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Counterfeit Course at Hunter College

No, not a course about counterfeiting (although it was that, too).  A counterfeit course.  One bearing the label of an accredited institution of higher education, but allegedly without any of the usual academic input or safeguards.  In other words, a scandal.

Inside Higher Ed reports that Hunter College allowed the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition (IACC) and one of its members, Coach, to sponsor a course.  Unusual, but not necessarily problematic -- various private and corporate donors to academic institutions sponsor everything from annual lectures to research programs to buildings and regularly sit on the advisory boards of academic centers.  In this case, however, some faculty members claim that the donor actually supplied the curriculum and that an untenured professor with no experience in the field was coerced into teaching it.   Moreover, the prof has stated that he was not permitted to explore multiple sides of the issue, which would be a clear violation of academic freedom. 

The content of the course has raised ethical eyebrows as well.  As a class project, the students created a fake undergrad, "Heidi Cee," whose blog chronicles the loss of a Coach bag that was a gift from her ex-boyfriend, her frantic efforts to get it back by posting notice of a $500 reward all over campus, her joy at recovering the bag...and her extreme distress at finding that she's paid a con artist for a counterfeit bag.  This emotionally traumatic saga leads her to learn more about fakes -- through the IACC website, of course.  In "Heidi's" words:

U should google the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition... its where I learned most of this stuff. The have pictures that show you how to tell a real from a fake. They have a bunch of other companies that have joined the cause... lol kinda ironic, but COACH is on the list too!

Ironic indeed.

Armed with this newfound knowledge, "Heidi" enlists friends to create a "Break the Chain" (of counterfeiting) event to raise awareness -- though she conveniently doesn't make it in person because of a family emergency.  The event is nevertheless declared "awesome,"  and comes with its own video on YouTube.

The final post on "Heidi's" blog reveals the ruse.  Maybe it was effective, maybe not.  But if this is representative of Hunter College's courses in marketing, the curriculum is woefully deficient in warnings about the popular response to online sock puppetry and astroturfing. 

Partnerships between industry and academia are common -- in the sciences, ubiquitous.  But if the professors' charges are true, the IACC deserved a partner far more committed to academic integrity than to a lousy ten grand.

Oh, and a note to "Heidi":  Sentiment is fine, but why exactly would you offer a $500 reward for a $158 bag