original: https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/78853/is-it-unethical-of-me-and-can-i-get-in-trouble-if-a-professor-passes-me-based-on?noredirect=1#comment194231_78853

I originally asked this question in academia, and although I received a lot of comments I'm looking more fore a legal viewpoint. so I thought I would post one here.

Edit: There is some information I originally left out but I want to include here. **1) the only thing I have documented from me and the professors exchanges is my email mid semester asking her for office hours, conversations were made on phone. 2) The university did not restrict native speakers to take this course.

3) The reason I was comfortable with originally not showing up to class was because 2 native speakers did the exact same thing before me, and when I asked about the legality of it they told me the professor said it was okay we speak it, and that the prof wants to enroll more students in order to "open" the section. this went over my head, and at the time I thought it was normal as many colleges give credit for competence. 4) Public institution**

  • 2
    Please formulate a coherent, self-contained question. It is not acceptable to require readers to follow a link to another (very long) page in order to understand your question about law.
    – feetwet
    Dec 2, 2016 at 2:22

3 Answers 3


There are two senses in which this action might be "against the law". One is that it violates some specific (statutory) law, the other is that it violates some common-law principle especially pertaining to contracts. We can quickly dispose of the possibility that you have violated a statutory law: there is nowhere in the US where you are compelled by law to do anything about foreign language classes (take, avoid, pass, whatever).

Your university has the right to establish and enforce whatever requirements it deems proper for awarding degrees and credits, and has the legal power to act broadly in providing an education. Let's say that they have stated a requirement that everybody must take 2 quarters of some foreign language, then if you don't do that, they are entitled to withhold the degree from you. Whereas, if you had satisfied all of the requirements for the degree, then they could not arbitrarily withhold the degree -- it is now a thing that you have a property right to.

Just as the university has the right to impose requirements (with appropriate advance notice), they also have the right to suspend requirements, generally or according to circumstances (as long as it is not arbitrary). A typical actual example is "that class hasn't been taught for 3 years". In this case, the requirement was not suspended, but an agent of the university acting within the scope of their appointment judged that the requirement had already been satisfied in your case. The university administration might not actually approve of the professor's choice and might change their rules or sanction the professor (at my university this was common practice, albeit never officially sanctioned), but it is the sort of thing that is within the scope of the professor's job (to judge that you have satisfied the "bottom-line" requirements of the course). Since there was no wrong-doing on your part and you acted in a good faith belief that the professor's actions were "allowed", then the university would be buying itself a pile of legal trouble if it were to rescind your degree.


Based on your post in the academia forum, there is absolutely nothing illegal in your or the teachers actions, thus there is no need to defend yourself legally (unless they refuse to give you the credit they promised you).

The only thing which may be worth pointing out is, from a legal point of view, its always a good idea to follow up a conversation of importance with an email or similar so there is documentation about the agreement reached.

As to whether it is unethical or not, that is not a question for this site. (Un)fortunately we don't deal in ethics here [ my personal POV is there is nothing unethical about what you have done. The teacher may or may not have acted unethically depending on the college. ]


In a university it is the job of the professor to communicate what is necessary to complete the course on behalf of the university. You disclosed all facts necessary to all the appropriate people to allow objections to be made to what you did, and there were no objections. You completely all class requirements that were requested from you. You mastered the material and you disclosed your prior knowledge should the university feel that it was not fair to let you take the course. There is no law telling them exactly what their requirements must be or how they should go about determining that you have met them. They have to have their overall academic program evaluated every few years to see if it is rigorous enough to continue to be a university or college, but accreditation review doesn't involve binding promises about how the university will conduct itself in the future and doesn't involve micromanagement of individual students living up to a particular standard.

Universities routinely allow people to test out of classes where they have mastered the material before going to college and give them credit for these classes. For someone who takes a lot of IB or AP classes in high school, it isn't terribly unusual for a university to give someone a full year of college credit in this way. The way that this was handled in your case was a bit clumsy, but morally, giving you credit for a language class that you didn't show up to based upon near perfect scores on an exam is really no different that giving you AP credit because you took an AP class in that language in high school and got a high school on the AP exam.

When I was in college, I was comped out of a course requirement by being paid to grade papers for that class for a semester and showing that I could do so competently. This institution was a bit more clumsy about it, but honestly as long as you told them all the relevant facts, its up to the university and the professor to decide what you must do to pass. And, if the professor reported you because the professor believed you broke some university regulation, the professor would have to admit to being completely complicit in doing so with full knowledge of the fact and would be in much more trouble than you.

More selective colleges usually don't grant credit based just on life experience, but even that isn't that unusual. Many colleges catering mostly to non-traditional students allow them to test out of classes (including language classes) based upon what they learned in life on the job or in the military, even without any proof of having had formal instruction in the field. It is uncommon to give credit for competence, but it is hardly unheard of or highly unusual either.

You are getting a little break for knowing a language other than the main language of instruction which is not a big deal in light of the fact that you took all of your other classes in a second language at the college level, which is a far greater hardship.

If the professor says you passed the class, and the university awards you a diploma, then you've met their standards and earned it and there is nothing to be ashamed of, let alone to fear that your degree could be revoked based upon. Likewise, you should not feel that you have committed any form of academic dishonesty.

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