Cashing in on popular classes

McMaster University student newspaper reports students profiting from selling seats

At McMaster University, students have allegedly been selling seats in popular classes to fellow students for up to $100 per seat.
At McMaster University, students have allegedly been selling seats in popular classes to fellow students for up to $100 per seat.
Journal File Photo

How much is a seat in PSYC100 worth to you? Three figures? At McMaster University, students have allegedly been selling their seats in popular classes to fellow students for a price.

In April, McMaster’s student newspaper, the Silhouette, reported that students are selling their seats in popular classes to peers who didn’t make the enrollment cap.

According to the article, prices for seats in popular classes can be up to $100 per seat. Since registration for courses is an online process, students who profit from these transactions can easily sell class spots to their classmates without getting caught.

Vice Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said seat selling is a possibility at any university that has popular classes with limited enrollment.

“I don’t doubt it happens at universities other than McMaster,” he said.  “It’s always possible if faculties don’t have a process in place where there is a wait list.”

Deane said although selling seats isn’t illegal, it’s highly unethical and circumvents the University’s rules and processes for class enrollment.

“Most definitely from the point of view of students who gain financial success, it is an extremely questionable practice. It is an abuse of the academic system,” he said.

Deane said the penalties for seat selling at Queen’s would be severe and would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis by the faculty affected.

“This is an academic misdemeanor but of an unusual kind. If we dealt with a concrete example, then a decision could be made,” he said. “The immediate response of the university would be to prevent the student from seeking registration again. The academic consequences would be severe.”

Deane said although students are subject to wait lists, they’re a necessary part of registering for courses.

“Wait lists are an evil in the current state of universities because of lack of funding. If it is a necessary evil, then we need to protect those who choose to play within the system,” he said. “The university wouldn’t want to accept this when it disadvantages students who use fair and appropriate means.”

Deane said it is difficult to know which courses are the most popular at Queen’s because many programs have a high demand for certain courses.

“A lot of courses in the life sciences are heavily subscribed to,” he said. “There are a lot of courses that are heavily subscribed to in this way.”

Matthew Lombardi, academic affairs commissioner and ArtSci ‘10, said he has never heard of seat selling happening at Queen’s.

“I think it’s awful. This is students profiteering off of classmates,” he said. “I think it’s extremely unethical. There’s a risk of this happening anywhere, but I give Queen’s students more credit than that.”

The Silhouette article suggested an automatic wait list as a way to prevent seat selling where students would place their name on a wait list and would be notified if a space opened up, but Lombardi said he doesn’t think a wait list is a viable option for Queen’s.

 “I don’t know a [automatic] wait list is necessary if it isn’t a problem, but if it is, then it’s something the university would have to look into,” he said.

Lombardi said he thinks enrollment caps are a necessary part of academics at Queen’s, and doesn’t see a connection between enrollment caps and seat selling.

“I don’t know there’s a direct correlation between profiteering and enrollment caps,” he said. “If there are a finite number of seats in a class, then it has to be capped.

It’s unavoidable.”

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