From the Paper Mill to the Degree Factory: Who’s to Blame for Plagiarism’s Rise?
Ed Dante has written papers on everything from sociology to business administration to postmodern architecture. He’s written papers for all levels of higher education—bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, even a Ph.D. or two.
Is he a jack of all trades, or maybe a super scholar? No. He’s a writer who makes his living writing papers at a custom-essay company. He is an academic mercenary.
“I, who have no name, no opinions, and no style, have written so many papers at this point, including legal briefs, military-strategy assessments, poems, lab reports, and yes, even papers on academic integrity, that it’s hard to determine which course of study is most infested with cheating,” Dante writes. “But I’d say education is the worst.”
Ed Dante, which is actually the writer’s pseudonym, published a personal account of his experiences and the extent of student cheating he’s observed in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week.
In his piece, where he admits he is not innocent in this ethical dilemma, Dante mercilessly blames educators and the system of higher education for forcing students to cheat.
“[…] Pointing the finger at me is too easy,” he writes. “Why does my business thrive? Why do so many students prefer to cheat rather than do their own work? Say what you want about me, but I am not the reason your students cheat.”
The real problems, Dante argues, are the threat of failure and the emphasis on grades being used to encourage learning, not to mention the ever-increasing class sizes and standardization of education.
“The subject matter, the grade level, the college, the course—these things are irrelevant to me,” he writes.
Through the use of Google, Wikipedia, Amazon and a “mental library of stock academic phrases,” Dante is able to construct a passing paper for any subject, in large part, he says, because of the increasingly generic assignments given by professors and the lack of attention those professors pay to individual students.
Dr. Kimberly Emery, an English professor at the University of Florida who’s had more than 20 years of experience in teaching at the collegiate level, agrees with his assessment, but adds that the economic crisis has brought on a whole new load of stresses for students, making them more desperate than before.
“Students are under a lot of pressure to get the grades to get the job—just to survive financially—and when college becomes about credential instead of education, plagiarism becomes a problem,” she says. “Also, enrollment pressures are influencing universities to push students through as quickly as possible in order to open seats for the next batch of freshman.”
This factory-like quality of the modern university, as an in-and-out machine of standardization and efficiency rather than a sanctuary of education and critical thinking, turns the student into a number or a commodity.
“Nationally, courses are increasingly standardized; instructors and students are given little freedom; faculty are hired on contingent appointments with heavy work loads and high enrollments and are thus unable to provide students with as much individual attention as would be optimal,” Emery says.
It’s no wonder none of Dante’s customers have ever been caught by their professors.
“Do you ever wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete sentences in conversation manages to produce marginally competent research?” Dante writes. “How does that student get by you?”
These questions particularly enraged educators, who flooded the website with comments defending their honor. “How will they prove it?” one professor asks. “Proving that a student purchased a paper rather than created it themselves would be nearly impossible to prove, and certainly frowned upon by administration unless there was concrete proof,” says another.
But Emery says we shouldn’t be focusing on catching the students. The real solution to the cheating epidemic is fixing the system: “The answer, I think, is not simply to get better at catching them, but to change higher ed to better support intellectual development and exploration—and to make the larger economy less vicious.”
Jessica Newman is a staff writer for Campus Progress.