The debate about remote proctoring finds several of the students on the University Council in a strong disagreement with staff council members. While these student members still hope to resolve the dispute through negotiations, they’re nevertheless considering taking EUR’s Executive Board to court over the use of a second camera during proctored exams. To this end, they have already sought professional legal aid. A number of staff members on the Council are entirely against possible legal proceedings. And some student representatives don’t favour ‘lawyering up’ either.

Fits and starts

‘It’s not entirely clear to me which rights the Executive Board would be violating in this case.’

Ana Uribe Sandoval

Heesen emphasises that the decision to go this route wasn’t taken lightly. “The objective of our negotiations with the Board is to develop a framework comparable with other universities. A kind of guideline in which proctoring is discouraged as a standard measure, but also becomes acceptable to students as a policy in the sense that it needs to satisfy far more requirements before implementation than is presently the case. For example, a lecturer will need to justify why a specific examination requires proctoring.” The negotiations are proceeding ‘in fits and starts’ according to Heesen, which is why the students have kept open the option of a court case. “But we absolutely prefer arriving at a solution via internal processes.”

Several staff members on the Council say that they were caught unawares by the – in their opinion – ‘dramatic’ step of getting lawyers involved. According to council member and ESHCC lecturer Ana Uribe Sandoval, the other council members still aren’t sure which specific matters the students want to bring before the court. “The University Council can take legal action when the rights of the Council have been violated. But it’s not entirely clear to me which rights the Executive Board would be violating in this case,” she says. If students want to initiate proceedings in a personal capacity, they won’t be entitled to funding for legal support from the university’s budget, according to Uribe Sandoval.

In Heesen’s view, this matter does involve a violation of the rights of both the University Council and EUR’s student body – although pending the court case, he does not want to go into details. “We want to inform the Council about these aspects first before a more public announcement.”

Emotions running high

Emotions ran high during the past few council meetings. A number of staff representatives are deeply unhappy with the prospect of a court case. In their view, this would put pressure on the Council’s constructive relationship with the Executive Board. Uribe Sandoval emphasises that like most of the members of the University Council, she is hardly enamoured with online proctoring either. But for the moment, there’s no viable alternative, in her perspective. If the university were to do away with proctoring, this would put an intolerable burden on the lecturers. ‘Regular’ examinations would have to be converted into open book or essay exams – which may be a lot harder to cheat on, but also cost far more time to check. And simply organising multiple-choice exams without proctoring could impair the validity of the university’s diplomas.

‘Erasmus University is the only institution that uses a second camera. And in the cases of Delft, Eindhoven and, as of next year, Nijmegen, they don’t use any kind of proctoring at all.’

Bram Heesen

This argument has failed to convince the students, however. Bram Heesen: “Erasmus University is the only institution that uses a second camera. And in the cases of Delft, Eindhoven and, as of next year, Nijmegen, they don’t use any kind of proctoring at all.” In his view, there are more than enough alternatives to counter cheating. “For example, you could also set up a big database with multiple-choice questions and present students with a random selection during the exam.”

Not every EUR faculty relies on remote proctoring either. Rotterdam School of Management is the odd one out: they don’t use this technology at RSM. Despite several reports on cheating during examinations and the fact that some lecturers are very unhappy with RSM’s eschewal of anti-cheating software, so far the faculty has stayed its course. Uribe Sandoval is unable to explain how RSM can make do without proctoring. “I don’t know to which extent they’ve adapted the exams at that faculty, but it’s an illusion to think you can do away with proctoring without saddling the lecturers with a heavier workload. It’s one or the other.”

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‘Winning a court case won’t solve much’

One of the two students on the council who isn’t in favour of legal action is Younes Assou. He is also strongly opposed to proctoring but doesn’t see taking the matter to court as the way forward. “I’ve asked some of the students whom I represent on the council how they view this step, and many of them aren’t in favour. Ultimately, I tried to sort out for myself what a case like this would yield if we won it, and what it could cost if we lost. At which point I concluded: even if we do win, this won’t solve much. Our good relationship with the Board would be out of the window. We’d do better to use the money spent on these proceedings on facilities for the students. If I understand correctly, we’ve already spent some 10,000 euros on legal aid.” He euphemistically describes the current atmosphere in the University Council as ‘a clash of ideologies’. Assou: “On the one hand, you have people who think they know what’s best; one the other, people who want to deliberate on what works best for the university.”

In the meantime, the Executive Board has dug its heels in when it comes to proctoring. Only last week, the Board sent out an email to the entire student body in which it announced that it would be sticking to its plan to use a second camera. “In late 2020, it was concluded that there were opportunities to cheat during proctored exams that could possibly endanger the value of our diploma. (…) As a solution to this problem, the deployment of a second camera turned out to have the least impact on you as students,” according to this missive. The Board members do emphasise that the use of images needs to be ‘proportionate’. “Any recordings made with the second camera may only be used to detect forms of cheating via the student’s computer screen. Other information that emerges via this measure will only be used insofar as it benefits your case.” One example would be when the examinee’s regular webcam fails. The second camera could make it plausible that he or she did not cheat during the exam.

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Second conflict in most recent period

The conflict within the University Council is not an isolated incident. EM has been informed by sources within the council that internal relations have been strained for some time already. Earlier in the academic year, there were arguments regarding a proposed adaption to the council’s electoral system – with the participation body split down very much the same line as is presently the case. A sizeable contingent has been arguing for years for a party-based system rather than the existing system of individual candidacies. When after years of debate, a proposal to this end finally landed on the table last November, support fell just short of the two-thirds majority required for this change. This led to heated discussion between the two ‘camps’.

The next monthly meeting between the University Council and the Executive Board will be taking place on Tuesday. And proctoring will once again be on the agenda that afternoon.