinks it's okay doesn't mean others higher up in the university will too. A professor is not an ethics master. – Pete L. Clark Mar 28 at 17:01
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    "Note that you haven't given the evidence that they copied in the other course." Yes, of course the OP did. What other explanation do you entertain for word for word copying from a previous year's solution sheet? Anyway, the OP is not the one who makes the ruling on academic dishonesty: they did the right thing by reporting it. – Pete L. Clark Mar 28 at 17:03
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    And why would a question be asked in the next year when solutions were published in the previous one? — Because writing good problems is hard, and giving useful homework is more important than defending against cheaters. – JeffE Mar 29 at 5:41
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    A professor isn't paid directly by their students, and is not paid extra money for certain students - that's where the conflict is. – Bryan Krause Mar 29 at 14:39
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    @Buffy Huh? That's exactly where the conflict hair is split. The issue is preferential treatment or the possible appearance of such. – Bryan Krause Mar 29 at 16:36

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