BU probes teacher’s ad seeking grading help

‘I did it to save time,’ lecturer says.

Boston University is investigating one of its lecturers who placed an ad on Craiglist looking for someone to help grade his students’ papers. The situation involving Duane Lefevre was brought to the university’s attention by CommonWealth.

The help-wanted ad on the Boston section of Craigslist offered $15 for reviewing each student’s five-page paper, plus a $50 bonus for “superior work.”

The student papers, according to the Nov. 14 ad, would focus on the profitability of six companies in an assigned industry. “Verify the data is accurate based on the attachments to the paper, assess the accuracy of the analysis, note if there are more suitable ways to asses profitability for that particular industry, assess the quality and flow of the writing, assess the look and feel of the document, provide 10-15 bulleted points of feedback per paper,” the ad said.

An inquiry to the email address listed in the ad prompted a response from Lefevre, who said the job had already been filled. A Google search indicated Lefevre is a lecturer in the marketing department at the Boston University School of Management, a job he has held since 2008.

Contacted by phone through his BU office, Lefevre said the ad was an attempt to speed up the grading process in a course he was teaching. “It’s a busy time for me and I did it to save time,” he said. He later emailed to say he had canceled the job and planned to review the papers entirely by himself.

The so-called outsourcing of academic work seems to be a flourishing business on the Internet. CommonWealth reported in 2009 on web businesses, most of them advertising on Craigslist, that offered to write term papers for students. Prices ranged from $90 to $1,200 for a 20-page, double-spaced paper, with an average price of $370.

By contrast, Lefevre appears to be a teacher who wanted to hire someone to assist him in grading student papers. Getting someone to help grade papers is a practice that’s not uncommon on college campuses, but typically a teacher works with an assistant who has either taken the course or is majoring in the area. It is rare to just farm the work out to an outsider.

BU Management School Dean Kenneth Freeman refused comment. Julie Sandell, the associate provost for faculty development, was puzzled by the placing of the ad. “This sounds bizarre to me,” she said.

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Colin Riley, executive director of media relations for BU, where tuition is $48,000, says that having an outsider help grade papers is implicitly prohibited by university policy.  “We expect everyone associated with the university – faculty, staff, and students – to do the work expected of or assigned to them,” he said.

Riley said BU faculty make use of graduate student teaching fellows to help grade papers, but they are knowledgeable in the subject area and usually have taken the course. Riley said the university is investigating the situation.