Nothing seems to piss off institutions more than efficiency, especially efficiency that routes around the "damage" endemic to the system. Institutions of higher learning are no exception, as UCF student Tim Arnold found out when he tried to make registration more convenient for other students. Instead of being praised for his efforts, Arnold found himself staring down the barrel of academic probation
, courtesy of the displaced gatekeepers at UCF.
Arnold set up a website (called U Could Finish
) which alerted students when seats opened up in classes they wished to attend. (The site name is a play on "U Can't Finish," a less-than-affectionate acronym bestowed on the University of Central Florida for its years of over-enrollment
.) Signing up for the service allowed students to place themselves in queues for open seats. Once a seat opened, any students desiring this spot were alerted with a text message and could log in to UCF's student portal to claim it.
However, a week after Arnold offered this service to students, UCF shut down his access to its site. Arnold was notified (after the shutdown) that he had violated UCF policies on technology use. The violations included using university tools to make money (Arnold had charged for access based on search frequency and had managed to take in nearly $8
by the time his access was shut off) and "disrupting normal technology use."
UCF claims Arnold's program accessed the public side of its site "over 200,000 times" from December to June, with a spike in May and June (development restart and fall registration). This additional access was termed by the university as being equivalent of a denial-of-service attack, which could "affect the entire search system for all users."
Arnold denied his site stressed UCF's system to the extent it claims:
But Mr. Arnold said that his own data do not support the numbers Mr. Hartman provided. His logs show that U Could Finish interacted with the university’s server much less frequently.
"Even if I were to access the server that frequently, that shouldn’t be a problem over that long of a frequency of time," he said. "The UCF servers handle 15,000 requests a day, I don’t believe I could cause it to slow down."
There's also the matter of how the shutdown was handled. Arnold feels that his treatment has been more severe and punitive than similar situations in the past. Previously, a student had tried to create a similar tool and was sent a cease-and-desist e-mail. There were no hearings or sanctions.
"In my case, I didn’t hear any information about there being any issue for seven days, and when I did, it was from Student Conduct itself," he said. "So, these two cases were handled extremely differently, even though they were very similar in the way the apps functioned."
Mr. Arnold attended a hearing on July 24, and was sanctioned on July 27. He plans to appeal his sanctions, which also require him to write two papers and prevent him from holding student office.
"I just feel that the actions they did were very extreme considering my intent was to help students and not to intentionally subvert the rules," he said.
The terms of his punishment
are heavy-handed and nothing short of ridiculous. Arnold has been placed on disciplinary probation through the spring semester of 2013. In addition, he is required to type up two research papers: one on how he
would update the MyUCF software for the university and one on what he learned from a one-on-one coaching session with the Office of Integrity and Ethical Development. The first paper has the asinine requirement that he not use it to "justify his actions, nor evaluate the actions of others." The second paper he gets to pay for -- a $15 fee is required for "coaching sessions."
Beyond the vindictive stupidity of the penalties is the pure stupidity of the situation. UCF's software already
has the functionality U Could Finish added. For whatever reason, it's not enabled. There's no denying that Arnold broke school policy when he charged students usage fees, but any other argument doesn't wash. The function is present in the software. UCF doesn't use it. Despite its obvious usefulness to students, especially
in a school known for over-enrollment, UCF has apparently decided that it's unnecessary.
Not that UCF seems to know (or care) what might be of use to its students. In Arnold's presentation to the Student Conduct board
, he points out an earlier app he created, free-of-charge, for the student body. This app delivered constantly updated numbers on garage capacity to help students find open parking. Here's how the administration responded:
"Students wouldn't find it useful."
Without even seeing the poll results, anyone who's attended a major university knows this simply isn't true. It's the sort of brush-off statement delivered by someone who has an assigned parking space. Now, here's what students actually thought:
The obtuseness and hypocrisy of the university is astounding. The administration all but comes out and says, "Screw the students. They can use our clunky, nearly-useless software and like it. After all, they're paying for it." And as for Arnold's monetization of a useful service? How many goods or services does the university charge for? Fees for labs. Fees for the library. Transcript fees. And, of course, this is over and above thousands of dollars per semester and hundreds of dollars worth of books, all paid for by the students.
UCF seems to be going out of its way to make an example out of the guy who made its system actually usable. God knows what the administration's motivation is. All it's actually going to do is project an image of ivory-tower insulation that won't be easy to shed.