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Ethics question - professor expects me to work for his client for free

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Hi everyone,

Is it ethical for a professor to make my grade in his class contingent on doing free work for one of his personal paying clients?

His class teaches data visualization techniques and it started out with him expecting us to learn 5 coding languages in 2 weeks from Google! There was no prerequisite for any computer science either - I'm a geologist. And now he's said that he's giving me such a "great opportunity to hone my skills" by being assigned this job as my final project, but I know from his advisees that he bit off more than he could chew on this commission. I'm confused and frustrated because I'm barely keeping up in his class, he's promising the client that I can do this great work. He has told me that I need to teach myself class materials in advance of the rest of the class to do things for this client and that he has faith in me to learn this with "suitable effort", but I want to reserve my right to not devote my life to the project. This is supposedly a 3 credit course which I am taking on top of 2 other courses, TAing 2 classes, and my thesis work.

Additionally he's assigning us lab projects expressly for the purpose of exhibiting our work on his private GitHub repository and portfolio to advertise what he can do and attract new clients. He's giving us credit, but it bugs me that refusing isn't an option. Again, "it's great exposure for you all!"


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This seems problematic. Definitely talk to your advisor. The work you do in classes is your intellectual property, usually, or the terms of your funding might make it the school's intellectual property. But either way, this prof should not be personally profiting from IP that belongs to you or the school.

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What does the syllabus say about the final project? Bring the syllabus when you talk to your advisor/DGS.

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