NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—No written contract existed between Rutgers University and Verificient Technologies, the company responsible for the student-monitoring, anti-cheating software ProctorTrack, during the first seven months that their software was rolled out.
Instead, Verificient and the Rutgers Center for Online and Hybrid Leaning (COHILT) had a “verbal agreement” while the contract was under legal review, according to Rutgers Media Relations.
Meanwhile, thousands of Rutgers students ended up paying the company fees far greater than those charged at other universities during those seven months.
“After completing a successful pilot, Verificient Technologies has been retained to offer ProctorTrack on eCollege for Rutgers,” the beginning of the contract reads.
The software is an extension of eCollege, a web platform that already costs students $100, and allows them to remotely participate in online classes. The ProctorTrack software was tailored so that it could be used with eCollege.
Billed as an attempt to prevent cheating on online exams, ProctorTrack uses remote monitoring technology to collect audio, video and document the web activity of students as they take an exam.
The software also scans the students’ ID, face, and knuckles to make sure the student is not consulting outside, unauthorized sources.
Student opposition focused on privacy concerns and the rushed nature of the software’s rollout.
Lacking adequate notfication and time to withdraw from the course, many students were left with little choice but to pay the $32 fee for the software, even though they were not aware of it at the time they enrolled.
Unlike at other universities, the school did not benefit financially from the implementation of ProctorTrack and the university considered the fees paid a direct transaction between the students and the company.
“The university has no financial gain from some of its departments using the technology,” a Rutgers spokesperson confirmed.
The software was first implemented in the beginning of the spring 2015 semester, without any announcements to the press or general public.
At first, the university maintained that students had ample time learn about the new requirements and drop the course if they desired.
“The ProctorTrack notice appeared from the first day of class in the Course Home and the first assignment on the first day of class was to read these documents,” Rutgers spokesperson EJ Miranda wrote in February, “The notice included the pricing.”
“All students had the regular drop/add period plus the two-day extension to drop the course if they wished to do so.”
Confusion also arose over whether or not downloading the sofware was actually required. Rutgers officials, including James Ackamn, the director of the Mason Gross Arts Online program, released statements saying that the software was by not required, and that students could instead opt to use an array of alternative proctoring methods.
Verificient CEO Tim Dutta argued that the implementation of the software at Rutgers went flawlessly, adding that by February, thousands of Rutgers students had already downloaded the software.
But months later, Rutgers President Bob Barchi told The Daily Targum that the university might not have done enough to make sure students were well-informed about the software ahead of time.
“I think what maybe wasn’t done quite right here was to make sure that everybody who is taking that course knew that was coming,” Barchi told the paper.
The software had only been patented by the U.S. Patent Office on January 6, seven days before the contract would have gone into effect, and just a few weeks before the spring semester began.
Along with the lack of adequate notification, Chao’s petition also focused on concerns over privacy and the storage and disposal of student data.
“Big contracts are given to companies like Proctortrack with limited restriction on data collection and unclear transparency protocols on how data is used,” wrote Marilia Boyd, a Rutgers graduate student at the time.
After it was finally signed, the contract was released to New Brunswick Today the same day: August 25. It says that student data will be held for 90 days after the end of the semester or the students final exam, and that the data would be deleted within an additional 30 days.
But the eigth months during which Rutgers and Verificient abided by a verbal agreement saw the policies over data storage and disposal change numerous times.
In March, Verificient posted a pledge on its blog that it would delete student data, including audio and video of students, along with facial and biometric, knuckle, ID, and web activity scans, within 3o-60 days of its creation.
That policy remains unchanged since January 31.
In April, New Brunswick Today filed a public records request with the Rutgers Office of Enterprise Management, Ethics Compliance, seeking a copy of the contract
The official response came one month later and said that there was no official contract in place. Officials argued that, although a version of the contract existed in draft form, the lack of all the necessary signatures meant it was not a public document.
“There is one draft that is not currently executed,” a Rutgers official said. “Under [the Open Public Records Act] we are not obligated to disclose it because it’s considered draft form which is advisory consultative or deliberative.”
“Once a document would be fully executed in its final form, then we would be obligated to release it,” read the response
On July 23, New Brunswick Today filed a second public records request, again seeking copies of any contracts between Verificient and Rutgers.
Thanks to attorney Walter Luers, who specializes public records request laws, New Brunswick Today finally obtained the contract on August 25.
The contract released to NBToday showed that it was signed the very same day it was obtained by this newspaper.
Dutta signed it on behalf of Verificient, and Richard Novak, Vice President of Continuing Studies at Rutgers, signed on behalf of the university.
According to the contract, Verificient holds student data in its servers until 90 days after the semester ends, or 90 days after the date of the final exam, far longer than the company had pledged.
After that time period, Verificient would email students to inform them that the information had been purged and deleted from their databases. Any back-up data would later be deleted within another 30 days.
The contract shows that students still have to pay $32 for the software, $29 per class plus $3 for an annual onboarding fee. For taking the exam with an in-person proctor, the student would have to pay $17 per exam.
ProctorTrack first came under public scrutiny in February, just weeks after it had been rolled out, when a student named Betsy Chao started a petition opposing the software.
“Emails about officially mandating the use of Proctortrack were sent out during the third week of classes,” Chao wrote in the petition.
“It was already too late to drop classes and so, students essentially have no choice but to pay the fee.”
Students at other schools that use ProctorTrack, such as the University of Northern Texas (UNT) Health Science Center, Nevada State College and the University of Southern Florida (USF), all paid lower amounts to download the software.
In every case, the contract was signed before the software was rolled out to students.
At Nevada State College, the school agreed in August 2014 to pay Verificient $3,500 to integrate the software into the school’s online learning program, “Canvas,” as part of a pilot agreement. The pilot program covered the costs for two courses totaling 40 students.
As part of the agreement, Verificient would be responsibile for implementation, training and support for faculty and students. The two parties also agreed that if more than 40 students using the software, each student would pay a $15 to Verificient.
The contract shows that ProctorTrack was integrated and tested within a week and a half after the contract was signed, with the signatures from NSC and Verificient coming on August 20 and August 30 respectively.
Meanwhile, an agreement signed in March 2014 with USF also put a pilot program in place before a formal rollout of ProctorTrack. The pilot included $3,000 paid to Verificient by the school, and students paid just $12 to download the software.
The agreement also included other ways for Verificient to profit like “integration fees.” Under the deal, an “architect” would cost USF $250 an hour, a “lead developer” would cost the university $175 an hour, and a “developer” would cost $125 an hour.
After the pilot program, USF paid the company $25,000 for the automated proctoring and “2013 promotional pricing” would extend for 6 months after the contract was executed in March 2014, after which the price of the software increased $15 per student.
Months after a records request, the UNT Health Science Center released its contract with Verificient to New Brunswick Today in late June.
The medical school initially held a two-year pilot program for ProctorTrack, which involved 160 students enrolled in the online public health master’s degree program, according to a New York Times report.
After that contract went into effect, the students using the software paid a total of $27, including the annual onboard fee, making Verificient about $4,300 that semester.
Several private schools also use the software, including the University of Southern California, Cornell University, St. George’s University Medical School, and Maryville University.
So far, Rutgers is the only school in New Jersey that has implemented the software, though the company has suggested it is hoping to get other nearby schools on board.
Award-winning, multimedia journalist with experience in digital first and print-media. Daniel has covered local, state and regional issues, and utilized photography, social media and has written in-depth articles to produce high-quality work.