I am forced to write this question as I believe it is unethical and needs to be addressed in my faculty. I suspect a faculty member in my university has the habit of writing his students' masters thesis (for free or for a fee). I believe he does it for a fee. A colleague has mentioned this before, but that colleague isn't a board member so I can't really take his word officially.

I noticed that for several theses I examined for the examination board, his students have a very solid thesis but performed questionable during oral presentations. Some colleagues think it's stage fright, but I believe it is more than that.

This faculty member always requests that corrections for the thesis be mailed to him to "pass to his student". I think he's just doing the corrections and submitting the final copy. This faculty member taught me in my undergraduate years in the same faculty and I heard some stories of his shady dealings with students then.

Question: How can something like this be investigated since there are no mechanisms in place to limit what a supervisor contributes to their students' thesis? It is difficult to get the students to testify as this is what most of them would want by default.

  • 2
    I believe he does that for a fee. A colleague has mentioned this before but that colleague isn't a board member so I can't really take his word officially.
    – BoltzBooz
    Nov 3, 2020 at 8:37
  • 12
    " very solid thesis but would have you questioning their abilities during oral presentations." That is not unusual. Nov 3, 2020 at 8:54
  • 3
    Its completely normal for student to perform less well at viva than on paper (and vice versa). Insisting that the examiners pass corrects to the faculty member to pass on to the student does strike me as irregular though. Nov 3, 2020 at 9:05
  • 3
    @IanSudbery Or thorough: Perhaps the supervisor wants to make sure corrections are made.
    – user2768
    Nov 3, 2020 at 10:03
  • 1
    @IanSudbery, at my univ, in math, in the U.S., there are absolutely no procedures in place to ensure that Master's (or PhD's) get "the same amount of help". In some cases this does mean that students are effectively marooned. Nov 4, 2020 at 0:35

3 Answers 3


Contact the University Thesis Office regarding policies regarding professors making edits. Maybe what he is doing is sanctioned; maybe there is a strict policy against it. The prof. won't tell you, and the college won't shake the boat. University administration offers the only chance of independent administration.

  • 1
    How could bribery possibly be sanctioned? Nov 4, 2020 at 0:40
  • 1
    It's in the question: "I believe he does that for a fee." Nov 4, 2020 at 1:44
  • 2
    There is a lot of supposition and hearsay in the question, regarding whether the activity in question has happened, and to what degree it has happened. The degree to which the university regards professorial participation in thesis writing as unacceptable is also unknown. Finally, the question regards how to get something investigated, not whether a crime is sanctioned.
    – Mox
    Nov 4, 2020 at 1:54
  • 2
    Anyone who considers bribery to be a crime will consider your answer to be wrong, then. Nov 4, 2020 at 5:19
  • 3
    If people who accept assertions on the basis of hearsay consider my answer to be wrong, I can live with that.
    – Mox
    Nov 4, 2020 at 6:15

How can something like this be investigated since there are no mechanism in place to limit what a supervisor contributes to his students' thesis?

I doubt it is true that there are no mechanisms for this. Academics are generally bound by broad ethics rules in relation to their research and supervision, and this would almost certainly fall within the scope of those rules. Being paid a separate fee to write the entire thesis for the student is something that would obviously fall well beyond what is appropriate help for a student, and it would almost certainly be a breach of research ethics. A complaint of this matter could be raised either with the Head of Department for the faculty the academic is in (or was in at the time of the alleged conduct) or with the university Research Committee or Higher-Degree Committee.

As far as the actual investigative aspects are concerned, that is where it gets trickier, but not impossible. The university might interview past students or look through correspondence between the students and the academic. The university has the power to open investigations into the past award of a degree (and withdraw it under appropriate circumstances) and so this can be used as a way of seeking responses from past students. The university also has access to all emails, etc., on their own systems, and there is generally no right of the academic to privacy of these things beyond certain narrow bounds (e.g., personal emails that do not relate to work). In a complaint proceeding, the university would certainly give this academic an opportunity to tell them what he has been doing, and give his own arguments in relation to his practices. He might even admit it, and argue that what he does is okay, in which case evidentiary issues would be moot.

  • 1
    What if the professor and the students used their private e-mail accounts? How do you investigate it?
    – Nobody
    Nov 10, 2020 at 4:03

Just like any other situation where bribery is suspected, a sting operation can be used by law enforcement to get proof.

  1. Find someone who could plausibly offer a bribe.
  2. Give them immunity to punishment.
  3. Have them offer a bribe.
  4. If the bribe is accepted, you have proof.

You can also investigate financial records, but this is much harder.

  • 11
    None of this I would recommend an ordinary faculty member undertaking in a non-official manner. Even if undertaken in an official manner, this would probably not be within the rules. Nov 3, 2020 at 8:55
  • 5
    Surely step 3 would have to be "encourage the suspect to ask for a bribe", rather than "offer a bribe", otherwise it would constitute entrapment that would render the evidence gathered inadmissible. Nov 3, 2020 at 15:12
  • 4
    How would you get law enforcement to do this? If I'd go to the local police and told them this plan, they would laugh at me and say they have more infortant things to do.
    – user111388
    Nov 3, 2020 at 18:46
  • 1
    Thanks for the challenge, @AnonymousPhysicist. After a bit of digging, I'm confident that my previous comment is correct in countries party to the European Convention on Human Rights (Teixeira de Castro v. Portugal 1998), but not in Singapore (How Poh Sun v. PP 1991) and probably not in South Africa (Criminal Procedure Act 1977 as amended, section 252A). I've been unable to obtain definite information for any other jurisdiction. Nov 4, 2020 at 0:35
  • 1
    @DanielHatton Each university has its own practices, but in some cases they work directly for the university, even if it is a private university. Nov 4, 2020 at 21:22

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .