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Suppose a student in an ordinary university offered $100 to his professor (or Teaching Assistant) in exchange for a five percentage point improvement in his grade. Suppose the professor/TA accepted it and increased the grade.

What laws will have been broken?

I am interested in regard to US and Canadian law.

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Probably none. Being a university professor is not a regulated business, and the only conceivable legal limits would be in the case of statutorily-regulated government institutions. I do not know if there has ever been a case where a university professor was sued for damages resulting from raising a grade (hence allowing a student to pass, therefore to get a job etc.). If we limit ourselves to direct statutory prohibitions, it is highly unlikely that any state legislator would have encoded such sanctions into law – however, a shocking case might impel a legislature to pass such a case, I've just never heard of such a case. Instead, (government) universities have statutory powers to regulate student and faculty behavior. So the professor could be fired (almost certainly would be), but that is because he broke the rules set by the university, and not because he violated the law.

  • If the student used the improved grade to gain some advantage, that might be breaking laws. – gnasher729 Sep 22 at 7:59
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Both student and professor would be guilty of academic dishonesty. This is not, anywhere that I know of, a statutory offense, but academic institutions take it very seriously. The student would probably be regraded as having failed, and would likely be expelled. If the student had already graduated when the bribe was discovered, the university might declare the student's degree void. If the student was expelled, beign admitted to another college might be hard. The professor would quite likely be fired and find it hard to get another job.

However, there are statutes prohibiting commercial bribery in general. These generally prohibit corruptly exchanging a thing of value for an unjust advantage or improper service. According to Wikipedia (linked above), 36 US states have specific laws prohibiting commercial bribery. In CA this is covered by Penal Code 641.3. This provides that Commercial bribery happens when an

  1. employee corruptly (with intent to injure or defraud)
  2. solicits or accepts or agrees to accept
  3. money or anything of value greater than $250
  4. from someone other than his or her employer
  5. without the knowledge or consent of the employer
  6. in return for using his or her position for the benefit of that other person6

Other state laws will probably be roughly similar.

See this news article for some general comments. Such a transaction might well fall under a bribery statute, and could in theory be prosecuted as such. Whether in practice such an offense would be prosecuted is questionable. Given the relatively small amounts of money likely to be involved, a prosecutor might well not choose to bring a case, considering action by the college or university to be sufficient. That is a matter of prosecutorial discretion, and does not affect the legal position.

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In the US, it may be worth looking into news articles surrounding the recent college admissions bust. It seems that the abstract structure of that issue is similar to the one you're asking about (I'm only talking about the situations involving bribing a school official, not the falsification which is a different story): a student or representative of the student bribes a university official to get them to deprive the university of an honest service (fairly assessing students' abilities, whether as candidates for admission or as students enrolled in classes). A central legal concept in that case is "honest services fraud"; the news articles here and here seem to have good rundowns.

  • Not sure if this is good enough as an answer, by the way; I would have wanted to post it as a comment, but don't have enough rep to do so. I think it provides a starting point for a more self-contained answer. – Lucas Szwarcberg Oct 11 at 20:33
  • Hello Lucas! Welcome to Law.SE. Please read our tour page. – isakbob Oct 17 at 18:56

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