Once in a while, I will hear stories (usually of the "friend of a friend" type) about some bold instructor who took some specific action in order to entrap or trick their students into poor academic (not behavioral/conduct) performance. Typically, this involves the instructor breaking traditional implied rules of trust in the classroom (i.e. that the instructor will guide the students in good faith, rather than try to trick and "catch" them). This may be analogous to Sting Operations in law enforcement.
Examples may include:
- Planting fake resources in the library as a critical thinking exercise. Students found to be citing said materials would receive a lowered grade for not inquiring into their provenance ("Ha! There is no Advanced Journal of Trans-Neptunian Objects! The measurements you cited were made up by my 5 year old. You lose 20 points for basing your paper on unreliable findings.").
- Assigning material known to have flaws to students as course reading material. Students simply accepting the truth of the "knowledge" provided in these readings and regurgitating these on exams without confirming their correctness would be penalized (e.g. "Yes, the assigned textbook said that Woofer's Theorem proved that x < 5 when y > 3, but if you actually read a sampling of textbooks used by other instructors or had bothered to read Woofer's original paper, you would have known that it only proved that x < 5 when y is between 3 and 6. You lose 10 points for incorrect answers.").
- Sabotaging laboratory chemicals or equipment (on the theory that the students should always test everything they get). Students using these materials "off-the-shelf" would receive lowered grades on the theory that in the real world, you can't just trust what you see printed on the label (e.g. "Yes, that bottle was labeled One Molar Hydrochloric Acid, but how could you just trust that that was true? You are a grad student! Do you believe everything you see posted on the Internet?").
- Pretending that they have more authority than they have. For example, an instructor may falsely claim to a student that they can exempt them from or alter certain requirements that are actually set at the department level or higher ("Ha! Why did you trust me when I told you I was giving you permission to be late to the final exam? Chapter 4, Paragraph 6, Subparagraph R, Clause E of the Standardized Universal Academic Policies states clearly 'Students arriving late for a final exam will receive an automatic failing grade. Only the dean has authority to dispense a student from this regulation.'. I'm not the dean. Here's your failing grade, see you next semester. Try to wisen up! Ha ha ha!")
To what extent is this kind of underhanded behavior ethical? On the one hand, I can see the pedagogical wisdom behind some of these ideas - to make the university more like the "real world" and to instill some (healthy?) mistrust and skepticism of authority, but on the other hand, undergraduate and lower-level graduate courses have as one of their purposes to guide and educate someone who is still immature academically and not yet ready to do real academic research on their own.