Since the world became introduced to online education, college students all over the world quickly downloaded platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for their synchronous classes. Naturally, everyone became suspicious about the ulterior motives of these platforms, as it is a common belief that many of these companies secretly record meetings that take place online. Recently, new evidence has been brought to light that unfortunately proves that the wild conspiracy theory is, in fact, the truth.
According to an online petition created by the Brooklyn College Student Government, The City University of New York (CUNY) was recently exposed for teaming up with McGraw Hill Publishing to implement a new online education tool, named Proctorio, with the intention of spying on students without consent. The petition, which has over 26,000 signatures since its conception in the beginning of the fall, calls out the CUNY system with a specific list of violations, including but not limited to, “Monitors and stores KEYSTROKE movements while using the computer, Captures ALL SCREEN CONTENT on the student’s computer, Manages and CHANGES any downloads on the student’s computer, Identifies ALL devices connected to a student’s computer, [and] Monitors EYE MOVEMENTS via webcam and saves all recordings.”
According to Aharon Grama, the Chief of Staff of the Undergraduate Student Government at Brooklyn College, the issue was initially brought to his attention by a student at Baruch College. After confirming this information, the BC Student Government created the petition. Grama also noted that a third party sent CUNY an email, to which no response was given:
The Brooklyn Student Government is currently awaiting a statement from CUNY regarding their intentions for exam proctoring software
A subsequent petition entitled “CUNY Update & Open Letter” further attacked the partnership between CUNY and McGraw Hill for this notorious matter. “…it is imperative that CUNY administrators notify departments and employees from every college that they cannot force students to use proctoring software. Additionally, administrators must explicitly ask staff to shut off required proctoring software from already integrated programs, such as Proctorio on McGraw Hill’s Connect.”
An additional update, this one entitled “USS Remote Proctoring Statement,” was delivered by University State Senate Vice Chair for Technology, Kesi Gordon. While addressing the high level of fear and frustration by the CUNY student community, Gordon put them to rest, sharing, “The committee stressed that remote proctoring will not be mandatory but should be used on a need basis. The committee is aware that remote proctoring may be necessary for specialized, licensure or certificate programs, however, we urge instructors to consider using traditional means of testing if possible.”
Grama shared that the Brooklyn College Student Government has taken next steps to further the fight. “…we are working on passing a joint resolution calling on our President to tell each department to avoid using proctoring software. We are hoping each Student [Government] will follow through as well to demand each college administration to reach out to their academic departments and make sure students being tested are opting in rather than opting out.”
Rising junior Alexander Kestenbaum, who is majoring in Jewish studies and minoring in Russian here at Queens College (QC), brought the matter to the student government’s attention at QC. As a senator of both the Academic Senate and (by default) the Student Senate, Kestenbaum was alarmed when his fellow QC students brought this matter to his attention in the beginning of September. Kestenbaum presented a resolution to the Student Senate and rallied his fellow Senators to stand in solidarity against exam proctoring software that could potentially invade students’ privacy. Kestenbaum noted, “We [the Student Senate] are not going against CUNY. We’re not against the board of trustees and the administration. No, we want to work hand in hand with them, because, as I said before, this is a new learning experience.” The Knight News confirmed that the Queens College Student Senate passed the resolution against exam proctoring software, with the majority vote being in favor, and with two abstaining votes.
As of right now, the future of online education is unclear. What is clear, however, is the mission statement that students have adopted: that CUNY has no right to impose privacy violations, such as proctoring software or monitoring movement, on them without consent.