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I was intrigued by Eugene's post yesterday about Professays, an online service that will custom-write essays for students for a steep fee, so I went to their customer service page and submitted the following question using my university e-mail address:
I need to write a paper for school. But is it cheating if I submit a paper you guys wrote but put my name on it? Or is that okay?

(My factual claim was true, I should point out; I do need to write a paper for school this summer.) A few minutes later, I received the following response:
Dear Orin,

Thank you for your question. We'll be happy to work on your paper. No, it's not cheating because it's our job to help you in your studies.

Best regards,
The Professays Team
  Phew, that's a relief. Not only is there no plagiarism when you use Professays, as Eugene noted, but there's no cheating when you submit their paper with your name. After all, it's their job. (Why it being their job keeps you from cheating when you submit a paper you didn't write is left as an exercise for the reader.)

  Incidentally, I followed up that exchange by asking the people at Professays if I had permission to post their response on my blog. They responded:

Yes, you can post our response. Please, also, add that every student is free to choose whether he/she wants to use this service or not. There is no force or manipulation.

Best regards,
The Professays Team
  Duly noted. Not only is there no plagiarism and no cheating, there is also freedom to choose. And how can anyone possibly object to that?

  I have enabled comments. As always, civil and respectful comments only.

Related Posts (on one page):

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  2. "No Plagiarism":
I love the exclamation point after "Thanks" in your original email. So much more authentic. :)
5.26.2005 1:01pm
KW (mail):
But you've missed an important benefit to going with Professays -- they may call your attention to little-known facts. Facts so little-known that no one in the world would consider them facts.

Just take a look at Professays's "samples" page. There is a sample essay about the Nobel prize. And I've learned from that essay something I never knew before: That the Nobel prize was established in 1985!

I can't believe that I didn't notice this when it happened. But thanks to Professays's careful research, this shameful gap in my knowledge has been filled. It's a ground-breaking discovery of great import. The Nobel only 20 years old, and I never would have known without Professays.

No wonder this piece of scholarship made it onto the samples page, which is clearly the cream of the crop of Professays research.
5.26.2005 1:14pm
Public Defender:
If only one university can come up with a non-frivolous lawsuit against Professays, they can get discovery of the customer list. I hope some enterprising attorney in a university general counsel's office figures out how to do it. You'd have as many panicked people as you do when the cops close down a local madam and get her black book.
5.26.2005 1:15pm
Jonathan H. Adler (mail):
I'm encouraged by the typos on the ProfEssays home page. I'm tempted to purchase one to blind grade in one of my classes and see how they do.
5.26.2005 1:16pm
M (mail):
I sort of like the idea of a site like this that _would_ use force or manipulation to get you to use their services. "You clicked our link, now buy an essay or your dog dies!" or something like that. I don't want to be subject to it myself, but it might make a nice buisness model for someone to consider.
5.26.2005 1:21pm
Kris H. (mail) (www):
It is *quite* impressive that they can know your professors cheating policy based on your questions.

I knew a professor that considered asking ANY question of another student about an assignment (and any included "How's it going?" or "Have you started yet?") academic dishonesty. I doubt he would agree that having them work on a paper was not cheating...
5.26.2005 1:29pm
I wonder if Professays would be willing to help law students with most feared of all creatures -- the all-day takehome exam. I did see that for $35/page Professays will turn around your request in 8-hours. Maybe I should keep this idea to myself and create a competing website.
5.26.2005 1:32pm
JRM (mail):
Wow, those samples *are* bad. Aside from the previously mentioned new information about the age of the Nobel Prizes, that essay cites Marc Abrahams' The Ig Nobel Prizes as a serious work.

The Iraq piece also starts badly, with a statement that the military operations have closed and discusses "an comprehensive" solution. This is in the first paragraph. Of the sample.

I'm not sure the writers of these things aren't a little mischievous; they don't seem to be putting out A-level work and the citation to Abrahams (if I remember the book correctly, and I think I do) seems like a siren.

Alternatively, maybe a fundamentally corrupt idea like this just doesn't attract good people. Or maybe their highly expert staff of writers consists of.... well, non-experts.

I'm not surprised this product is out there - it has plenty of predecessors. I'm just surprised at the ridiculously low quality of the product.


"Words are hard." - Beavis.
5.26.2005 1:37pm
jallgor (mail):
Hysterical! I too noticed that the sample essays on the website were absolute crap. Nothing like cheating and still getting a D. I could even envision a student using this service and then going to complain to the professor about their "unfair" grade. The student would be tempted to explain that they couldn't deserve such a bad grade. After all they hired a "highly experienced" writer to help them and that writer was a "university graduate" whose "academic performance is excellent."
5.26.2005 1:39pm
Sigivald (mail):
I'd like to think that perhaps the essays are bad deliberately, as a form of for-your-own-good-we're-going-to-get-you-caught maneuver. (I'm not sure it's good to cheat those desperate enough to pay for a paper, but on the other hand, I'm pretty sure it's good to get cheaters caught, and some of the customers will be merely lazy or wicked, not desperate and honestly failing. In a much less significant way, I put this on the same moral level as taking money to commit a crime and then not doing it - not very immoral at all, but somewhat unsettling.)

But I'm not sure I can make myself believe that's the case; common greed and incompetence are a simpler and more likely explanation.
5.26.2005 1:45pm
the roaming gnome:
could a student who got a bad grade sue Professays on the theory that Professays committed consumer fraud? The defense, presumably, would be that they never guarantee a particular grade and that the student misused their product by submitting it, rather than using it a source for their own work. but then, the plaintiff would reply that it was entirely foreseeable that the purchaser would do so. and, in discovery, the plaintiff would ask for proof that the Professay writers were university graduates whose academic performance is excellent.
5.26.2005 1:48pm
Brett Bellmore (mail):
Why do you keep bringing up plagiarism? Hiring a ghost writer may or may not be unethical, depending on circumstances, (For class assignments it certainly is.) but it isn't "plagiarism"; It's literary "purchase", not "theft".
5.26.2005 1:49pm
I'm reminded of a fabulous article Gene Weingarten wrote for the Washington Post five years ago about his efforts to obtain an "unaccredited university diploma" over the Internet. Here's an excerpt from his correspondence with the "university":

Michelle also said that you supply actual transcripts, with courses that are like the way I lived. I would ask that you have a course in clock repair, which I would definitely get an A in, and mechanical engineering, which I would get a B-plus in, in my opinion. I would also like something very scientific, such as outer space physics, which is something I definitely would have studied if I finished school. I think I would have got a B in that. Also, if I took nuclear chemistry I would have got a B. I am not making up these grades I would have got.
5.26.2005 1:49pm
Jadagul (mail):
I suppose they assume they're catering to bad, lazy students anyway, so it doesn't matter how good the product is--the students won't notice. Still, this is really, really bad. Forget the sample essays; look at the sales pitch on the front page! In the section trumpeting their writers' ability, we learn: "If our researcher do sophisticated research project for you, he/she sure has a head for it." Further, "Each custom essay comes with a free Title and bibliography pages."

The professional writers may be "university graduates from the different fields of study," but it doesn't look like the web designer graduated high school. His(/her) unbelievable inability to induce subjects and verbs to agree makes me suspect the entire setup is a sham. Everyone at the company who has looked at this page must either expect to sell only to incompetent students, or be incompetent himself. I almost think this is intended as a sting operation: we'll email an essay to you, and BCC it to your professor.

Still, if I trusted the writers to be competent I could come up with legitimate uses for the service. Say I need a devil's advocate on a topic (or, given the service's apparent quality, a straw man); I could hire to write one up for me, which I could then critique. Or I could get them to write me an essay; I then use it to jumpstart my own ideas, or as an extra source of research material. Stretching, I know, but it is possible.

Still, having come up with the idea, I'm really tempted to start the sting-operation-website myself. "We'll embarass you in front of your professor and report you for academic dishonesty, for the low, low price of $20!"
5.26.2005 1:54pm
Sean O'Hara (mail):
Any time I see someone posting obvious essay questions on Usenet (Does anyone know about the significance of the color white in Moby Dick?) I make a point of posting long, subtly inaccurate answers. Looks like I could turn this talent into a source of income.
5.26.2005 2:01pm
I assume folks are familiar with the recent "Laura K. Krishna" saga, in which a blogger comes very close to doing what Jadagul suggests.

If not, see here and here.
5.26.2005 2:13pm
Mark Draughn (mail) (www):
Maybe the poor quality is a kind of disguise. First of all, if you're the kind of student who would use this service, your previous school work has probably not been of stellar quality. A suddenly very well written paper would be suspicious. Second, notice how everyone here is surprised by how bad the papers are? That's because they expect fake papers to be of high quality. Think of it like a diamond ring on a lady's hand: The bigger it is, the more you're likely to wonder if it's fake. Submit a poor quality paper, and the professor might think you didn't learn much, but he'll never think it might be fake.
5.26.2005 2:21pm
Jadagul (mail):
Looking further over the site, I'm even more suspicious that it's a hoax. Not just from quality; Mark makes a good point. But look at the pay scale. For an emergency rush job--the most expensive one they have--you pay $35. At minimum wage, this works out to a little under seven man-hours; if you read the description of what goes into doing a rush job, you see five people are involved and each spends a few hours, and one spends considerably more. They seem to think they push the time envelope for an eight-hour job. So even if only one person does it, if he takes eight hours he's working below minimum wage. For regular writing you pay $14. This is about two and a half hours at minimum wage, and it's hard to do a ten-page paper in three hours. And this all assumes that the writers are working for minimum wage. If they're as good as the site claims, why would they do that? The onlyn way these people could be university graduates, or even college graduates, is if they reuse or partially reuse material, and even then they're not beating minimum wage by that much. I find this setup highly suspicious.
5.26.2005 2:34pm
Mark Draughn has a good point. Unfortunately -- or perhaps fortunately -- not all such papers are deliberately neutered. When my wife was in grad school, she taught a section in an undergrad European history course. When one undistinguished student turned in a paper with concepts and vocabulary far beyond her (the student's) meager gifts, my wife confronted her, and the student confessed on the spot.

You'd think these students would at least customize a paper -- whether downloaded as a freebie or paid for trans-nasally (as at ProfEssays) -- to a level fitting their own abilities. Then again, I suppose we're not talking about the sharpest tools in the woodshed.
5.26.2005 2:39pm
Dr. B:

The prices you quote are PER PAGE. Thus, a 10-page rush job would run $350.
5.26.2005 2:39pm
Roger (mail):
Do colleges really care about plagiarism? Not really. Look, I went to a top 10 law school, and when I was going my "pre-1l tour" the 2L guide admitted to cheating as an undergrad. Professors don't mind, and it is only the exception to the rule when students get caught. If they do get caught, a student with social skills will avoid punishment and never have a mark placed on his transcript. See, e.g., the Phantom Professor discussing the rampant pagerism at SMU.

On the other hand, most undergraduate professors are so easily co-opted by sweet-talk and sucking up that they nobody really has to cheat.

Fratboys and Jocks are expected to cheat. Schools seem to defend their rights to recycle papers over and over again. But, if a non-fratboy attempts to do the same the schools love to crack down on them.

Also, if anyone reading this board has EVER submitted the same paper twice without permission, they are cheaters, and they should know that, in my mind, they are worse than terrorists, as terrorists are much more honest about their anti-intellectual hatred. You, on the other hand, have asserted that you work is your own, and then you probably went on to law school based on your fraud. (In fact, I know that one person who claims to be "friends" with one of the conspirators has told me about his undergraduate cheating. I don't know if he really is friends, or if the conspirator knows. Personally, I will not associate with these cheaters, but many people look the other way. However, many law professors have a feeling that their favorite students cheated in college, don't seem to care (perhaps because they cheated as well.)

The only thing about this service that is different, is that 1) they are so blatant about it; and 2) the essays are comically bad.

Boston University, at one point sued one of these essay places with almost no success.
5.26.2005 2:42pm
Jadagul (mail):
Dr. B: Thanks, that makes a lot more sense. I was kind of curious about the flat-rate thing too. I suppose I should be a bit more careful when ridiculing others' incompetence, huh?

And as a further response to Mark Draughn: I just finished my freshman year of college, and on reflection I realized that the real reason that writing style grated so much is that it's exactly like the writing of some of my...less studious...classmates in high school. I suppose the writers are just trying to match the skill levels of their prospective clients (though that still doesn't explain the equally egregious errors in the sales pitch). I just still have a hard time accepting that most people really write like that, despite some prolonged exposure.
5.26.2005 2:53pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
I should think it would be easy to whip up a "non-frivolous lawsuit against Professays" on behalf of any university, if we assume that academic credit is a form of good which can be the object of defrauding, there'd be a fairly simple fraud suit against the Professays people (and then civil rico would fall into place like magic) once a university caught even one student using their service. Crush 'em like bugs.
5.26.2005 3:15pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Also, since these people send papers over e-mail (and since the students who'd use this service are likely too stupid to do so securely) a school with an appropriate AUP could presumably just catch users by grabbing e-mails off the network from that domain.
5.26.2005 3:19pm
Public Defender:
Maybe the schools could put in their internet "privacy policies" words to the effect of, "we reserve the right to monitor and record website visits and email to and from the following sources: Professays, ___, ____, ____ and ____."
5.26.2005 3:24pm
Mark Draughn (mail) (www):
I was half kidding about the quality, but from what I'm hearing, there may be some truth to it.

Although this sort of thing pisses me off, I can't get too upset about some other types of cheating. That's because I've had instructors assign busy work. When an instructor says "I haven't assigned homework in a while, so why don't you the odd numbered problems at the end of chapter 7 for Tuesday," I can't get all hacked-off if some students decide to split the assignment. I wouldn't, but I could understand why some people would, and I can't get mad about it.
5.26.2005 3:25pm
jb (mail):

When trying to diagnose asthma, first a person must choose the right doctor. Many doctors do not diagnose asthma. They just tell their patients that they are out of shape. When choosing a doctor, a cardiologist is the best choice to make. This is only for the fact that they specialize in the pulmonary system and the disease asthma affects this system.

This from their sample. It has to be a hoax. It reads like junior high school composition, and averages almost one factual error per sentence.
5.26.2005 3:52pm
The Sophist (mail):
Clearly this is an ingenious plot by the professoriate in American universities, especially the elite ones, where grade inflation runs rampant. The most insipid ho-hum essay at Harvard, for instance, will still get you a B+ because that's the "average". To actually fail a student at one of these schools for poor performance is probably to invite litigation.

Professays is so obviously supported by those professors (hence the name, no?) who would like to fail the idiots in their classrooms, but need an excuse that would stand up in court.

5.26.2005 4:10pm
Dodd (mail) (www):
I cannot speak to this particular site, but I do have some experience with several others like it. Last year I stumbled across an essay I had written for a class and posted on my web site in the mid-90s which was being offered for sale on a number of these sites - most of which were run out of China.

One of the advantages of having a bar license is the ability to make very credible threats in such situations, I guess. I am glad to be able to say that a few emails (each of which copied the site's hosting provider, of course) quickly resulted in the essay's removal from all of the sites I found it on.

I'm sure I am not the only one who's had this happen, either. But I get enough Google hits on exact phrases from a few of my essays (several of which are linked by academic web sites and one of which was included in a textbook) to know that at least some professors are savvy enough to do searches to check for plagarism by their students. Using one of these sites, then, is not only fairly stupid, it also carries with it the very high probabolty that one would be paying the site for work they stole from someone else (which is doubly stupid if, as in the case of my essay, the original work is readily accessible - albeit with a copyright notice).
5.26.2005 4:25pm

I knew a professor that considered asking ANY question of another student about an assignment (and any included "How's it going?" or "Have you started yet?") academic dishonesty

Sheesh. Is it academic dishonesty if you bought the paper and the toner cartridge that you printed the assignment out on rather than manufacturing it yourself? When it comes to fighting cheating, the teachers who don't know what is and isn't cheating are not helping.

My husband has a colleague who was quite irate that the dean refused to punish a student for academic dishonesty. The "dishonesty" in question was a typographical error in a footnote. (And it was a "non-fatal" error -- the student left out the year in the publication date, but did have the correct ISBN number.)

My husband's best plagiarism story is the student who was copying a lab report from some previous year (probably a sorority file.) Besides copying the data from the old report (so her data didn't match her lab partner's), when she was stapling it all up she managed to include one of the pages of the old report in the middle of her packet!

cathy :-)
5.26.2005 4:55pm
Grad student:
In response to Roger: yes, universities care. I'm a grad student/TA at a competitive, private university. Every professor I've TAed for has a zero tolerance plagiarism policy. In the course of my three years of teaching, I've caught six students who engaged in serious plagiarism (buying papers wholesale off the internet, lifting whole paragraphs or pages from Internet sources, "rewriting" a published article--and dumbing it down to make it sound more authentic, etc.). Every single one of those students failed the class and in each case a letter went on file with the head of the department and the head of the college in which the student was enrolled. The letter goes on file because a pattern of academic dishonesty typically results in expulsion. That said, I would never fail someone for a typo in a footnote (good grief!) and I've also administered lesser penalties for lesser offenses.

My favorite story: one of my professors, as a grad student, was hired to write a Cliff's Notes-type guide to Shakespeare. He did about a third of the work, but felt the whole thing was too sleazy and bowed out. The company, however, owned the rights to what he had done, had someone else finish the guide, and published it. Years later, one of his student lifted five pages from the portion that he had written and turned it in. Oops.
5.26.2005 5:24pm
erp (mail):
Here's an amusing pre-internet story along the same vein. John, son of a very famous mother was a freshman student in a friend's first year Italian course at a famous college. John didn't take his studies very seriously and was failing all his courses including the Italian 101.

His famous mother called my friend and brow beat him into agreeing to allow John to do a paper for extra credit so he could receive a passing grade. We were all waiting to see the scholar's work and when it finally arrived, it was a well written paper in beautiful Italian with nary a mistake. Obviously, not the work of failing first year language student and if further proof was needed, across the folder containing the paper, was handwritten, "Chow, have a nice summer, John"

We didn't see John again. He never returned to school.
5.26.2005 5:34pm
Roger (mail):
I, too spent some time as a TA in a "prestigious" university, and despite the fact that professors prattled on and on about a "zero tolerance policy" people were not flunked. I have been told that it is just too much work to flunk an "Ashley" or a "Jennifer." (Girls, in my experience, cheat more than boys.) Instead, they do the "let me scare her thing." Of course, "scaring" an Ashley or a Jennifer means a victory for them, as they know that they won't be scarred as the dirty good-for-nothing cheater that they are.

The funny part is that this "Ashleys" and "Jennifers" only need a good LSAT score to get into the law school of their choice. After that, they make it their routine to brag about how smart they are and how good their school is.

So, let me ask you, Mr. Grad Student, how many people do you know who have graduated with Fs on their transcripts as well as some notation that they failed for being fraudsters? 10, 100? 1000? I would think that your number would be at least 1000, is it ?
5.26.2005 5:44pm
PersonFromPorlock (mail):
Sheesh, some enterprising student shows management potential by delegating and taking credit for others' work and you rain all over him. Tcha, and possibly even pshaw!
5.26.2005 9:23pm
Jim Hu:
Roger and Grad Student:

Universities don't care about anything. Individuals who work at universities do, and from my own experience as a prof I believe both of your experiences can be true...the degree to which faculty and TAs take cheating seriously varies as much as the degree to which they take teaching seriously.

The problem with all zero-tolerance policies is that they discourage enforcement in at least two ways.

1) there's a tendency to ask why a student dumb enough to get caught should have their career ended when others are getting away with similar crimes...doesn't this happen for other forms of crime? IANAL, but I recall this argument being made in my one Criminal Law for undergrads elective many years ago.

2) the severity of the punishment means that the accused, in the exercise of their due process rights (which are obviously important) can mount a scorched earth defense that creates a nightmare for the accuser...especially if the institution doesn't provide much support...leading to rationalization of #1.

Note that in the Laura K Krishna story linked above, he ultimately didn't turn her in.
5.26.2005 10:48pm
Patrick McKenzie (mail):
If I were to guess, I think the "low quality" is partially due to the papers being written by people who speak English as a second language. Likely Eastern European, if I don't miss my guess -- they'd have the requisite academic background and be willing to worth for not a lot of money (the linguistic gaffes don't seem to be the same ones you would expect from Indians, in my experience). The whois query leads to a web design firm in Florida (which doesn't have a strong command of technical English on its own web page: and check out the right hand side), but its possible they have an American contact and funnel group "back home", one of the ways Indian software houses typically develop a lot of business contacts.

Anyhow, boo for outsourcing that gives those of us doing it (I work in Japan, so I guess I outsourced myself) a bad name.
5.26.2005 11:55pm
Jonathan M (mail) (www):
I was a TA for an undergrad political science class last year at a private university. I had a number of instances where plagairism was evident.

The most memorable of instances came when two people handed in the very same "reflection paper" with very minimal modifications separating the two pages.

I also TA'ed for a large intro class where ESL cheating was rampant.

I do not think that the "show no mercy" method to cheaters is really that effective. One of my favourite professors let the class know how disappointed she was that someone cheated during that week's response papers to do the trick. You loved her dear old soul so much that cheating on her felt like blatantly stealing from your grandpa. I think a warning is more effective than retribution.
5.27.2005 5:18am
Roger (mail):
Warnings about cheating are laughed at by undergrads, and they consider it a victory if a teacher issues a warning, because they know that he is too chicksh!t to actually do something. By issuing a warning, the students knew that they could do anything, and they did. Pre-meds know this. Political science people know this. Everyone knows this. The only people who don't want to admit this are graduate students and professors (probably because a good chunk of them cheated, themselves.)

The biggest losers are the students who don't have the ability to have 20 people proofread and "consult" with them but are trying their best. They might get a B or something, and the cheaters will get an A. In fields like Political Science, a B will take you out of the running for graduate school. But this is the way grad students like it.
5.27.2005 7:19am
Brad (mail):
I find it highly unlikely that any website offering that kind of service would put A-level material as a sample essay for all the world to see and use. After all, if a business is offering this kind of service at a premium, then it needs to protect itself from its own customers, lazy students who don't want to try to hard to get a quality paper written. If their samples were A-level material, then their prospective customers may just use the samples rather than paying for the service.

Now, I'm not so sure that Professays is quite that sophisticated. After all, the excrutiatingly bad quality of their samples makes me wonder about the quality of the purchased material which, for a typical college student, is somewhat expensive. Still, I don't think we can discount the possibility that Professays has provided shoddy work as samples to prevent plagarism of its work. After all, they aren't fans of plagarism and cheating, right?
5.27.2005 10:07am
Farmer (mail):
When the story was first posted "Nate" listed both the name of her University and her name. 1 minute with google resulted in a picture of her. Crass. Very crass.
5.27.2005 10:27am
Sandy (mail):
I think that all cheaters should have their full names and pictures posted on the internet. Why not? In fact, I think that maybe it is time that we revisit whether all student work can be scanned in and posted to, at the very minimum, an intranet, so students (and others) can participate in pointing out the tremendous amounts of plagiarism that goes on. (I realize there are some legal problems with this, but it is nothing that can't be overcome.) In fact, why don't we offer cash bounty (wouldn't have to be more than $250 or so) for people who can point out undergraduates who cheat. If I was a dean I would do that.

There is nothing crass about exposing cheaters. I have been threatened with lawsuits for doing so in the past (by her family, of course), but none of them have come to fruition.

To be fair, the schools could list the offending people, provide their pictures, and provide .pdfs of the offending material (and the material that it was copied from) so that future employers, graduate schools, and their families would know what kind of low-life scum would copy off the internet.

If you disagree with me on policy grounds (not privacy or due process grounds), I think you are a cheater or a professor who looks the other way.

Anyway, people who think that "warning" students or "laying on a guilt trip" is effective, are fooling themselves. If a professor does this, then everyone knows they are a pushover, and are too lazy, and stupid to ever punish the evil souls who lift stuff from the internet.
5.27.2005 10:57am
Isn't this simply a market solution to the issue of schoolwork demands?
5.27.2005 12:08pm
TA (mail):
Yes, you are right. This system is a market solution to schoolwork and will allows girls to cheat all they want if their fathers are rich. (Having been a TA for 3 years, I have only seen girls cheat.)
5.27.2005 12:18pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
"Maybe the poor quality is a kind of disguise. First of all, if you're the kind of student who would use this service, your previous school work has probably not been of stellar quality. A suddenly very well written paper would be suspicious. Second, notice how everyone here is surprised by how bad the papers are?"

Absolutely. The first semester I taught history, I was really worried that I would get a bunch of really excellent term papers, and I would need to spend a lot of time figuring out if they were plagiarized from a published source or came from a term paper mill. Nope. There wasn't a single paper that made me wonder this. Only about one-fifth of the papers were what I would have expected from upper division history majors. The abominable sample essays would fit right into the mainstream.

I try to imagine a world where most college students are competent to construct a logical argument; know where to divide sentences into paragraphs; consistently write complete sentences; use more than two sources for a 15 page research paper. When I went off to college, I think that this was possible--and we were using typewriters--not word processors with spell checkers, grammar checkers, and the ability to quickly and painlessly rewrite the draft.
5.27.2005 6:14pm
I think it's odd that people find that girls are the ones who mostly cheat--in my experience I've seen both, but mostly guys (though I was in a guy-heavy major, business).

I went to a small private university and saw quite a few instances of cheating there.

I was a TA for Prof R., who made it his personal goal to catch and punish every cheater. We set traps for those we suspected of cheating, such as giving that person a multiple choice test that had the same questions in the same order as everyone else's, but had the answers scrambled. We caught one guy, and Prof R. flunked him, per school policy. Prof. R. learned not to go to the adminstration, because they only enforced their cheating policies if they had another reason to want the person out of the university.

In a class I took from Prof R., I saw a classmate cheating. I informed the cheater that he needed to confess to Prof R. or I would tell him myself. The cheater denied it, but turned bright red. He did go to the Prof. and was given leniency--an F on the assignment and a stern lecture.

By the time cheaters make it to college, they're pros due to apathetic high school teachers and administrators. All but 4 people in my public high school Trig. class cheated on the final, but the teacher didn't care when we told him. As long as everyone passed his class, the administration was happy--it didn't matter if they cheated their way through.
5.27.2005 8:23pm
Other (mail):
Here's a splendid idea with no real way to make money on it:

Set up a multi-university cooperative network of computers for plagarism-searching(PS).
1) Submit a Word .doc to your University's PS-unit
2) The PS will run the file through a _fast_ disassembler to extract key elements
3) The PS will them compare the key-elements of this paper to a database of previously submitted key elements (this is easier than it sounds using hash-tables and pattern-matching)
4) The PS will do a more detailed check for files that are onthe same topic and are vaugely close ... matching patterns of polysyllabic words for example.
5) The PS will then ask some regional or natinal PS for matches for X topic and A,B,C,D keywords, etc
6) The PS will add the file to its internal database for future checking again.

A major element is that with pattern-blocks or sets of polysyllabics, a match can be determined with low resources.

The other key is that while every paper in a University is on file, none are available until a nearly matching paper is put in as a search-request, so as to avoid cheaters using these papers as resources.

A converse to this may be to allow people to look at previous papers as reference material with the knowledge that it is from a central database that they cannot plagarize from and get away with as their paper will be compared immediately after they turn it in.
5.27.2005 11:11pm
Jim Hu:
There's already this. We have an institutional account. I haven't learned it yet, but I plan to.
5.28.2005 2:13pm
David Has to Add Something Because David's Taken:
I've taught at UCLA and Michigan State. The former makes it very comfortable for profs to submit accusations of plagiarism, and in my view treats students pretty fairly in the process (well, undergrads anyway; though I haven't taught there, I know of one pretty ridiculous accusation of plagiarism at the law school!). Profs are instructed to bring plagiarism allegations only if they have pretty firm evidence, and after that it's out of their hands. Students usually get a fairly serious punishment, but also get an explanation of what they've done wrong, etc. At MSU, profs are permitted to make a determination on their own as to whether a student had committed plagiarism, and assign a penalty on their own. The only check is that if the prof chooses to fail the student for the course, s/he must write a letter of explanation to the dean (both the student's dean and her/his own, if relevant). I far prefer the more organized process at UCLA; I was very uncomfortable with the combination of discretion and a lack of checks and balances at MSU. Also, by the by, I've referred eight students for plagiarism over the past few years; six were men.
5.30.2005 4:08am