Didn’t pay the fee? No grades for you!

Sask. prof threatens to withhold grades in dispute over additional course fee
A professor at the University of Saskatchewan is threatening to withhold his student’s grades if they refuse to pay an additional fee for copyright course materials, according to campus newspaper The Sheaf.

Students were informed by professor Gordon Sparks that the $30 fee was mandatory to pay to use materials made available on the course’s Blackboard homepage at the beginning of the class and in their syllabus. However, most students viewed the fee in the same way as paying for an assigned textbook, and that it was not necessarily required to complete the course.

Sparks’ view apparently differed on the fee, as he wrote to students in an email that if they didn’t cough up the $30, “you will be ‘cutoff’ access to Blackboard and therefore will not get a grade in the class!”

In the past, Sparks has simply denied access to the materials on Blackboard until students had paid the fee, which allows students to use course materials from former University of New Brunswick professor Barry Bisson.

Some students felt Sparks was not justified in threatening academic repercussions for students who don’t pay. U of S student Steve Bachiu told The Sheaf that he felt the threat “seems a lot like extortion” since he’s already paid his tuition fees for the course.

“My issue, essentially, is that it’s material that I don’t want. There are a lot of other classes that I’m taking where I haven’t bought the textbook” and have still been given a grade in the class, Bachiu said.

The materials the fee covers include review exercises, quizzes and weekly assignments. According to The Sheaf, Sparks has argued that students were obliged to pay the fee because they had made use of Bisson’s intellectual property by completing the quizzes and assignments.

However, Bachiu said that he felt that instructors shouldn’t be allowed to charge access fees for tests “and that is, essentially, what’s happening.”

Bachiu has brought his concerns to University of Saskatchewan Students Union (USSU) vice-president academic affairs Kelsey Topola, who said she is planning on bringing them before the university’s teaching and learning committee, academic support committee or copyright advisory committee.