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Student Is Punished for Creating Class-Registration Web Site

University of Central Florida

A student at the University of Central Florida has been placed on academic probation for creating a Web site that tells students when a seat becomes available in a given class.

Tim Arnold, a senior at Central Florida, built the U Could Finish site this year. The site became available in June, but, within days, was blocked from accessing the university site without notice. The Office of Student Conduct then told Mr. Arnold that he had violated university policy regarding technology use, and summoned him to a hearing.

Joel Hartman, vice provost for information technologies and resources at Central Florida, said that U Could Finish violated portions of the tech policy that prohibited students from using university tools to make money (Mr. Arnold had been charging for use of his site, taking in a total, he said, of just $7.78) and disrupting normal technology use.

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.

That access took the same form as a denial-of-service attack which, if allowed to continue,  would “affect the entire search system for all users,” Mr. Hartman said.

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.”

Regardless, Mr. Arnold’s concern is not over technology policy, but the way his case was handled. 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.

Mr. Arnold added that, had he been asked via e-mail to shut down the site, he would gladly have done so.

According to Mr. Hartman, Central Florida is working on a waitlist feature that would perform the same service as U Could Finish. Mr. Arnold added that he would be willing to collaborate with the university on developing that feature.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by keone]

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