Posted by: Dominic | November 15, 2010

Plagiarism

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article on Friday on the trend of college students purchasing custom term papers. By someone who writes them.

The author, under a pseudonym, details how he has written thousands of pages in many areas of the humanities and social sciences. He has even written dissertations for doctoral students. I was particularly disturbed by his description of his clients – mostly the “lazy rich kid.” It’s the sort of assessment that I fear is true,  and that I earnestly hope is not.

For the [lazy rich kids], colleges are a perfect launching ground—they are built to reward the rich and to forgive them their laziness. Let’s be honest: The successful among us are not always the best and the brightest, and certainly not the most ethical. My favorite customers are those with an unlimited supply of money and no shortage of instructions on how they would like to see their work executed. While the deficient student will generally not know how to ask for what he wants until he doesn’t get it, the lazy rich student will know exactly what he wants. He is poised for a life of paying others and telling them what to do. Indeed, he is acquiring all the skills he needs to stay on top.

He then attempts to use his experience to highlight how the problems of higher education have created the very conditions off of which he profits. He found that his writing talent was not well-received in college, so he turned to writing papers for cash.

When I completed my first novel, in the summer between sophomore and junior years, I contacted the English department about creating an independent study around editing and publishing it. I was received like a mental patient. I was told, “There’s nothing like that here.” I was told that I could go back to my classes, sit in my lectures, and fill out Scantron tests until I graduated. …

It turned out that my lazy, Xanax-snorting, Miller-swilling classmates were thrilled to pay me to write their papers. And I was thrilled to take their money. …

Say what you want about me, but I am not the reason your students cheat.

You know what’s never happened? I’ve never had a client complain that he’d been expelled from school, that the originality of his work had been questioned, that some disciplinary action had been taken. As far as I know, not one of my customers has ever been caught.

Unfortunately, the argument is a little thin on this point. He hasn’t much pointed out what is wrong with education that students are, apparently, throwing wads of cash into the paper-writing industry. Only that his particular college did not have the resources that would have been encouraging to a novice creative writer. It is surprising that the author is so candid about how he operates far outside the bounds of academic professionalism, yet tries to shift blame to academia itself.

On that note, I have to comment that never in my (admittedly short) teaching experience have I observed any widespread tendency to attempt to plagiarize on my students’ part.

Today we have writing centers, tutoring centers, research and writing seminars,  librarians that are attentive to the needs of the undergraduate. If this type of plagiarism is a widespread problem, I wonder how much more leading-to-water we can do for our students.

I also wonder how we can protect against this type of plagiarism. Is there any way to detect it? How can we encourage them to do their own work? How can we teach how to research and how to write while still managing all of our other duties?

Fortunately, in the meantime, the article seems like a revenge to all the rejection letters he has received. He seems genuinely amused that he can sneak his writing by the likes of Ivy League professors (there’s “even a bit of a thrill in seeing whether I can do it”). And in the end, his article reads not unlike an average undergraduate essay.

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Responses

  1. […] Colleague blogger points out that it’s not very well written, with intensely awkward lines like […]

  2. While I think the author may be exaggerating his abilities a bit, I don’t find it that outrageous to think a fair number of students do use such services. If there are only two papers required for a course, how can a professor (or TA) be expected to tell if the paper is indeed written by the student? Maybe students don’t consider it plagiarism – it’s not like the papers were published before, they are each uniquely written for the assignment…just not by the student?


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