Education, Features, Top Stories

Notes From an Academic Paper Mill

One evening last fall, my de facto supervisor e-mailed me an audio file consisting of a three-minute conversation between a college sophomore from Saudi Arabia and his English professor in New York. The student had just surreptitiously recorded this chat using his cell phone; he had approached the professor hoping for specifics on how to improve the first draft of an analysis of Sylvia Plath’s work he’d submitted the previous week. His side of the conversation was notable for how painfully little English he knew despite having ostensibly completed a three-page assignment in that language.

From 1,500 miles away, I set to work on a second draft using this new information. I was careful to stick to the grading rubric and minimize grammar errors while still writing in a sufficiently unrefined manner to convincingly imitate a Riyadh native who’d come to the U.S. a year earlier to get a university degree. Within an hour or two, I had e-mailed the new draft—stripped of Microsoft Word metadata to conceal the identity of the document’s real creator—to my supervisor, who reviewed and approved it before dispatching it back to the student in New York.

My name, by the way, isn’t really Tammy. But over the past two-plus years, I grew used to submitting writing assignments using a name other than my own. My work is associated with literally dozens of real names, most of them belonging to people aged 19 to 25 or so, all of them from well-off to extremely wealthy families. I might be a young man from Tunisia one morning and an aspiring bikini model from Colombia that same afternoon.

Yes, I worked for a paper mill. You can find a number of these online, but not the one I was associated with, which was more a concierge-style operation catering to a niche clientele. My boss’s clients were rich and accordingly self-entitled, and they were willing to pay handsomely for good work—and not just the occasional paper. Some of them had me handling entire courses. In fact, a few of them farmed out their entire academic course loads to the people who paid me.

*     *     *

After getting a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from a New England liberal arts school at the onset of the global financial crisis, I dropped out of a doctorate program after two years and started working part-time for an insurance company handling its corporate communications. I was also training for triathlons (I’d been a competitive swimmer in college) and freelancing for some sports and fitness websites. I was able to cobble together enough money this way to survive, with my partner’s help, in a fairly expensive metropolitan area.

Shortly after New Year’s Day in 2016, I renewed a Craigslist ad that I had let lapse for months and offering my editing and writing services, a spot that had netted me a decent amount of freelance work over the years, from editing a 200-page medical marijuana application to assembling an annotated bibliography for a bilingual doctoral student in neuroscience. Fortuitously, this ad was spotted by a most curious brand of headhunter, who e-mailed me with a specific inquiry: “How are you with academic writing?”

I immediately concluded that this was code for “Can you write papers for people?” And in a phone call that night, I learned that it was. This nameless ‘company’ consisting of the two people who had founded it, and they needed people with the time, the talent, and the flexible ethics to do the work of college students. One of the founders, a secular Muslim, had discovered in his undergraduate days in New York that he had a flair for paper-writing and had parlayed this into a side business by methodically reaching out to Muslim students in the area, targeting those from overseas with lots of cash, little desire to do any real work, and full course loads. Diabolical, but also brilliant.

They explained that, yeah, the ethics were a little sketchy, but if it was any consolation, none of my ‘clients’ would be seeking advanced degrees and thus my work wouldn’t have the effect of depriving hard-working students of slots in PhD or MBA programs. I told them I’d do it for $20 a page and they agreed, which is how I started my new career.

They started me off in an online-only, eight-week, intro-level management class. The explosion of these virtual courses has, of course, made this kind of cheating very easy for anyone willing to fork over the dough and assume a modicum of risk. I wrote a number of short papers, took weekly quizzes (for which I easily Googled the answers in what I regard as meta-cheating) and participated in message-board discussions, being careful to avoid anachronisms and writing as best as I could from the standpoint of the opposite sex.

I got an A+ and they assigned me more work. A lot more. As much as a I wanted, and sometimes more than I could handle given my other responsibilities. Over the next two-plus years, I turned out over 3,000 pages’ worth of work and made over $60,000, reporting this to the IRS as tutoring income. I earned about 60 college credits that I’ll never be able to claim. Most of the full courses I handled were business or marketing ones; science students tend to want to do their own work. I bought a new car last year almost entirely thanks to this dubious enterprise. But I recently parted ways, amicably, with this outfit, because I got a real job—one that, perhaps not ironically, drew on what I’d learned in ‘my’ marketing classes.

And I’m very thankful, because I hated it and loved it at the same time.

*     *     *

How was this ‘job’ compared to others like it, such as they exist?

As the owners understandably wanted, my direct contact with students was all but nonexistent, although I had to know their names when logging into their student accounts. Almost none of them ever learned my own. I followed a few on social media to help me get ‘in character’ (and briefly had the hots for one, sort of). Everything was brokered through the person who’d recruited me and handled the day-to-day operations.

I found myself in a variety of extraordinary situations thanks to this unanticipated experience, some of them quite funny. One of my most memorable essays was entitled “Why I Don’t Think Cheating Is Prevalent at [Name of Respected University].” I really had to thread the needle in some cases, including one where a student from China was already suspected of having turned in work that wasn’t her own (which was true, but I wasn’t the author). The paper was an opinion essay for a women’s studies course about whether booty-driven Instagram accounts are good for feminism. I did some background on the prof, determined she was an old-school lesbian feminist, and decided I had better go with a resounding ‘no.’ I dumbed down the language enough to be convincing and, although I felt like a racist as I tried to employ Chinese takeout-menu-style English, the paper did well. (The owners are careful to give no assurances of perfect grades, but they consider their operation an elite one and I typically delivered As, even in subjects I was completely unfamiliar with.)

Being generally discouraged from interacting directly and privately with professors was a mixed blessing. I couldn’t lambast them for their own shoddy grammar and errors of fact, so I had to have my supervisor broker such disputes. I found one professor so adversarial that I tracked down her Twitter account and posed as a right-wing loon just to hector her sputtered opinions. On various occasions, I knew when I was almost certainly interacting with another paper-mill hack on a discussion board; 19-year-olds from Turkey don’t typically wax nostalgic about the Back to the Future film franchise.

Because I often had latitude in choosing topics, I wrote about what I knew. A startling number of the clients I served became swimmers. A lot of them liked Arrested Development. And so on. These students were often so disengaged from the process, often off partying somewhere, that as long as they were making progress toward a degree, they simply didn’t care. (Well, usually they didn’t. Sometimes my religious and other convictions collided with those of my clients. For a psych class, I used an actual account of watching someone smoke pot that so horrified the student he was apparently ready to return to Kuwait.)

*     *     *

Realistically, this could all be squashed. Colleges offering online courses could make some basic technical adjustments to preclude most of this cheating if they cared to do so. But for various reasons—some of them straightforward, others more occult—they don’t. I think Bryan Caplan’s central thesis in The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money is relevant here: Having a degree means getting to tell other people with degrees you have one so you can interact with them in a way you couldn’t otherwise. Nowadays, they’re occasionally useful on resumes, but just as often they’re simply a signalling tool.

I’m convinced that cheating of the type I am describing (and in which I’ve been implicated, obviously) is rampant and that professors often know when it’s happening and choose not to intervene for a number of reasons. Most of them simply don’t want to rock the boat, knowing what a pain in the ass it would be to have to confront, convict, and expel someone—especially someone whose family happened to be writing huge checks to the university. Alternatively, I could just blow the whole operation out of the water myself in less time than it’s taken you to read this story. I’m sure I don’t have to explain how; I’ve kept every paper I ever wrote, and I know lots of names. But I won’t, because I was well taken care of.

Higher education is often dismissed as a joke, typically by those on the Right who see colleges as hyper-liberal PC-crippled sludge-pots. But the reality is that it’s a joke because it’s more of a basic commodity than ever. With online courses, it’s easier for people to simply purchase a degree than ever before. Not only can the richest gain easier entry, but they can buy an easy ride. And since I’ll never be rich, I was happy to pick up some of the crumbs. But as someone with a deep appreciation of education and expertise, it’s troubling to know that college is just one more locus of skulduggery, veiled and overt.


‘Tammy Sheeran’ is a pseudonym.

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  1. Hexsig says

    Good article, supports my priors. In my experience this is a considerable problem for engineering. I think it tends to be more obvious as well, since the paper mills tend to be on campus and consist of the cheater’s classmates. This is probably due to a greater opportunity cost for graduated engineers. It seems especially pernicious among foreign students because one of the potential signs of cheating is a mismatch between a student’s perceived abilities and their submitted work. It is quite an argument to claim to some authority that your foreign students are performing better than you think they’re capable of…

    This effectively raises the standard of evidence needed to accuse a student of cheating. It’s especially concerning for engineering fields since it not only lowers the legitimacy of the degree, but mistakes in engineering tend to have a large human cost.

    • Nelson Hermes says

      A fake engineer or medical doctor wouldn´t last 2 days on any job. So I´m willing to bet most of these courses were along the lines of journalism, social sciences, philosophy, and such.

      • Dave says

        There are several cases in germany where some doctors lasted years.

      • Grad Student says

        You may be right about who would last how long on the job, but I’m not sure how that’s relevant to what students would do to pass their classes. I suspect you’ll find that many employers (even in technical professions) find their new hires under prepared. As a college instructor, this was actually a key focus of our orientation. When the university asked employers, many said that new hires (not just from our school) were under prepared and required substantial on-the-job training. The lesson for us was that we needed to make sure our students were actually learning.

      • He literally said in the article that his clients were mostly studying business or marketing.

      • In some countries the engineering degree (along with family connections) get one a cushy government job that requires no calculating.

      • BethanyM says

        This writer says many in business and marketing, which I can easily believe.

        • Lindsey says

          Yeah, business and marketing are already “BS heavy” majors. Knowing the buzzwords and being able to parrot corporate apologia are all that’s really required. Engineering and med students may cheat but there are more real world checks on their post-educational capabilities, and more hands-on tests that can’t be faked by proxy.

  2. Bryan Atkins says

    This is more symptom-surfing from media / editors who won’t &/or can’t? get fundamental.
    Of course cheating is rampant. Deception & self-deception (lying), are fundamental biological apps, i.e., they occur across species and scales.

    From Robert Trivers:
    “Deception is a very deep feature of life. It occurs at all levels—from gene to cell to individual to group—and it seems, by any and all means, necessary.”
    “When I say that deception occurs at all levels of life, I mean that viruses practice it, as do bacteria, plants, insects, and a wide range of other animals. It is everywhere. Even within our genomes, deception flourishes as selfish genetic elements use deceptive molecular techniques to over-reproduce at the expense of other genes. Deception infects all the fundamental relationships in life: parasite and host, predator and prey, plant and animal, male and female, neighbor and neighbor, parent and offspring, and even the relationship of an organism to itself.” –– The Folly of Fools

    Deception is an app that’s part of a suite of horror apps that flow from an always present, always operative, even more fundamental code for relationship interface: Fitness > Truth. In survival-stressed environs that code moves to the foreground, expressed in these and other sub-codes: Me > U; Us > Them; Short-term > Long-Term.

    Re Fitness > Truth from Donald Hoffman, cognitive scientist:
    “Fitness and truth are utterly different things.”
    “Evolution is quite clear, it’s fitness and not truth that gives you the points you need to win in the evolutionary game.”
    “Organisms that see the truth go extinct when they compete against organisms that don’t see any of the truth at all, literally none of the truth at all, and are just tuned to the fitness function.”
    “Perception is not about seeing truth; it’s about having kids.”

    Another fundamental missed by nearly all? media, of which the above story is yet another symptom of, is that we’re doing multilevel selection in-and-across geo eco bio cultural & tech networks with world culture’s dominant app for relationship interface. That app is: humans deploying monetary code.

    But the app, like the world’s current cultural genome, lacks information processing Reach Speed Accuracy & Power … the information-processing essentials for passing selection tests.

    Our cultural coding structures violate this rule of thumb from the biological network:
    “The rule of thumb is that the complexity of the organism has to match the complexity of the environment at all scales in order to increase the likelihood of survival.” Yaneer Bar-Yam  —  “Making Things Work” –– physicist, complexity scientist

  3. Jacob says

    “But as someone with a deep appreciation of education and expertise…” What a complete crock of shit, pardon me as I wax poetically about my love of education while I take it out back and shoot it in the back of the head. Someone ought to track you down and revoke your degree for lack of moral fiber.

    • Surge says

      You made me chuckle. Seriously though, he might even love education and truth. He just loves money much more. With you on him suffering some consequences.

    • Rick says

      Eh, I did this in college for a bunch of players on a national championship american football team. If they don’t care that they aren’t learning anything and the school doesn’t care that they aren’t learning anything, why should I care if I am both learning things and making money?

      • “If I didn’t do it, then someone else would!”

        — The Onceler, “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss.

    • Hayden M says

      No moral issues here as far as I can tell, don’t assume your ethical framework is the only one. I suspect the author and myself lay the blame at the professors and the structures that allow for this cheating.

      In other words, hate the game, not the players. If she wasn’t writing those papers, someone else would have in her place. It’s up to universities to stop this…

      • X. Citoyen says

        And if the shopkeeper forgets to lock up, it’s not your fault for stealing is it, Hayden? In fact, you’d be providing a sort of life-coaching service by robbing him because it would teach him not to leave his shop unlocked!

    • Lehr says

      “I wax poetically about my love of education while I take it out back and shoot it in the back of the head”

      Education is not the same as formal education, which is again not the same as the education industry. The author does not deprive anyone of education (even stated so explicitly in the article), they just reduce the value of formal degrees and expose the education industry as incapable of identifying fakes.

      • X. Citoyen says

        I get a kick out of your remark, Lehr. Getting away with the cash wasn’t enough. She has to be elevated to a hero for bringing down the system. Jebus. There’s no bottom to the human mind’s ability to turn its misdeeds into virtues.

        • Bill E. says

          X. Citoyen, you may be reading a different version of the article than the one I’m seeing. I’m not picking up on the pride or misplaced sense of do-gooder-ism you believe the author has. Sounds like the gig made her realize the college system is more broken than she thought. I admit I’ve never heard of anyone buying an entire class or degree like this, but when I think of the amount of money some people have, it makes a certain sense. And fuck it. If people like GW Bush or D Trump can have Ivy League degrees despite how dumb they are and countless illiterate athletes get to graduate or at least attend good colleges, thanks only to daddy connections or shooting skills respectively, then the whole shooting match is kind of a joke.

          • X. Citoyen says

            On a technical point, Bill E., I was addressing Hayden’s and Lehr’s comments, not the author’s.

            That aside, I admit to sharing your indifference from time to time. But then I remind myself that we all pay for and depend on the integrity of the system, ugly and imperfect as it may often be. Since we all have a stake in it, we all have a beef with the Paper Mill Tammys who profit from its corruption.

            Let’s not forget that we also subsidized Tammy’s education. What did we get in return? After mulcting the system till something better-paying came along, she comes here seeking absolution with a tell-all that tells us nothing at all.

            That’s no act of contrition. On the contrary, she adds insult to injury by telling us the universities could stop the practice if they built better safeguards. In order words, if we taxpayers dumped even more money into the system, the Tammys couldn’t profit from it—advice offered after she’s moved on. The idea that maybe Tammy and her fellow profiteers could play their part by showing a little integrity and—perish the thought!—a little gratitude didn’t even come up.

            If I seem irate, it’s less the crime itself than the tendency to let the Tammys off the hook. As with pimps and dealers, it’s the suppliers, not the customers, that make the fraud possible and so bear the larger share of culpability in it–all of which is made worse by the fact that the Tammys are biting the hand that fed them.

    • Robert says

      Agreed. You are contributing to the immorality of society by prostituting your talents.

  4. Michael Overlake says

    I appreciate this article, finding it illuminating, and thank the author. I got through undergraduate and law school remaining unaware of this parallel “achievement” world. I guess I’m glad for my ignorance during those years. But today I am inclined to apply to myself the poker maxim, “If you don’t know who the sucker is, you’re the sucker!”

    This article, read the same day as the “Harvard Thinks Rich People Are Better than You” piece found elsewhere on Quillette’s home page, encourages me to suspect that the higher education industry is but one more “corrupt all the way down” contemporary US institution. Oh, well.

  5. John Knox says

    You misspelled “skulduggery.” The person you outsourced this essay to didn’t spellcheck all the way to the end. Ask for some money back.

  6. Matt says

    I’ll pay you $20 to write a comment eviscerating this piece. Doesn’t even have to be a full page.

  7. Dan Meisels says

    I don’t buy it.

    When I was in undergrad, ten years ago, students got papers done the old fashioned way, by buying them off students who took the class the year before. The sites where you can buy papers are basically just large deposits of such papers.

    Plagiarism for hire is a boring sort of story with a credit card on a bad website or cash at the quad, followed by a lot of editing. But your little tale is too sexy. It sounds like a spec script for a squill to The Skulls not a well researched exposay on the seedy underbelly of the academic 1%. This reads like a Jayson Blair piece. In fact we don’t know the author’s real name so it could well be Jayson Blair, though he would have worked in more buzzwords like: geocaching, the dark web, and cryptocurrency.

    So Mr. Blair why are you blowing smoke up my ass: ‘A Saudi Arabian student secretly records his professors and sending the file off exactly 1,500 miles to an elite fixer.’ Why wouldn’t this be done anonymously without sending hard evidence that could get the student expelled? Do the students give you their full names, social security numbers and credit history? Or if it was anonymous how did this elite fixer know the recording was from New York? Am I to believe this elite fixer is not only versed in the poetry of Sylvia Plath but also possesses an uncanny ability recognize which country an arab accent originated it? And I suppose if it was anonymously done the location of the recording was taken from the metadata? And this elite hacker has a boss that checks his shoddy work to make sure its just shoddy enough?

    Nah. I don’t buy it. Pics or it didn’t happen.

    • Richard Bachman says

      You wrote:

      “Do the students give you their full names, social security numbers and credit history? Or if it was anonymous how did this elite fixer know the recording was from New York? Am I to believe this elite fixer is not only versed in the poetry of Sylvia Plath but also possesses an uncanny ability recognize which country an arab accent originated it?”

      From the piece:

      “As the owners understandably wanted, my direct contact with students was all but nonexistent, although I had to know their names when logging into their student accounts. Almost none of them ever learned my own. I followed a few on social media to help me get ‘in character’ (and briefly had the hots for one, sort of). Everything was brokered through the person who’d recruited me and handled the day-to-day operations.”

      Seems pretty obvious that the writer was given enough (and perhaps only enough) details to do the job he/she was paid to do. As far as knowing where the recording was coming from – well, if the paper was for a class at Harvard or Tufts, would it not be safe to say the recording was originating from the Boston area?

      I agree that the whole thing has a bit of tawdriness to it, but I see no reason to doubt any of it. Undergraduate education is a major joke, and this is clearly now part of it.

  8. ga gamba says

    Can’t speak for the here and now, but before unis started cracking down on this type of plagiarism I worked at a country’s central bank. All my immediate colleagues had already earned their masters degrees from top 50 US unis, yet few could comprehend well an article published in The Economist, which despite the name is a layman’s newspaper, much less anything more challenging, such as from the Harvard Business Review. “What did you do in the states during your studies?” “Golf” was the answer.

    I learnt amongst the junior staff the bank employed some highly competent and quite fluent individuals (the central bank was a very prestigious organisation that hired exclusively from the nation’s top schools), and one of their tasks was to help their seniors complete their coursework. By and large these papers were about economic subjects and focussed on econometrics, and my colleagues knew the theories and maths well enough that a professor wouldn’t doubt that. They just couldn’t write papers at graduate-level skill. Or even at secondary-school level. The intent of the aid was proofreading and editing, wink wink, but soon enough all agreed it would easier and expedient simply to have the ringers take care of it entirely. This all came to be because the bank’s governor decreed everyone would have a masters degree from a top-calibre school.

    Excellent golfers, in case you’re asking. A two-year golf holiday at the taxpayers’ expense works wonders on one’s handicap.

    • Bill says

      I had a colleague (currently in prison for fraud, ironically) who “earned” his MBA from Harvard and yet didn’t have the faintest clue about Balanced Scorecards — even though Kaplan had taught him a course on it (supposedly). While this article is about undergrad, I suspect you’d find a vast majority of MBAs, even out of places like Harvard, as simply pay-to-play. You pay the school the 100k, they could careless where you got the deliverables from you get the degree.

  9. God, I hate people like you. You devalue the credentials of hardworking immigrants and enable racists to claim they’re on the right side. Traitor wouldn’t be an uncalled-for word.

  10. X. Citoyen says

    This is about the fourth time I’ve read this article. I’m thinking your new job is selling this story.

  11. American and Canadian universities have been selling degrees to the children of elites from around the world for decades and this story is just one in a naked city full of tens of thousands.

    As a “private tutor” I earned at least 4 MBAs between 1995 and 2000. At the time I thought it was fine because the recipients of my degrees were all lovely people attending a particularly cheesy American degree-granting office building located in a Canadian city.

    But at the same time I worked with a Japanese and a Korean student in degree programs at real universities in the same city. Neither of them ever asked me to do the kind of “tutoring” I did for the MBA students and both of them had horror stories about the amount of cheating going on among their mainly Chinese peers. This was before the influx of moneyed kids from mainland China. so they were mainly Hong Kongese with a few Taiwanese. Daddies bought sports cars and papers and even people to sit exams with the same wave of the magic money wand.

    A bike courier acquaintance of mine who decided to go the mature student route through community college to get into a university program around the same time found that his classes were chock-a-block with people whose English was nowhere near where it needed to be to take part. He and a few other students and some faculty started going for beers and bitching about the collapse of standards. I could go on.

    What is significant about the article and the many stories I have to tell concerning “the value of western education” is this: the real erosion of tertiary education in the West is the result of “classical liberals” wearing their neoliberal hats and demanding that education be just one more commodity in the free market that was going to save the world for liberalism. Postmodernists, along with all their more ‘rational’ colleagues, just cowered in corners and collected their meagre pay-cheques while the “classical liberals” garroted their workplaces in the name of empiricism and profit.

    The number of sybaritic halfwits with MBAs now administering departments in bureaucracies and governments all over the developing world are witness to the success of a contemporary “liberal education”. And like their liberal friends in the west, they too loathe anyone with a critical take on power.

    Difference is they send them to jail rather than engage in massive smear campaigns to associate all political dissent with something labeled Cultural Marxism.

    • Sevan Claig says

      The major Universities and mid tier Colleges and the Community Colleges are all selling autographed parchment to the masses- not just and perhaps even more so than the rich.
      And they are using the government grant system the scam that is deferred student loan financing to do it. The admin is equally determined with the professorial class to enrich themselves without any genuine regard to providing functional capabilities to any one of the student body.
      Provide excuses and finger pointing for the failed grads, taking credit for the successful ones (followed by a solicitation from the alumni groups).

  12. John AD says

    Shame on you. Know that your history will live with you for the rest of your life. Perhaps you can make personal sacrifices to compensate for the harm you’ve done, and that might ease whatever conscience you might develop whilst maturing.

  13. ThereAreDozensOfUs says

    “I found one professor so adversarial that I tracked down her Twitter account and posed as a right-wing loon just to hector her sputtered opinions.”

    I find it very amusing that “Tammy Sheeran’ is very probably trolling people on this comment thread.

    Brilliant Article.

    I’ve recently had severe doubts about how effective a traditional ‘2 hour exam sit down’ is, until now….

  14. derek says

    Very interesting. A great way to get an education and have someone else pay for it. No credentials, but they aren’t worth much if this stuff is commonplace.

    The professors know this is happening but pass them anyways. What a disgusting farce.

  15. OtherWay says

    Fascinating piece. Thank you for writing it.
    But there is serious irony in the authors placement of blame for this problem.

    Many of the comments blame the author for the problem – for participating.
    The author claims they were just getting by in a society that didn’t find better ways to utilize their talents. (and I happen to largely agree with the author there, and not with the angry comments).

    But the author then blames the the professors – for not stopping this. But professors are in the same situation as the author. The University will waste about 40 hours of my time, and treat me as an aggressor if I discover cheating. So why would I discover it? When I do discover cheating, I give pathetic and mild punishments outside of the University ‘system’. They must be so mild that no student actually ever uses the University ‘system’ – because that system punishes me – not the cheater. I am just getting by and doing a job, too.

    The University operates this way, because it is consumed by the desires of administrators to keep and expand their jobs which would disappear if a ‘solution’ was ever actually implemented. And because the University is ideologically consumed by the leftist political ideology where everyone is a victim. Cheaters are victims, and professors are the power structure (patriarchy) and there is no concept whatsoever in leftism of ‘personal responsibility’. The questions at the tribunal are not ‘did you cheat’, but ‘in what ways has this professor oppressed you in the past that would allow us to exonerate your behavior based on oppression theories of justice.’ And I am not going there.

  16. Martti O. Suomivuori says

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this eloquently written and informative piece of autoanthropology. I see no reason to doubt its authenticity. It is well known that money buys politician, legislators, political parties, elections, even a presidency so why not a diploma from an art or a business school?

    The fake diplomas are an industry as are fake Vuitton bags and Rolex watches.
    Spreading lies through news channels is an industry as is setting up photogenic war scenes for click-hungry media and recycling the scenes and the actors to meet the current order of enragement.

    I still have faith in hard sciences as I see the amount of technology that actually works.
    That’s about it.

    • X. Citoyen says

      Still have faith in the hard sciences, eh? You should start reading Retraction Watch. Your confidence will crack by page three and shatter beyond repair by page 30.

      The hard sciences, medicine, and engineering are not immune to the disease illustrated here because it’s not methodological but moral. Having rigorous standards doesn’t prevent subversion or even assure that subverters are eventually caught. And much damage can be done before they are caught—just look at the fake vaccines-cause-autism research.

      Maybe you’re supposing, as Nelson Hermes does above, that fake engineers and doctors “wouldn’t last 2 days on any job.” I recall at least two cases in Canada of fake doctors practicing medicine for years before getting caught—and I don’t mean cheated their way through med school; I mean faked their medical credentials. Who knows how many they’ve killed or harmed over the years?

      But wholly fake engineers and doctors aren’t the biggest problem. As much trouble as these anomalies can cause, they’re not nearly as damaging as large numbers of semi-qualified and unqualified engineers, doctors, and scientists who have no moral scruples. They pollute and dilute their fields, and, invariably, get people killed. And this ignores the less obvious but no less destructive social consequences: Having people without integrity elevated to positions of power by unearned credentials is not a minor problem in a liberal democracy.

      Some commenters seem to have gotten this point. Tammy isn’t shining a light on a disease, and she isn’t just one of the symptoms. Tammy is the disease. The rich Saudi playboy is culpable in one unearned degree. By her own admission, Tammy is culpable in dozens or hundreds of unearned degrees. Is the john worse than the pimp when the john is rich and the pimp is poor? I say no, because severity of corruption is quantitative, not qualitative. Civil society depends on people like Tammy to defend the institutions they’ve benefitted from—and that taxpayers have paid for. She cashed in instead, and now pretends to wash her hands by wringing them here.

      • derek says

        I wouldn’t worry about fake credentials or even unqualified people in the private sector. Things actually matter. Most of these people are going to end up either managing people who do the real work or working for government. Crooked not very smart with unaccountable power.

      • m_suomi says

        There is a massive material evidence to prove that the hard sciences still are for the truth.
        You do not get a Rover on the planet Mars by cheating or falsifying documents. Your GPS navigation takes you there with a tolerance of a couple of meters. Right now, there are tens of thousand people up in the air, heading safely to wherever they want to go, with a security that was totally unforeseeable a couple of decades ago. In my work I see orthopedists orienting protheses with ‘satellite navigation’ taking advantage of imaging techniques based ondeep knowledge of quantum physics, electronics, information technology, human anatomy (AND economics, business administration and marketing).

        I see the results. The hard sciences work! There are words and there is material evidence.
        You cannot talk away material evidence. PS. Medawar’s ‘Spotted MIce’ is an interesting read from decades back about the subject of bad science.

        This guy:

  17. Linda Bondoc says

    Really? She calls this practice “sketchy ethics” and then refuses to use her real name? Why should I believe that this is anything but an elaborate work of fiction?

  18. Carl Eric Scott says

    Grade inflation, spurred in part by student evals and admin pressure, but most of all due to the cowardice of the a solid 60-70% of the professoriate at most schools, is actually a much bigger problem than cheating. Especially when it comes to writing. The result: if your writing stinks and your thinking patterns are shoddy, almost no prof will make that plain to you. The reality of our sadly corrupted, but NICE, higher ed systems today is that if you’e consistently earning B marks at the lower end in classes that require writing, it’s almost certainly the case that your writing and thinking is very poor, but that your profs are too chicken to tell you. You need tough love, but good luck finding it.

  19. TJR says

    This is of course only a problem if such essays count towards the final mark for the course.

    As long as the final mark is based on work in exam conditions, and/or on essay or project work which includes an oral exam or viva of some kind, then its fine.

    Essays like this should be for learning, not for testing. If you pay someone else to write them then you don’t learn and hence fail the course.

  20. Fran says

    I seem to remember that it was the late 1980’s when I shifted my grading scheme away from weight on term papers or essays because so may of them conflicted grossly with exam results. In the end I settled on an optional essay for 20% of the grade, mostly to allow students with particular interests to go deeper into them. Only a very small number preferred this to 100% exam, some of them hoping to just edge a passing grade, and a few obviously fully engaged in their topic. Most of my colleagues made similar adjustments with the encouragement of the department and University. The honours students got to do a thesis project, and these were supervised at all stages. A degree from that department and University still counts, and attracts good students.

    Back when I was a grad student, I was asked to help another student who had failed her comprehensives (4 papers on assigned topics in 4 weeks). She was irate, because the failed paper was an “edited” version of one that had passed in a previous year, partly because she could not make a public fuss about racial discrimination! It is a general principle in that if you cannot “edit” something technical that you have no knowledge of without losing the sense, something I learned when my supervisor edited my thesis material for publication. You have to be a very good researcher to do what the author of this article did, even at the undergraduate level.

    The only time in 40 years in academia that I really felt threatened was when I refused to “adjust” the grades of two very large rich Nigerian Muslim students. It was only good luck that I met them in a public space.

    • TarsTarkas says

      In my academic endeavors at a state school in Pennsylvania in the 1970’s and 1980’s it never would have occurred to naive ‘ol me to ‘buy’ a pre-written paper, although I realize now that they were readily available even then. I have since learned about the many paper mills that have allowed many of our ‘best and brightest’ to earn their degrees and fast-track their path to fortune and power.

  21. Vanessa Kelly says

    Sketchy ethics? I call it fraud. I sure hope this is grossly exaggerated.

    • m_suomi says

      The richest are the fittest in the modern game of survival.

  22. D Lambert says

    Unlike others here, I hold the author fully responsible for his/her actions. I myself am an editor & professor, and have been offered such jobs–not from shadowy wealthy foreigners, but from wealthy Americans. It’s been going on for a while, probably ever since essays have been counted as part of a grade. And yes, online classes are rife with cheating, and have always been – boyfriends/girlfriends taking the test for you, paying someone to take the test, having two computers and using one to cheat while you take the test, etc – something the breathless mainstream media won’t cover. An online class has very few, if any, safeguards.

    This doesn’t mean you should participate. I refused the offers. You know why? It’s immoral and unethical, very clearly so. Just because someone pays me for something doesn’t mean I should say yes.

    In this case the author made money by cheating. This wasn’t a victimless crime. For one, there are other students in the class. There are limited A’s. So this person is helping wealthy cheaters steal A’s from hardworking students. I count that as disgusting.

    Furthermore, the author shows no remorse and justifies his/her non-whistle blowing by saying “i was taken care of.” That’s right. It’s always been about the author, then and now.

    We don’t need more laws to deter intelligent liars & cheaters from lying and cheating. The frauds need to stop & take responsibility for their share. Sure. the university itself needs to acknowledge that they know perfectly well that people cheat on online courses & essays, but are just happy to take the buck, but you know they will never do that. And as a professor myself, I know firsthand how fruitless it is to pursue a wealthy student with accusations of cheating when there is no hard evidence.

    Just because the structure of a system is riddled with endemic corruption doesn’t mean we have to participate. If we do, we are then morally obligated to be a whistle blower. If we don’t want to do that, we should not publish an article detailing our moral depravity & justifying our lack of action by saying we got ours.

    I’m deeply troubled by the lack of morals/ethnics in this article and hope to see a rebuttal.

    • anonymoose says

      I’m not sure I would say she was the ‘cheater’ here. She merely facilitated the cheating of others. Its the moral culpability of the cheating that falls on the cheater, not on those who make it possible. Similarly, if a married man has an affair, its him who is morally culpable for this act, not the ‘other woman’.

      The author is no longer affiliated with any university, and she rightly points out that education is mostly about signaling, not about actual learning, anyway. If you dislike the system, reform it.

      • I disagree with your conclusion and the example you use to support it. If the woman knows the man is married, she, too, is culpable. If I just drive the getaway car for others who rob the bank, am I absolved of any wrong doing since I “merely” drove the car? If I have land along the border and I “merely” accept money from Coyotes smuggling illegal immigrants, am I exempt from any wrongdoing? What if some of the smuggled immigrants die along the way?

        Despite my age, I’m often reminded how naive I can be about the morality of others.

    • I agree with everything you’ve written here (especially your closing statements), but I have one question: Why are As limited?

  23. X. Citoyen Tammy isn’t shining a light on a disease, and she isn’t just one of the symptoms. Tammy is the disease.

    Nail, meet hammer.

    Perhaps we don’t care so much about the rich students who cheat, or the colleges that let them. Let’s care about Tammy instead. You’ve eaten forbidden fruit, hun. You need to get it out of you, even if that means an enema.

    None of us is without sin, of course, but I recommend a few hours of Dr Peterson videos for Tammy. Stop lying and take responsibility.

    • Lisa says

      Or just stop lying and take responsibility. No need for “a few hours of Dr Peterson videos”–that would be too severe a punishment. This isn’t “A Clockwork Orange”. (Who told that guy he was any good at public speaking? And come to think of it, who really wrote his papers?)

      • I imagine “good at public speaking” is in the eye of the beholder. I find his lectures interesting and well delivered. So, apparently, do a few others.

        Let us know when you have a robust Youtube viewership approaching 1% of Dr Peterson’s.

      • I’ve seen him speak in person. Sure, he’s less polished than someone who is used to the kind of celebrity that he attained overnight, but I was entertained and, as far as I could tell from audience engagement, so were the other people there to see him.

        But, I’ll admit, it’s difficult to resist being snarky and edgy.

  24. chk says

    Easy solution
    For any essay also a a 10 minute speech should be prepared. No PowerPoint just free talking.
    Professor should ask 2 question from random pages of the essay.

    Will make very clear if the student knows the topic..

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