Posted - 09/11/2010 : 05:09:46 AM
| Website slammed for letting students bet on grades
[QUOTE=]A website in Cedarhurst started by two college graduates that allows college students to create financial incentives - some say place bets - on what grades they'll get in one or all their classes is being criticized by a Nassau County legislator as taking advantage of students and possibly violating state and federal gambling laws.
And the criticism has caught the attention of the Nassau district attorney.
The founders of Ultrinsic.com said students can be spurred to extra effort if they have a little fun, and some money riding on the deal. "The right amount of cash," says the website, "should provide you with the needed motivation to pull all-nighters and stay awake during the lectures of your most boring professors."
But at a news conference Wednesday, Nassau Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) said he's called on Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the Federal Communications Commission to investigate. According to her spokeswoman, Rice sent Denenberg a letter saying, "We share many of the same concerns" and her office would look into the matter.
U.S. companies are barred from conducting gambling online.
"I see the pressure my kids have," said Denenberg, "the economy is bad, they want to get good grades, the last thing our children need is for someone to be taking advantage of their situation. This is wrong."
In response, Jeremy Gelbart, 23, a December graduate of Queens College and co-founder of Ultrinsic, said that he believes the company is on the right side of the law.
On the site, students enter class data, the grades they would like to achieve and the amount of payout they would like to receive if they succeed. In a semester, they can put in no more than $250. They can also pay for "grade insurance," which gives them as much as $50 of Ultrinsic's money if they fail a course.
Available last year only to students at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania, the site has expanded to 36 U.S. campuses, including St. John's University, Harvard, and Columbia University.
"How do you place a wager on student achievement?" asked Brian Browne, an assistant vice president for government relations at St. John's University, who attended the news conference to denounce the site.
The business, which Gelbart said isn't yet profitable, has gotten funds from private investors and has 10 full-time employees.
The site is about more than making financial transactions, said Steven Wolf, 27, also a Queens College graduate and Gelbart's co-founder. "It's making a game that accomplishes the goal . . . I think we're really trying to send a message that education should be fun."
Gelbart said they do not see the site in terms of wagering, as results are a factor of a student's skill and effort, not chance. He could not say what percentage of participating students had received money from the site, although he did say the company paid out more than it took in.
But Jonathan I. Ezor, assistant professor and director of the Institute for Business, Law and Technology at Touro Law Center, said the issue is not so clear. A grade is "not simply a measure of the participant's own effort." Other elements are at play, he said, such as working in groups, grading on a curve and faculty discretion. These are factors outside the control of the student.
While critics "cannot say with certainty that it is illegal, I don't think [Ultrinsic] can say with certainty that it is legal either. It's really a gray area."
Education in itself "should teach kids to care about the quality of their work and develop an interest in something because it's both fun and productive," said Bruce Torff, director of the doctoral program in learning and teaching at Hofstra University's School of Education, Health and Human Services.
By PATRICIA KITCHEN AND DAVE MARCUS
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