Note: this blog post is the fourth in a multi-part series on “the law and ethics of Chegg.”
Thus far, we have seen how students use Chegg to cheat (see my 8.16 post “The Napster of cheating“), and we have compared Chegg’s business model to the illicit market in the College Admissions Bribery Scandal, both from the seller’s perspective (see my 8.17 post “Argument by analogy“) and from the buyer’s (my 8.18 post “Chegg is evil“), and have concluded that Chegg is guilty of committing fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud on a massive scale. But before I lay out the elements of wire fraud and conspiracy in my Model Indictment against Chegg, I want to discuss a more recent precedent that might be relevant to this matter: the case of Professor Edward C. Ennels.
Among other things, Professor Ennels allegedly solicited and received bribes from his students at Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) in exchange for favorable final grades in mathematics courses he taught. (See Brian E. Frosh, Maryland Attorney General, Press Release dated Aug. 5, 2021, available here.) According to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, Professor Ennels often haggled with students regarding the amount of the bribe, and set different prices based on the course and grade desired. For example, he would charge $150 for a C, $250 for a B, and $500 for an A in a higher-level course. (Ibid.)
Professor Ennels was prosecuted by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, and he recently pled guilty to charges of bribery and official misconduct before the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. (Ibid. He was charged with bribery instead of fraud because BCCC is a public institution, making Ennels a public employee.) Unlike the wealthy parents like Jane Buckingham, Felicity Huffman, and Lori Loughlin in the College Admissions Bribery Scandal, who all received light sentences (see, for example, my 11.13.19 blog post), Professor Ennels was sentenced to 10 years incarceration, followed by five years of supervised probation upon release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of of $60,000.
Would it surprise you to learn that Ennels is black, while Buckingham, et al. are all rich white women? Regardless, the larger point I want to make here is that Chegg’s business model is really no different from Professor Ennels’ illicit bribery scheme. Suppose that Ennels was not selling grades per se; suppose instead that he was selling the answers to his tests. Wouldn’t he (and the students who paid the bribes) still be guilty of a crime? If so, how is this conduct any different from what Chegg does? That’s the thing, my friends, it’s not!