UPDATED! Is This Unacceptably Sleazy? Please Advise

UPDATE 04/06

I decided that I couldn’t do it.

I wish I could tell you that my decision was borne of some high-minded ethics, but it wasn’t.  If I did it, I’d feel like a scumbag.  It would diminish me.   It would also disappoint my colleagues and former professors if they knew I had done it.  I care about some of those people and I am proud of the fact that they hold me in high regard.   Nor am I interested in prostituting my not-inconsiderable education to some jerk so that they can game the enterprise to which I have dedicated many years of my life.  I mean, I might as well break into my own house and piss all over the rug.

There’s also the shame-and-embarrassment factor: I haven’t had a job I was embarrassed about since the brief, awful gig selling newspaper subscriptions over the telephone at age 19 (I had to lie about the sex work because of the stigma, but I was never ashamed of the job).  I am not going to start now.

Many thanks to everyone who left a comment!  I read them all, repeatedly!

Finally, here are some germane articles.   My favorite is the first one, from the Chronicle of Higher Ed.  The deliberately provocative, cage-rattling essay from an admitted professional-writer-of-student-papers is pretty good, but the comments were even better.  Five hundred fucking comments!  Excellent advanced discussion, but I read mostly for the entertaining rage-strokes and snark, I admit.

The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students papers tells his story, by Ed Dante

Write My Essay, Please! by Richard Gunderman

Are Unemployed Professors Writing Student Papers for Employed Professors? by Rebecca Schuman

The Term Paper Artist: The lucrative industry behind higher ed’s failings, by Nick Mamatas

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I’d really appreciate some feedback on this matter.

Is it wrong to write academic essays and research papers for money?

It’s a big industry: students with more money than skill and work ethic can go online and hire someone to write a paper for them, from scratch.   If you’re curious, here’s an example.

Obviously, buying a paper online and submitting it as your own work is fraudulent and completely unethical.  Undergrads who do it and get caught automatically get an F in the class (I’ve flunked five of my students for this over the years).  If they get caught more than once, it’s usually grounds for suspension or expulsion.

But, is it wrong to write the paper?   It would definitely be wrong if the writer knew for a fact that the student was going to turn it in as their own work.  But what if the writer did not know what the student was going to do with it?  What if the writer had no direct contact with the student at all?  What if the writer didn’t even know the student’s name?

I know of a service that will pay me $20+/page to write original essays according to the specifications of the assignment.  I would write the paper and e-mail it to the service.  The service would give it to whoever paid for it.  I would have no explicit knowledge of what happened to the paper after that.

….but, let’s cut the bullshit: nobody is paying hundreds of dollars for a paper to use it as a “reference” or to add to their sorority’ s library archive.

What do you think?  I am pretty uncomfortable with it.  I hate plagiarism and cheating.  Is this helping someone to cheat?   Or is the responsibility all on the person who buys the paper?


15 thoughts on “UPDATED! Is This Unacceptably Sleazy? Please Advise”

  1. I don’t think I’d use the word sleazy, but it’s definitely dishonest for the person to submit work as their own if they didn’t write it. And I can think of no valid reason to go to one of those sites, pay someone to write a paper on a specific topic, of a specific length, by a specific date, other than submitting that paper for a course.

    Yup – definitely wrong to get involved in it.

    1. You’re right, there is no valid reason for someone to buy one of those papers, except to use it to cheat, is there…? 🙁 🙁 🙁

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. I think the detail, “according to the specifications of the assignment”, crosses the line between original writing for hire and writing for hire with the unspoken understanding that your work will be submitted under another name in fulfillment of an academic assignment for credit.

  3. Well, Miss Margo, it is wrong.

    Be careful about this ever coming back at you. Do these services keep records?

    Other than the problem of getting caught or having it pop up on a background check,
    just because it’s wrong doesn’t mean it isn’t the least wrong thing to do.

    Is it right for you to be underemployed, living in the ass-end of nowhere with your mother?
    Poverty is a trap. It can be hard to get out of. A little extra cash can make a big difference in your ability to get up on your own two feet. Yes, people would be hurt — the little brats who buy the paper instead of learning and developing the skills they need in life and the schools that sell a degree that is supposed to mean the grads have been prepared for gainful employment or grad school by writing papers (among other things.)

    I guess when it comes to ethics, I believe in virtues and vices — the repeated actions that become second nature. So, would writing these papers diminish you? Would you find it easier to take a shortcut to cash the next time an opportunity presents itself, and the time after that?

    What about protecting your virtue by turning this down? Would you then be stuck for longer in your present circumstance? Is there any other way that doesn’t carry the risk of developing into a vice? My guess is that you can knock off these papers pretty easily, maybe something harder will help you feel you really are turning a corner.

    My favorite line in the AA literature, I forget where it is, is about alcoholics being radically immature.
    I learned to seek out quick and easy answers for my problems by drinking them away, the ultimate quick and easy answer.

    Is this a conscious step toward a more mature lifestyle, viz. delaying gratification and working for long-term solutions? Maybe it is. Maybe it’s another easy out, a way to get some cash quickly.

    I don’t know. It’s a tough call. I guess it all depends on how you feel about it. Maybe it will give you a reason to hate yourself, maybe it will give you the thrill of being an outlaw. Maybe it will make you feel uncomfortable in a healthy way — a sign that your ethics are intact and you want to move beyond it and similar short-cuts as soon as possible.

    Based on reading your blog, I would say go for it, take the money and use it well. You will be a bigger asset to society if you have a little money and are able to move and get yourself set up wherever it is you want to go. It’s not ideal, but it is better than what you’ve been doing. But, only you know what is happening inside you.

    John

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful comment, John. You have often given me good advice, and I appreciate it.

      I wasn’t worried about getting caught–writing papers for money is totally legal. I guess if I did it while I was a student at a college myself, and admin found out, they could try to ding me with some vague honor-code violation. Buuuut….just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s not wrong, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t look bad.

      Ultimately, I decided that doing it would make me feel badly about myself. But I also thought about the other things you mentioned.

  4. “the art of relieving student’s pain” next to a photo of students in cap and gown… this stinks.

    how can they get away with this?

    1. Yes, it sticks. Definitely.

      The writers get away with it because it’s completely legal.

      The students get away with it because even if a professor thinks that something is very fishy about the paper, it’s impossible to prove that it’s fraudulent without a confession. The comments in the Chronicle piece I linked to discuss this. Without proof, the teacher can’t do shit, except maybe sweat the student a bit. It sucks.

  5. Plagiarism is a growing problem in the groves of academe. In the old days it was relatively easy to spot because students simply went to the library and plagiarised the obvious books on the subject, all of which had been read by their teachers.

    Nowadays, there is so much material out there on the Internet that no one person could possibly have read it all. Academic institutions everywhere have therefore got to take responsibility and address the problem. There are a number of solutions.

    1. Increase the proportion of closed examination grades compared to ‘soft’ coursework grades, say 75-25. The days of soft assessment are over. Students will howl, but that’s too bad. Current systems of assessment are clearly being abused.

    2. Institute viva voce examinations for all substantial pieces of coursework, say, anything over 5000 words.

    3. Scan all coursework using intelligent software to do stylistic comparisons between pieces of coursework by the same author. It’s easy to spot those glaring disparities of style which are generally a sign of the candidate being up to no good, and it’s technically feasible. Obviously any academic worth his or her salt can do this for themselves. A student who is an idle klutz, but turns in a piece of work that’s elegantly written and worth a stand-out ‘A’ grade is highly likely to be cheating. The problem is that academics are under increasing time-pressure these days, and doing the sort of forensic reading required takes much longer than normal.

    4. Make it quite clear to all students, time and again, that the penalty for plagiarism is failure and instant expulsion.

    A huge part of the problem is the culture of entitlement that has been created by the fact that students pay vast amounts of money in tuition fees. Many now seem to regard a good degree as a right, given that they are indebting themselves for many years in order to get into higher education.

    Higher education should be free to all those talented enough to pursue a course of advanced study successfully. The funding should come from central and/or local government, as was the case in the UK until a few years ago. Oh, but of course, that’s ‘socialism’. Silly me.

    What you are proposing to do may be morally dubious, but no more so than a system which is not based on genuine merit, but rather, grossly favours the children of the bloated über-rich. Which is why the America, once a glorious land of opportunity for most, is demonstrably now one of the most sclerotic societies in the developed world.

  6. My GF in college was very bright, she took a year off and wrote some of my papers for the hell of it. They all got A+. Never felt bad about it.

  7. Presenting essays and papers written by somebody else as “your own” is ab-so-fuckin’-lute-ly unacceptable; academically as well as morally. It’s much worse than cheating; it’s FRAUDULENT! The very concept scratches all my feathers in the wrong direction. Worked too hard for my masters in geo sciences and astronomy.

    But this phenomenon is – over here in Europe – on the increase too. In Germany a secretary of defence and several other politicians (all lawyers … a coincidence?) lost their posts after such frauds perpetrated as students came to light. And here in the Netherlands we also had a number of such scandals. Only one case in the “hard” sciences in the past 10 years; always in the soft and super soft underbellies of academia, where all intellectually challenged status seekers tend to clog together.

    I think Sigmund is right. All problems caused by extreme financial pressures and the culture of entitlement, which is rife and rampant over here as well.

    So if and when you catch ‘m: Flog ‘m around the flagpole, leave ‘m exposed in the pillory for a week and run ‘m – tarred and feathered – out of town on a rail. Back to mommy and daddy. But don’t get suckered in for a lousy $20 a page. 20 … it’s insulting …

    1. I dunno if $20/page is insulting. Figure, a 10-page paper about, say, magical realism in post-colonial literature….$200, for 6 hours’ work? Not bad, except that you’d have to spend a few hours cramming the subject matter in order to fake it convincingly.

      But, I’m with you: I hate cheating, and it makes me angry that a cheater could get the same credential/degree as someone who earned it honestly.

      Thanks for reading.

  8. Excellent decision. We didn’t expect anything else over here.

    So go hunt ‘m down, smoke ‘m out and cut their balls/clits off before kickin’ ‘m out.

    And thank you (not for the first time) for bloggin’ and sharing so much with us.

  9. Actually, feeling like a scumbag, or feeling that you would be diminished if you did something bad, and therefore refusing to do it despite temptation, IS the sine qua non of high-minded ethics.

    Take a bow.

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