Boston, MA– A Tufts University veterinary school student, Tiffany Filler, was expelled in January 2019 for alleged grade hacking, reports TechCrunch. Filler denies the accusations.
Zack Whittaker at TechCrunch lays out the charges: "Filler, 24, was accused of an elaborate months-long scheme involving stealing and using university logins to break into the student records system, view answers, and alter her own and other students’ grades."
Filler is a Canadian citizen. When she was expelled, her U.S. visa expired, and she was forced to return home to Toronto.
There's a good deal of evidence against Filler, mostly provided by Tufts' IT department. However, Filler has alibis for many of the times she is accused of hacking: students saying they were with her, and she has a sleep tracker showing she was asleep during times that the hacking occurred. Furthermore, Tufts' IT department members are not trained experts in digital forensics, and the university administration was not transparent about how all evidence was acquired.
However, Tufts felt the evidence was enough to expel the student. Tufts argued that the pieces of evidence offered in Filler's defense could have easily been tampered with, especially for someone accused of far more complex hacking.
Regardless of whether or not Filler is innocent, this entire story brings up a very serious issue: colleges and universities have their own disciplinary hearings, and they can expel students for any reason they deem valid. Unlike committing a crime in the "real world," the process of proving your innocence to a college or university that believes you are guilty can be opaque, confusing, and completely void of normal due process.
“I thought due process was going to be followed,” said Filler, in a call with TechCrunch. “I thought it was innocent until proven guilty, until I was told ‘you’re guilty, unless you can prove it.’” That may seem jarring, but it is the reality of university disciplinary systems around the country.
Unless we begin calling for more transparency from these cases, colleges and universities will continue to serve out their own personalized justice.