Tuesday, October 26, 2004

More uni cheating rackets

RMIT computer science academic Justin Zobel appears to be a good man. In ~2002, he had his office ransacked and files stolen without any charges yet being laid – despite the culprit almost certainly being Melbourne resident and Monash PhD student Chih Chern Chung, aka Jason Chung – or someone acting at Chung’s direction. He also appears to be keeping up the good fight against commercial-scale uni cheating rackets, with today’s news that Chung, who is still* under an 18-month good behaviour bond for making a false document (an offence that can carry up to ten years’ jail) appears to be back in business.

One thing Justin Zobel ain’t, however, is a legal expert:

It's our belief that it's not illegal to sell assignments to students, it's probably not illegal for students to pay money for an assignment solution, but the student is committing a university offence by submitting it

It is illegal to sell assignments to students – the invariable feature of such a transaction, that the true author’s identity will not be disclosed, is a textbook case of making a false document. Perhaps Professor Zobel has become confused by the laughably-light sentence given to Chung as a cheater-seller, so as to think that the main legal risk is run by cheater-buyers, and the main enforcement onus rests with institutions.

Neither of these is correct – the offence of making a false document carries equal penalties for cheater-sellers and cheater-buyers (same URL). As to whether institutional/in-house enforcement should ordinarily prevail over the bringing criminal charges, I have an open mind. What has happened, however, in the Jason Chung case – an ad hoc combination of both – is clearly the worst of all possible worlds.

As well as being the prime suspect in the unsolved forced entry into, and theft from, Justin Zobel’s office and convicted of the two charges of making a false document for which he received his 18-month bond, Jason Chung ran – and apparently, still runs – a large-scale cheating racket. Of the 24 computer science students who faced RMIT internal disciplinary action in 2002-2003 (resulting in four expulsions and 20 result cancellations), at least 12 (and most likely, all 24) were cheater-buyers from Chung.

Unbelievably, RMIT chose to keep the scale of Chung’s racket from the court at the time of his May 2003 trial, so allowing his sentence to be on the basis of the two proven cases being “isolated incidents”, only to then immediately complain about the lightness of Chung’s sentence when it was handed down (same URL).

Compounding its incompetent handling of the situation, RMIT also last year made noises about taking civil action against Chung – noises which have come to nothing, AFAIK. Here, RMIT’s flawed strategy is clearest of all – why was it even pussy-footing around with talk of civil action, when it should have long ago demanded a police search of Chung’s premises?

* until 16 November 2004

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