The Shadow Scholar The man who writes your students' papers tells his story

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Editor’s
note: Ed Dante is a pseudonym for a writer who lives on the East
Coast. Through a literary agent, he approached The Chronicle wanting
to tell the story of how he makes a living writing papers for a
custom-essay company and to describe the extent of student cheating
he has observed. In the course of editing his article, The Chronicle
reviewed correspondence Dante had with clients and some of the papers
he had been paid to write. In the article published here, some details
of the assignment he describes have been altered to protect the
identity of the student.

The request
came in by e-mail around 2 in the afternoon. It was from a previous
customer, and she had urgent business. I quote her message here
verbatim (if I had to put up with it, so should you): "You
did me business ethics propsal for me I need propsal got approved
pls can you will write me paper?"

I’ve gotten
pretty good at interpreting this kind of correspondence. The client
had attached a document from her professor with details about the
paper. She needed the first section in a week. Seventy-five pages.

I told her
no problem.

It truly was
no problem. In the past year, I’ve written roughly 5,000 pages of
scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won’t
find my name on a single paper.

I’ve written
toward a master’s degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology,
and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy.
I’ve worked on bachelor’s degrees in hospitality, business administration,
and accounting. I’ve written for courses in history, cinema, labor
relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security,
airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing,
philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology,
literature, and public administration. I’ve attended three dozen
online universities. I’ve completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages
or more. All for someone else.

You’ve never
heard of me, but there’s a good chance that you’ve read some of
my work. I’m a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary.
My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in
your classroom uses a service that you can’t detect, that you can’t
defend against, that you may not even know exists.

I work at an
online company that generates tens of thousands of dollars a month
by creating original essays based on specific instructions provided
by cheating students. I’ve worked there full time since 2004. On
any day of the academic year, I am working on upward of 20 assignments.

In the midst
of this great recession, business is booming. At busy times, during
midterms and finals, my company’s staff of roughly 50 writers is
not large enough to satisfy the demands of students who will pay
for our work and claim it as their own.

You would be
amazed by the incompetence of your students’ writing. I have seen
the word "desperate" misspelled every way you can imagine.
And these students truly are desperate. They couldn’t write a convincing
grocery list, yet they are in graduate school. They really need
help. They need help learning and, separately, they need help passing
their courses. But they aren’t getting it.

For those of
you who have ever mentored a student through the writing of a dissertation,
served on a thesis-review committee, or guided a graduate student
through a formal research process, I have a question: Do you ever
wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete sentences
in conversation manages to produce marginally competent research?
How does that student get by you?

I live well
on the desperation, misery, and incompetence that your educational
system has created. Granted, as a writer, I could earn more; certainly
there are ways to earn less. But I never struggle to find work.
And as my peers trudge through thankless office jobs that seem more
intolerable with every passing month of our sustained recession,
I am on pace for my best year yet. I will make roughly $66,000 this
year. Not a king’s ransom, but higher than what many actual educators
are paid.

Of course,
I know you are aware that cheating occurs. But you have no idea
how deeply this kind of cheating penetrates the academic system,
much less how to stop it. Last summer The New York Times
reported that 61 percent of undergraduates have admitted to some
form of cheating on assignments and exams. Yet there is little discussion
about custom papers and how they differ from more-detectable forms
of plagiarism, or about why students cheat in the first place.

It is my hope
that this essay will initiate such a conversation. As for me, I’m
planning to retire. I’m tired of helping you make your students
look competent.

It is late
in the semester when the business student contacts me, a time when
I typically juggle deadlines and push out 20 to 40 pages a day.
I had written a short research proposal for her a few weeks before,
suggesting a project that connected a surge of unethical business
practices to the patterns of trade liberalization. The proposal
was approved, and now I had six days to complete the assignment.
This was not quite a rush order, which we get top dollar to write.
This assignment would be priced at a standard $2,000, half of which
goes in my pocket.

Read
the rest of the article

November
22, 2010

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