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Emory hailed students' award-winning app, then suspended them for it, lawsuit says

Rosie Manins, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA — At first, Emory celebrated an AI learning tool created and marketed by undergraduate students. Then the university worried it could be used for cheating and suspended the students for a semester.

Now one of the students, a history and economics junior, is suing the Atlanta institution in an attempt to undo his punishment. His lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the federal trial court in Atlanta, comes after the university awarded the students $10,000 as the top prize in its 2023 “Pitch the Summit” competition.

Litigating anonymously as John Doe, the student claims he and the Eightball app creator were each suspended for a semester after Emory became concerned in late 2023 that their learning tool could be used by students to cheat. He said Emory acknowledged that there is no evidence of cheating associated with the app, which faculty helped to develop and promote.

“To this day Emory advertises Eightball as an example of student innovation and entrepreneurship,” the lawsuit states. “Emory has arbitrarily and capriciously suspended Doe for what it encouraged and paid him to do.”

Emory said it can’t discuss pending litigation. Its business school website features an article about Eightball.

The student seeks at least $75,000 in damages and to block his suspension in the 2024 fall semester.

 

In early 2023, the student was asked to help market Eightball, an online learning tool that uses artificial intelligence to streamline the process for making classroom aids such as flashcards, study guides and worksheets, the complaint states. Users upload class materials, like notes and lecture slides, from which the learning prompts are generated.

Information that one student submits into Eightball is not made available to others, per the lawsuit.

The app was marketed at Emory and online during 2023, appeared in university publications, and was promoted to students by professors who helped develop it, the student alleges. After winning the $10,000 prize, Eightball was further developed for use by students.

As explained in the competition, the app could be connected by students to their accounts on Emory’s learning management platform where professors post course material, per the complaint. A handful of students did so, the plaintiff said.

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