Parasitic Infestation of Free-Riders at SIPA

SIPA has a parasitic infestation of free-riders. They latch onto hard-working and conscientious students to suck out all they can. They take advantage of the generous one-for-all application of the team grade. In my experience, in a group of four people, there will be at least one free-rider.

Symptoms of a free-rider infection might include their…

  • generally being out of touch in group communications,
  • offering to do some work but not delivering,
  • occasionally providing very obvious comments or concerns without an attempt at solutions,
  • contributing work of quality similar to an inept 5th-grader, even though you know their writing level is grad-school level (duh) and
  • constant excuses for not being able to do work.

Biologically, we have been conditioned to reject parasites, and have little empathy for lice, fleas, mites, parasitic worms, viruses. Gross. Now we have them in academia -- the hard-working are feasted upon by the unscrupulous and indolent. They ride your backs to the same grade destination and glory. Many of you, my dear readers, have experienced such heartlessness, and I am sorry! There is an injustice among us.

But what are some of the cures? Free-riders are easy to spot, but hard to eradicate...

One approach is to keep them in the communications, but stop actively soliciting their opinion on group decisions. And, for the work, you can just stop assigning them things since (a) there is a chance it would never arrive, and (b) it most likely requires more time to clean up than if you had divided it amongst the hard-workers.

You could try and play chicken with the free-rider. If the hard-workers just did nothing for one problem set / assignment, do you think the free-rider would come in last minute and save the day? Maybe. But don’t count on it! The free rider knows that the grade-conscious hard-worker would blink first! They are willing to sacrifice their Saturday, even if they have to swallow a bitter pill of injustice.

Perhaps you could approach the professor about this. There is not much she can do, however. After all, you cannot force the free-rider to do the work. It is a similar story with approaching the free-rider directly. Running the scope from polite reminders to heated confrontations might help, might not…

Really, the professors need a review system where team members can rate the work-ethic, efforts, and contributions from the other group members; and, if there is a sign someone is not ‘pulling their weight,’ then they get a different grade from the group grade. Several classes already do this: the debate assignment for Conceptual Foundations, the final project for Quantitative Analysis II, and Macroeconomics. This should be a fixture of any group assignment.

Let’s start a discussion to see how deep it goes. Tell us your stories, leave them unnamed, and we may be able to begin to eradicate the plague.