The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an article titled "The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students' papers tells his story." The editor's note at the beginning explains that "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."
Reading the article is, as one of my friends, put it, "horribly fascinating." Here's a sample of why:
"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."
This isn't the first time I've heard of people paying other people to do their work for them. A few years ago I was on the hunt for some writing projects and in the process was asked to be a staff writer for a website that does work much like what's mentioned above. Call me naïve, but I had no idea businesses like this existed. I wrote back: "Um, isn't what you do unethical?" The response I got completely skirted my question, laid out their terms, and asked if I wanted in. Once again, I asked if they didn't see what they were doing as wrong in any way. I never heard from them again.
My husband (an ethics teacher at a Christian high school) and I talked about this over dinner last night. As much as it's disheartening to hear of people who hire this type of service to do their work for them, I was incredulous at the writer's own lack of scruples in providing the service. Why would someone want to live his life honing a skill he will never get credit for? His name will never appear on any of the brilliant (or otherwise) works he produces. How does he live with himself?
"One word," my husband said. "Money. Everyone has a price."
The conversation stopped for a few minutes. "We would never do that," I asked, "would we?"
Would we? Does everyone really have a price? Is ethical ignorance really just one small justification after another until you're in too deep to notice?
Dear God, I hope not. I really hope not.