Student disciplined for improving campus course-selection system

Timothy Arnold, a student at the University of Central Florida, produced a app called U Could Finish that automated the process of hunting for vacancies in popular courses. After the app was the subject of a popular Reddit post, the administration at UCF punished Arnold for doing this, on the grounds that it had overloaded their servers. As a persuasive presentation from Arnold and friends documents, this claim is not very plausible. Nevertheless, the project has been terminated and Arnold faces three semesters of academic probation, a paper in which Arnold must explain why what he did was naughty and why the system's administrators are good people, and a coaching session on making good life sessions.

The Reddit post on the shutdown is full of good examples of universities that rewarded students who improved their systems rather than reacting with immediate and thorough reactionary discipline.

UCF student penalized for writing program to simplify searching for open university classes (


      1. Florida does have some good schools depending on what you’re looking for.  UF has an amazing medical program, Santa Fe has one of the only proper zoo programs in the nation, and FSU has…. idk, but apparently a degree from them is worth more than degrees from a decent number of other schools.  So there’s that.

        1. FSU for their music programs. But UCF has been a party school since at least 2004 when I attended and they lost 2 fraternity houses alone that year due to binging and hazing. There’s a good reason why I didn’t finish there. 

  1. Saying that his program “degraded or  disrputed” is like saying someone directing traffic is “disrupting”

  2. (Not so) ironically, UCF is known as “U Can’t Finish”. Apparently the school administration feels it very important to continue that legacy…

  3. Somehow, the reaction of the UCF administration is reminds me very much of the process of confess, reject your past behavior, repent and work in a labor camp for a while.  Where did I see that?  Hmmmmm, Stalin’s purges, Old DDR, North Korea, Scientology?   Smells like a very authoritarian reaction…

    1. “a paper in which Arnold must explain why what he did was naughty ”

      Exactly my thoughts. A forced “confession” in the trusty old tradition of the Inquisition, providing “proof” that the persecution was right in the first place.

  4. If colleges weren’t so damned expensive, he could just give them the middle finger and change schools. I would.

      1. …”financial hit”? All “academic probation” (actually called “disciplinary probation”) means at that school is that he just can’t get caught violating any policies or rules in the next three semesters, or he faces the possibility of suspension/expulsion (see ).

        1. For some reason I thought it was equivalent to suspension. My bad.

          It’s basically suspension only if you ever piss off anyone in authority ever. I’m sure anyone with a grudge against the guy can easily find a rule/policy he’s violated

      2.  Why would probation cause a financial hit? Doesn’t that just mean he has to pass all of his classes?

        I think he did a genius thing, perhaps he should have gotten it OK’d by someone in IT though (I’m really big on making cool tools part of the system, and am aware that lots of systems don’t like outside cool tools).

        1. You are assuming UCF IT has a level of competency.  Given that a student improved their systems on their own initiative,  This assumption is false.

  5. I’ve had to deal with UCF’s system first hand. It is mind boggling in complexity and completely unfriendly to someone trying to just get the required courses. I’ve sat for six hours hitting refresh hoping someone would drop the class I needed so that I could get in, just to get kicked out because something else on my schedule conflicted. I would have killed for an app like this. Way to go UCF.

    1. My 6 frustrating years of interaction with the administration and IT dolts agree with you.  Thankfully I decided not to pursue a PhD.

      Coincidentally, back in 1999, my friend wrote a program to repeatedly auto-call and navigate the tele-registration system.  You entered the phone codes of the classes you wanted, ran the program and fugotaboutit.  I ran that sucker for days until it got the classes I wanted.  We never got caught, and several handfuls of people were using it.

  6. The primary reason the site was shut down was because he was making commercial use of the school’s provided services. The site owner obviously tries to gloss over this as much as possible, but if you read his timelines it’s right there and clearly laid out by the school that this is primarily why he’s being punished: You cannot use their services for personal gain. He was effectively selling waitlist spots in classes by providing more frequent checking for open spots. Even though he only had one paid user, they can’t let that slip by.

    I think it’s a shame that the Internet at large has latched onto this childish whining. He was in legitimate violation of their policy, and now he’s trying to make the school look bad by dragging the Internet into it. He’s also either purposefully downplaying the real reason he’s being disciplined so that he’ll gain support, or he doesn’t understand why he’s being disciplined. The hive mind is so foolish to get involved with this.

    1. So if selling waitlists leads to a more efficient use of resources, what’s the problem? Why is against the college’s policy to use their services for personal gain? Seems like a misplaced case of moralism to me.

      1. This creates misaligned incentives. Selling spots in courses or advantages to getting into courses can really screw up the curriculum for students, especially if the organization doing the selling is disconnected from the school.

        Second, the efficiency of using the resources isn’t only determined by getting more kids in classes. If you have to coordinate with an outside vendor for this all the time, it can create big overhead and a serious problem for the school.

        1. Yes, because the only people who should be allowed to profit off of students attending your school are parasitic vendors like Peoplesoft (who I’ve had the misfortune of having to deal with in my collage days) and non-teaching administrators such as yourself (because it’s VITAL that schools pay top-dollar to attract mediocre middle and top management “talent”).

          1. I think the point that’s being made above is that it’s inherently not fair that some students might be able to take advantage of this service versus others that might not be able to afford the service.

          1.  However it mucks up their ranking numbers. Trust me, educational institutions Want people to graduate within the normal time-frame, they get graded and ranked on that kind of thing. In most cases, there are lots of people wanting to get Into a University, and not enough places.

            Your average University wants to attract smart people, educate them and then have them get a job, that way the Alumni Association can hit them up for donations and brag about the success rate of their graduates.

        2. At my school, Virginia Tech, the spots were already sold :-(

          The priority for class signups was athletes first, then honor students, then everyone else (on a rotating basis by SSN so that some semesters you’d get priority, other times not).

          It took three semesters to get in one core class that I wanted – and it took a letter from my coach to do it. VT never had academics as a priority, so they’re not getting alumni dollars from me.

          1. You do have to wonder what’s wrong with *any* school that regularly has oversubscribed courses (especially core courses) and does nothing to respond to demand.   In retrospect, I’m very proud of the (now deceased) chairman of the Colby Math Dep’t who told me if I got ten people to signup, she’d add a section of DiffyQs to the spring schedule.  I did, she did, and we ended up with 25 kids in the class.

          2. You do have to wonder what’s wrong with *any* school that regularly has oversubscribed courses (especially core courses) and does nothing to respond to demand.

            Community colleges in California have to admit any citizen who wants to enroll. That doesn’t mean that the state provides any extra money to pay teachers to teach more classes.

        3. Fooey.  If the school actually had any brains, they would simply have purchased his software and replaced their GeoCities-quality interface with it.  You might as well have banned students from buying textbooks via Amazon on the theory that not all students have charge cards.

          1. His software doesn’t come close to providing… any really useful features. Apparently the software that they’re using has the capability to notify people of open spaces in classes, but they’ve intentionally left it off.

            Having built software for schools before, I also wouldn’t want to be on the buying end of this deal. He’ll just graduate and leave them high and dry with custom software.

        4. Maybe, just maybe, the school should fix their fucking system, so that this isn’t a problem.

          1. Yeah! They should implement a new non-essential feature for complex software used by thousands of people for a highly competitive and critical process! The system is totally broken without it!

            Get out your duct tape and superglue, Rosco, we’re going in hot!

    2. Agreed. There’s a disconnect between his “Nearly $1000 cash invested/great investment of time and money” (s.18) and his desire to portray himself as the altruist. If there had been a slide that explained “once I’d made back my capital investment, I’d make the utility free,” perhaps even an “I used my tuition/rent/food/child support money to make this app; help a brother out,” it would be more understandable (maybe?), but you’re right: the moment he went to a cost model, his case was lost. Bummer, cuz it’s a cool utility.

    3. (I think my comment just got eaten, so sorry if this is a double post.)

      Thank you, Dean, for pointing out the crucial point that all these articles and commentary seem to miss. This story has been showing up on all my feeds, and the student himself admitted in a local Orlando-based article in response to me that he was being punished because he was charging for this service. The school explicitly prohibits using their websites for personal or commercial gain.

      Furthermore, the student does not accept responsibility for his actions (actions, in this case, were the direct violation of the school’s policies) to this day, as evidenced in the student conduct report. The “punishment” that the school gave him is an attempt to help him accept that responsibility.

      This was NOT some completely altruistic deed on his end that all of these reports are making it seem.

      And in case he wants to continue using the argument that he found the school’s policy only covered “messaging systems”, here it is, in clear black and white: “The computing and telecommunications resources of the university shall not be used for unapproved commercial purposes or for personal financial gain without express written approval from the Provost and Executive Vice President or his or her designee.” — from B3 of the Use of Information Technologies of Resources, readily available through

      1. Yeah, well, him making money off it is the *rationale* for the school punishing him. But it seems more likely to me the school’s punishing him because they’re mad at him for doing their job better than they even thought to, in public.

        1. That’s why I had opined in my response to him when he told me that he got in trouble for the commercial clause whether the school would have punished him if he wasn’t charging for the services. I got no response back from him.

      2. So, without having an off-campus webconnection, are uni students then unable to sell their now-used textbooks thru an online bookseller? Is this just schools hoping to get rich off the next student-built web-sensation + incidentally guaranteeing to maintain their used-book inventory every semester?

        1. Although I’m not on trial here, I suppose the student could try to argue with this rationale at his appeal if he wishes.

    4. That might well be the case, but then UCF administrators should not have tried to mud waters by accusing him of things he didn’t do (overloading servers etc). It’s like charging somebody with “resisting arrest” while he’s being busted for a small amount of drugs, just to make penalties longer.

    5. Yeah both sides definitely failed, personally I found his presentation for his student conduct case pretentious and kinda douchy, which is only good if you are rock solid.

       But UFC also failed in immediately making it a conduct issue when an initial approach of  collaborative support (say, offering him his capital back in exchange for his agreeing to give all aspects of the app over to myUFC, with credit for the creation remaining his for his CV) and denying themselves an easy revenue stream.

      Now entitled kid can smear egg on their face and if they never did make any non-punative initial overtures it isn’t 100% undeserved.

      -edit for all I know they did, but there’s no mention of it if they did

      1. So, he tried to sell their data for a profit, and they should pay him $1000 because they caught him?  If he’d made a non-profit app, then they wouldn’t even be in this situation; they might’ve even bought it from him.

  7. There’s a UCF shill or plant on the reddit thread. Distilled to its essence, his argument,and maybe UCF’s argument, is that the student’s program was carefully designed to put a strain on the PeopleSoft servers, and only on the PeopleSoft servers. Unfortunately, the Peoplesoft servers were, by far, the weakest link in UCF’s chain.

  8. Lookie here boy, we ain’t about to have yer fancy innovatin and yor slick ways in our proud institutions of lernin to do it the way you told to. 

    I don’t care what yall other universities think of innovatin, cause we’s a hatin.

  9. He’s profiting from publicly available data.

    The school needs to provide a better service or buy his app and give him a part-time job expanding on it.  Throw in a scholarship as well, this kid is one you want on your alumni hit list when you’re out begging for donations in twenty years.

    Is this  a University or a petty business trying to shut down their competition?

    1. Apparently they’re both.

      There’s a reasonable argument to be made that this student doesn’t have a right to profit by using their systems. Similar to not allowing students to set up small businesses selling cupcakes inside of cafeterias.

      But the school dealt with this very poorly. He solved a problem that they created.

      They’re within their rights to shut down his solution, but if they were smarter they would simply apply his solution themselves OR eliminate the problem. 

      Of course, what’s really going on here is that this student completely embarrassed the University’s IT executives by *literally* schooling them in how they should be doing things. And their reaction,right out of the “Because I said so!” book of conflict resolution, gives uncomfortable credence to the theory of “Those who can’t do, teach.”

      1. “He solved a problem that they created.”

        Actually, he solved a problem the at collage’s contracted vendor; Peoplesoft, is being paid to solve, but isn’t.

        Peoplesoft’s software is unmitigatedly horrible, but they have no need to innovate or improve their products because of the exclusive contracts they sign with various institutions, which provides a monopoly that students have no choice but to deal with. 

        He’s providing a choice, for a fee, to fix a problem that the school will not address and vendor dosen’t want to deal with. The core of this issue is the collage is MIS-using it’s own internal discipline system to stifle competition with one of their contracted vendors. 

        It’s like disciplining all the students who trade or sell books outside the school’s own contracted or internal bookstore, because the school receives a cut of every book sold from it.

        The entire situation stinks, because it so overtly corrupt.

      2.  I’ve been taught by people who were straight out of grad school, and people with 20+ years of market experience, both had their strong points, however the people with market experience usually had a better idea of what skills and habits would actually help graduates get a job. They were also some of the first people to suggest that students caught hacking the Uni’s computers should have been put on suspended probation and then hired to harden the systems they’d found holes in.

  10. Some students at Brown University did this a few years back.  The administration was so impressed with the interface and efficiency of their system that they worked with them to make it an officially supported service.

    I don’t want to make assumptions, but could this be a case of an embarrassed administration not wanting to look like they wasted some large numbers of dollars on a vendor that is similarly embarrassed and unhappy with being upstaged by a handful of “kids”.

  11. Let’s say a student dutifully attends classes and, with the skills they learned in those classes, gets a paying summer job, shouldn’t that be considered using the school’s services for personal gain?

  12. Considering every contact I have had with a governmental or quasi-governmental entity  in Florida has been an exercise in fighting through a web of lies, I’m not surprised this school has told a bunch of lies in this case.  And, seemingly, employed several shills to troll the web in support of its position. 

    1. Every contact I have had with anyone or anything whatsoever in Florida has been an exercise in fighting through whatever the fuck it is that’s wrong with Florida.

  13. No two ways about it — college IS departments are staffed with complete fascist brain-dead morons. The saddest thing is how many of them are graduates of the very school whose IT they run. Of course, the fact that that’s where they had to go to find post-college work is telling, and makes for a vicious circle.

    If you think your office IT department is bad, check out a (non-technical) college IT department, and you will run back screaming. Hyperbole, overreaction, Nazistic rigidity, outright lying are the tools of the trade. Never mind such things as technical aptitude, resource management or intelligent network routing. A college IT department cares not for these things.

    And any school that has separate general studies, engineering and/or CS IT departments has a long-standing rivalry among them, because those other departments do it ten times better — and this is why those departments won’t give up their own IT groups (versus campus wide control) unless taken from their cold dead hands.

    My college tried to get me in trouble for running a student webserver back in 1997. They refused to run one, until after a year, when they realized that them running one was better than four students running their own. (Mine was specifically set up and promoted for public use.) Of course, when they finally started theirs, I was forced to shut mine down. This doesn’t even count the former campus IT employee that did everything he could (including misinformation) to try and get my server shut down up to that point, going so far as to force a system reboot once and steal my server’s port to make it looked like mine had been hacked. (By setting up his own webserver, natch. The irony was lost on him.) Of course, they didn’t do anything to him for that, because he was in the tribe. (I’m betting they got more than a few helpdesk calls over their web pages not working.)

    The problem was not, in fact, that our servers were slowing the machine down. (Though they outright lied and said publicly that between the four of us, we were running “hundreds” of servers. Even if you counted individual server threads, that was shameless bullshit.) The problem was that we made them look like the fucking morons that they were, and they simply couldn’t allow that.

    To be fair, I know from first-hand experience at least, that the bottom-rung personnel might very well be actually fairly bright and sensible — but the IT director rules with a dense iron fist. Emphasis on dense.

    1.  To be fair — and speaking as someone a couple of rungs up from bottom (as sys admin) — not all IT people are brainless fascist morons.

      What you see as someone that is spreading hyperbole or over reaction is probably a person that just had 90% of a university come down on them for something minor.

      For me, I have seen several times when we want to make a simple change to the network.  We simply want to change some vlans.  The process takes just shy of 6 months to make a 5 line change in our routers and has a down time of 12 minutes.  6 months because it has to be approved by the appropriate channels — IE all the other departments that are serviced by us because they are afraid that the change will effect them negatively.

      Additionally, we know we frustrate students who want to run private LANs for whatever reason.  Our reasoning isn’t because we want to make students lives miserable or don’t want to put money in to the infrastructure to accommodate their needs or any other reason.  We love helping them out — hell, we want to join most of the time because they’re usually wanting to play some game we enjoy. 

      As far as running a LAN outside of our control; regardless of how SECURE the student believes they have made the network, should anything occur to the university (ANY BREACH) through that LAN, the student will we receive the least amount of punishment.  We deal with information, that if it is exposed, could very easily make the university go away — permanently.  This is not an exaggeration.  Resources could dry up, as well as all forms of lawsuits from multiple companies and government agencies.

      The university that I work at just recently updated our hardware after having worked with the same servers for upwards of 10 years.  Why?  Because we kept it working.  People complained, but when you deal with an administration that is made up of primarily business people (as opposed to a mix of IT/Business people), you end up with really old hardware.

  14. Why does everyone seem to think he wasn’t degrading their system?

    Yes, his approach used far less bandwidth because he didn’t load all the extra stuff.  However, his system *DID* generate a large number of queries to the database.  If that’s the bottleneck they could be quite right.

    1. Agreed. Working on the student admin side of peoplesoft is a slow process when students are registering. In theory, it’s possible that multiple registration queries were slowing things down somewhere else. But you expect that during registration time and live with it. 

      If the lack of seats in required classes are such an issue, why not increase the waitlist capacity, put registration caps on the courses and tweak the enrolment restrictions, allowing administrators to move high priority (ie: close to graduation) students into the courses? You could easily put reserved seats onto a course and target, say, fourth year students, and then open the seats if they aren’t filled.  If I was an advisor at UCF, that’s what I’d be suggesting.  There are ways to handle registration that doesn’t get students placed on academic probation for working out hacks that try to address the problem.

    2. His *revised* approach used far less bandwidth.

      The slideshow also points out that every 15 minutes for four continuous months his system was making queries that took 14 minutes to process.

      It’s not exactly one of the hallmarks of competence, is it?

  15. You do have to wonder what’s wrong with *any* school that regularly has oversubscribed courses (especially core courses) and does nothing to respond to demand.
    Community colleges in California have to admit any citizen who wants to enroll. That doesn’t mean that the state provides any extra money to pay teachers to teach more classes.Ok, I’ll modify that to “…what’s wrong with any school or collection of idiotic laws that…” 

  16. My favorite part – “… a paper in which Arnold must explain why what he did was naughty ”

    Now that’s devious. Not only are we busting you, for nothing, you have to explain to us why it was wrong. (And they get to decide if the compulsory grovelling is acceptable).

    Kid – you have talent and initiative. Don’t let them crush that.

  17. Not only does the UCF administration lack the foresight (and decency) to thank the kid, they also punish him for exposing their own incompetence.

    Makes ones’ blood boil. Is there a petition? I’d glady sign it.

    1. Too bad you seem to lack reading comprehension skills; I suggest you read Dean Putney’s comment above as to the real reason the student is being punished.

      1. It’s clear the money’s for the repackaging of data (see also:, the story NPR picked up of yard-sale variety vendor trash sold with writeups by famous authors.)  Nobody’s going to university to eat a loss, and besides the common policy of removing sub-$0.90 apps from visibility in the store (Gnomovision trigger issues?) nobody’s explaining properly why it grates their attribution rind to see innovation leaking out without tapping the provost at whatever colloquia they attend. (Alternately: If one hits Senior without having started an IP JV with the department or sending the university president a Reddit invite, the red gem on your hand goes out…you read that in there too, right?) Also; you’re fired.

  18. Wrong or right, with this punishment in place UCF has done more to prepare this young man for work in the private sector than most colleges could even imagine.

  19. Probably since Florida discontinued CompSci on all but one of its university campuses, there is no one qualified to evaluate his hack and report to the administration.

    On the other hand, it’s just as likely, and not exclusive of administrative incompetence, that he put together a naive query that scans entire data set and hogs system resources because no one put in the indexes needed to handle his use-case.

Comments are closed.