UCF Student Makes Class Registration Easier; Receives Academic Probation For His Troubles

from the our-students-are-'supplicants,'-not-'applicants' dept

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.

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Comments on “UCF Student Makes Class Registration Easier; Receives Academic Probation For His Troubles”

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Digger says:

Re: Re: 1 line essay

You Can’t!

If they could have done it, they would have done it already.

Since they are clueless munching on their own mucus, paramecium brained, inept “can’t do it so try to teach it” uneducators, they thrashed out in a torret’s syndrome like spastic attack.

Now the rest of the student body should beware and start looking for a new college to attend. Perhaps one with a group of kindergarten students as faculty, it would be a massive step up over what it is now.

New Mexico Mark says:

Re: Re:

I’m just surprised he wasn’t required to write, “I will not think creatively or question my illustrious leaders” 1,000 times on a blackboard.

How sad. “Leadership” as exemplified by UCF administration will help ensure that they graduate students who will have no trouble finding top-flight jobs in either the food service or housekeeping industries.

btr1701 (profile) says:


Seems like he should have just quietly partnered with some non-student to be the ‘face’ of his app. He could write the code, and the partner puts it up on the web and charges for it.

A non-student isn’t bound by any agreement to not ‘use university tools to make money’ and a non-student can’t be sanctioned by the university. The most they could do is send a cease-and-desist letter and threaten legal action– but only if they actually have the law to back them up. Considering the university system has a public side to it (which is what the app accesses), which is available to anyone, they can’t claim any trespass to secure systems.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Sanctions

> Huh? The data accessed by the app isn’t
> public; it requires a student account to access.

Not according to the news report:

“Central Florida offers two portals for accessing class schedules and registration, Mr. Hartman explained. There’s an authenticated site that requires a student log-in, and a public one that nonaffiliates can access. U Could Finish had accessed the public site over 200,000 times from December to June, Mr. Hartman said, and the rate of access had increased by 118 times in May and June over the previous months.”

> Even if the money were laundered off-campus

Exactly how would any of this constitute money laundering? Please be specific. It should be entertaining for all the rest of us.

> his account would still get blocked and he’d
> still be on the hook for alleged DDoSing

Not if they didn’t know it was him. That’s why I said he should have gotten a non-student to be the face of the app.

And let’s be clear, this app is in no way a DDoS. That occurs when someone illegitimate targets a system and floods it with illegitimate requests whose only purpose is to bring the system down.

This app enables *legitimate* users to query the system with *legitimate* requests in order to accomplish a *legitimate* purpose (enrolling in class). If the university system can’t handle that, that’s not the fault of the users. It’s the fault of the univeristy for not creating a system robust enough to handle the customers they’re supposed to be serving.

Ophelia Millais says:

Re: Re: Re: Sanctions

Ah, OK, I see what happened. I was going by Dr. Joel Hartman’s document in the timeline at ucouldfinish.com. It says “The application accesses myUCF by logging into your personal account very frequently” and spells out various policies that were violated. However I didn’t see the whole document. It actually starts out referring to another student’s app, Knight Tracker, which had the same functionality as ucouldfinish. At the end of the document, it then talks about ucouldfinish, which was indeed using the public interface, as you say: “The ucouldfinish Website logs into MyUCF every 15 minutes and rus searches on every course using a guest search capability […] Each search takes the system 14 minutes of processing, which means that ucouldfinish.com is almost constantly scanning every course in the catalog. That means it is placing a significant load on our PeopleSoft portal.” Sorry about the confusion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sanctions

Completely agree. I am not doubting for a second, that the problem in this case has everything to do with the “You and any product you produce or derivative while enrolled are explicitly the rights of university x.”-mentality.
Universities care more about protecting their right to claim ownership of anything created by a student than they care about the essence of the case.
Incoming is legal defamation charges on a student if he is caught doing anything illegal since the university also wants to claim ownership of every students action…
Students desperately needs to have their human rights enforced or they are getting smashed by bureaucratic administrations and IPR-personel in an even more extreme degree than we see today.
The “knowledge factories” are just in the beginning fases. They will go so much further in their control to maximize their potential patentables.

Anonymous Coward says:

Where have you guys been? When has initiative ever been encouraged among students in any academic setting?

I mean really.

I got suspended in 1st grade (1st fricken’ grade) for my innovative geological demonstration of tectonic shifts…I threw the globe across the room…I mean, come on!?! I guess it wasn’t a realistic demonstration…no one got hurt.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

> I got suspended in 1st grade for my innovative
> geological demonstration of tectonic shifts…
> I threw the globe across the room…

Maybe you got in trouble because it was just a bad demonstration. I mean, the entire planet lurching out of its orbit and careening randomly through space is not how the plates actually shift.

BentFranklin (profile) says:

If I ran MIT’s website I would give this kid a summer job for the positive reinforcement, and as a gentle rebuke of the UCF administration. Ha, take that reactionary gatekeepers!

If I ran UCF’s website I would just modify the site to break his app every few days until he got sick of constantly updating it, not to mention getting texts from angry customers. Ha, take that smart-ass whippersnapper!

trench0r (profile) says:

UCF? Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here!

longtime reader and commenter.. I graduated from UCF.. This is the part that really stuck out to me

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 adminstration’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.

I got a ticket from them, claiming I had illegally parked in a handicapped parking, since they match the placard to the parking decal and when the driver doesn’t match, they simply ticket you.. well I happened to be carpooling with a blind person, when I appealed? It was denied. I had to pay a $250 fine in order to lift the registration hold they put on me (which was never refundable). I had to have a series of “hearings” where I had to drive to campus, with the person I had carpooled with.. Now, I lived an hour away from campus. During the series of conferences and hearings, I had to listen to the parking attendant explain how they got their facts, and then the blind person I was helping, who had to take time out of her schedule, had to tell them that I wasn’t parking illegally.

What did I get for my trouble? a big fuck you!

Remember this?


Check this out!


I went there during these incidents, I was glad not to be part of the 200… And the professor? One of the department professors for my major. Let’s just say I’m glad to see someone finally blowing the whistle on the administration’s ivory tower bullshit. They will fight tooth and nail with all of the clout they can muster to stamp out any shred of anything they don’t like or makes them look bad or doesn’t help them earn that one extra nickle or dime.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Priority Registration

I do not know whether the University of Central Florida’s public registration website had a robots.txt file, and I do not know what the current law is about respect for robot.txt files, or what view an appeals court would take if forced to consider the matter in litigation. Practically speaking most big web-crawlers respect robot.txt files, unless they have some good reason not to. Presumably the neo-KGB in Russia has its own web-crawlers, and doesn’t feel bound by any American laws, but I doubt they are particularly interested in how many seats are still open in a section of Freshman Spanish at 9-10 AM, MWF at the University of Central Florida, on a minute to minute basis. That kind of information is only useful to people who are trying to squeeze into a section. That said, the law is probably sort of undefined. I do know that, in cases where the defendants were publishing information which was overwhelmingly useful for cheating on exams, and not for much else, and that kind of thing, the courts have found for the plaintiffs. A court would probably want to consider whether Tim Arnold’s system introduced unfairness into the registration process, at the expense of people who were not his customers.

In my experience, upper-level courses usually have plenty of space in them. The college likes to run a lot of advanced courses, and the issue is usually how small the enrollment can be without the course being canceled, or without the professor being required to teach the course for free. Registration disputes practically work out to being about freshman courses. It’s been about thirty years since I was involved in this kind of registration. Back then, at the University of Cincinnati, they had something called “priority registration,” meaning that you turned in a machine-readable paper form, with a list of your requested courses/sections, and alternates, and you got a response back about a month later. People with declared majors got first dibs on courses in their majors, and graduate students went before seniors, who went before juniors, who went before sophomores, who went before freshmen. The system was calculated to ensure that anyone who needed a course to graduate could get it, if it was being offered. In case of freshman courses, they would schedule additional sections as needed, and if you got assigned to a section early in the morning, or late in the afternoon, tough! Nowadays, everyone is going to register on websites, but that does not mean they have to get instantaneous answers. One can easily institute a system of priorities, with three or four rounds, each lasting a week or so, with notification e-mails, so that everyone has plenty of time to file in each round. At the close of each round, places are allocated on the basis of priority, not on the basis of who grabbed the fastest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Their likely motive

Since they practice over-enrollment, and they have intentionally disabled automatic notifications when seats become available, my guess is that the administration takes special care to make sure people they “like” get those seats before anyone else notices.

It probably pissed someone off when they sent a “friend” to get an open seat and someone sniped it first due to this guy’s service.

A. Sinan Unur (profile) says:

At least, he did it openly, to benefit all students

In the long run, this will benefit Mr. Arnold greatly as an addition to his CV.

University IT departments are notoriously unresponsive to customer satisfaction issues. Sometimes, competent students find ways around, and those who’re supposed to know don’t find out until it’s too late.

Reminds me of Pre-Enrollment Site Hacked by Students.

Bobbie (user link) says:

innovation or not LOL

The kid took his own time and knowledge he learned from UCF and tearned it into something that was usefull. Isn’t that what every every entrepenuer does or tries to do every single day. He succeeded and then they shut him down. Its like the they don’t care that he was providing a usefull service instead they are worried about his bandwidth usage.

Crazy I tell you ~ Unique Decals

Bobbie (user link) says:


Seriously, this Kid did what no one else could did. Did we down Alexander Grahm Bell when he invented the telephone. This kid took something from nothing and was helping his other sutdents and making a (small) profit from it. This what every single corporate america person is trying to do.
I gurantee the college is now going to set up a system and CHARGE for it.

Just my 2 cents Sports Decal Stickers

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