Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is sourced from the student involved in the incident and public sources. NJIT Administration has denied commenting on the issue, stating they must uphold the privacy of the student.
Students at NJIT are required to check off a COVID-19 health pledge each time they log into their NJIT account. For some students, the check box appears smaller on the screen than for others, making it more difficult to click inside the box, thus delaying the student each time they want to access their NJIT account.
To facilitate this, on Sept. 9, first-year computer science student Ryan Eaton wrote and submitted a Google Chrome browser extension with the sole purpose of automatically clicking the two buttons required to pass through the NJIT Health Pledge that appears. This application was roughly 10 lines of code and cost him $5 to publish to the Google Chrome Web Store. Eaton thought the extension would be useful.
The application was approved the following morning, Sept. 10. He posted links to his application on various NJIT-related social platforms, most notably the unofficial NJIT subreddit, r/NJTech.
Within four hours, Eaton tried to log into his NJIT email account and was surprised to find that he had been locked out of it. He had no messages indicating why he had been locked out and contacted the school looking for answers. “I had to call tech support, who directed me to the Dean of Students office; at that point, they offered to forward the notice to my personal email, which was sent after or very shortly before my NJIT account being disabled,” Eaton explained.
He was sent a letter informing him that the suspension of his account was related to the Chrome extension he had made the day prior and that he had to attend an administrative meeting with administration members to discuss the ramifications of his actions and possible outcomes. He was charged with: “aiding, assisting, and/or inciting in prohibited conduct; breach of information security; misuse of information systems; violation of policy on the responsible use of computing resources.”
Eaton realized that he had made a mistake and took down the extension from the Chrome Web Store, while also making posts on those same NJIT-related platforms detailing the recent events and encouraging everyone who downloaded the extension to uninstall it.
Administration met with Eaton on Sept. 13 to discuss what had occurred. Two days later, he was given access to his account at the request of the Dean of Students; he also received the punishment of a two-semester suspension along with the completion of a values exercise.
He started the process of making an appeal to the NJIT administration via the conduct board. He had been posting minor updates to r/NJTech throughout this process, but he decided to take things a step further: a week after the account was suspended, he published a YouTube video explaining what he had done and how the school had decided to punish him for it. He also created a petition for NJIT community members to sign as a way of potentially supporting him in getting his administrative punishment repealed.
“The petition ended up with 843 signatures, 100 within the first 20 minutes of me sharing it around. Not a single person indicated that they disagreed on the petition — 843 Yeses, 0 Nos,” Eaton said. “I created it because I believe students should be aware of what I considered an injustice.”
Originally, a conduct board hearing was supposed to take place on Sept. 24, but the night prior, the board unexpectedly “postponed” it without any explanation. The hearing that was scheduled did not end up happening. Three days later, his previous charges were removed by the Dean of Students, only to include additional ones: “disruption/disruptive conduct; dangerous conditions.”
On Oct. 4, after meeting with Eaton, the administration modified his punishment to completing 50 hours of community service, in addition to having one year of disciplinary probation.
“I have already proactively interviewed at the Newark Public Library’s Springfield branch where I can help kids — from the charter school across the street— and adults from the slightly poorer area with computers. They also have an upstairs computer lab that they’re just not using because they couldn’t get some software to work, printers not connected to the internet, and more,” Eaton mentioned. “I like it there so much that I might do service there regardless of whether the appeals process goes my way. I found this community service opportunity on my own; it was not listed on the list I asked for.
“I am at peace with the fact that I will most likely be punished, but I will continue to go through the conduct board process so I can’t look back and say I didn’t try.”