Emory hailed students’ award-winning app, then suspended them for it, suit says

University allegedly celebrated then shunned AI learning tool, “Eightball”
File photo: Dreamstime/TNS

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

File photo: Dreamstime/TNS

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 May 14 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.

On June 10, Emory and the student reached a confidential settlement resolving the student’s attempt to block enforcement of his suspension in the upcoming semester. The student then dismissed his case on June 14, court records show.

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.

He said Emory took issue with the app in late 2023 when it notified him that he may have violated the university’s honor code. He said he immediately asked the app creator to shut it down, which the creator did.

“While nothing about Eightball changed, Emory’s view of Eightball changed dramatically,” the lawsuit states.

The student said he submitted a written apology and an academic paper on policy considerations and was put on “disciplinary probation” for a semester. After a hearing in January, the student was placed on “honor code probation” until graduation, suspended for a semester and made to complete an educational program, the lawsuit states.

Eightball’s creator was also suspended for a semester, the student said. He said that in February, an Emory Entrepreneurship & Venture Management team member invited him and the app creator to dinner “to offer additional funds as the first grant from its Excellerator program.”

In addition to the contract breach claim, Emory faces a request for attorney fees. It failed to abide by its procedures and standards in disciplining the student, he alleges.

“Emory’s farcical proceeding and subsequent discipline, if permitted to stand, will unfairly cause Doe to miss a semester of his senior year of college, prevent him from writing an honors thesis, delay his graduation, inhibit his postgraduate educational and career opportunities, and permanently tarnish his reputation,” the lawsuit states.

The student’s attorneys declined to comment on the case.