Cheating, Plagiarism and Other Things Academic
Nice confessional in Sunday's Outlook section by a very much ex-writer for one of those online companies that hawk college application essays. Bess Kargman's essay reveals just how overt these ventures are about selling essays that high school seniors can then pass off as their own work when applying for college.
I wish the piece had named the company, but the decision not to do so was driven by the desire to focus on the ethics of the practice rather than devote much of the story to back and forth between the writer and the business's owner. Well, ok, but this practice is so widespread that there ought to be a mechanism for holding such businesses responsible.
Alas, what they do is legal--they claim to sell consulting services: You tell the company what you want to write about in your admissions essay and they ship you some ideas for how to structure the essay. The company then washes its hands of the next step: You the student are free to just send the colleges what you've bought, or to write your own piece. Obviously, those who are lowdown enough to buy such services are looking to avoid the work and care not a bit about creating an honest piece of work.
Which is superb training for the next step up the cheating ladder. A few weeks back, I got an email ad from a company that offered to sell me research papers on any topic. The company, believe it or not, is called Ethicspapers.com. Marveling at the idea of a business that sells academic papers on ethics, I sent in for more info.
I'm not a college student, but I play one on TV--uh, no, wrong script. I'm not a student, but I was nonetheless curious, in part because last year, while I was teaching a college course in writing, I heard other professors talk about students who had bought their papers online.
So I bought a paper from Ethicspapers.com.
I struggled to choose between a paper called "Plagiarism Is Theft" and one titled "Academic Integrity." For $9.95, I purchased the latter paper. My purchase arrived by email, adorned with ALL CAPS warnings that "All Materials sent to you by The Paper Store are for RESEARCH ASSISTANCE ONLY!" and "Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES is our Work to be Plagiarized." Glad we got that out ot the way.
"Plagiarism is Theft," according to a sample the company provided free of charge, started like this: "Plagiarism is a problem in many areas of our society..... For the most part, we assume that some level of plagiarism is acceptable, as is the case with some art in terms of objects and ideas as they are perceived and put down. But, other forms of plagiarism are incredibly serious, such as is the case when one individual steals another's exact words, piece of music, or other item."
I am not making this up (though that phrase is arguably plagiarism, but let's just call it tribute to Dave Barry and move right along.)
The paper I bought, "Academic Integrity," runs well under a page. It is three paragraphs long. If it were submitted to me by a 9th grader, I would give it a D. If a college student handed it in, I would recommend exit counseling.
It starts like this: "The term 'academic integrity' is generally understood to refer the overall honesty of students-- whether or not they cheat--that is, whether or not they give a false impression of their own achievement and knowledge, in some form."
You'll be glad to know that, according to the research by the writer of this masterwork (the bibliography cites one, count em, one source), "Some violations of academic integrity are considered less serious then others--padding a few items in a bibliography, for example." (All spelling and grammar errors in the original are maintained here.)
The trade in such drivel is rampant, not only in colleges and college applications, but in high schools, where presumably parents end up paying for many of these purchases. What to do about it? Good professors now at least spot-Google their students' papers, which catches some blatant cases of plagiarism. But that wouldn't trip up kids buying awful papers like these, which are simply sold to the various academic "help" companies by college students who may even have bought the papers from yet another party.
You could argue that none of this matters, that store-bought papers lead to thin knowledge and poor work habits, which will eventually catch up with kids as they enter the work world. But those of us who live in that work world know that all too many such people do get hired and drag down the quality of work and the honesty of the workplace.
The best weapon against such practices is sunlight. More writers like Bess Kargman need to come forward and tell their tales. Public embarrassment still has some power, but teachers, parents and students have to stand ready to wield the mighty sword of shame.
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