Ghost Writer: Academic Integrity Spotlight

Plagiarism is a huge issue in colleges. While most students want to avoid committing academic fraud, others are intentional in their efforts to cheat their way to a degree. An eye-opening profile of a 'shadow scholar' in 'The Chronicle of Higher Education' reveals the extent to which students are willing to forsake academic integrity. Schools offering English Reading & Writing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

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Cheating: An Epidemic

In a post last week, we provided suggestions students could use to avoid unintentionally plagiarizing the work of others while preparing college papers. Unfortunately, it is not only honest and well-meaning people who struggle to maintain academic integrity. Other students actively engage in fraudulent behavior to secure grades they can't or won't earn.

Perhaps in no realm is academic dishonesty as systemic than in the research paper industry. The digital age has allowed companies to easily distribute plagiarized works - and ethically challenged students have taken full advantage. In response, universities and professors now utilize plagiarism-detection software like TurnItIn to identify work that is not original.

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Bringing Cheating to Another Level

Unfortunately, anti-plagiarism software alone is not enough to stem the tide of academic dishonesty. A recent profile in 'The Chronicle of Higher Education' details the experiences of 'Ed Dante' (a pseudonym), an 'academic mercenary' who specializes in completing custom research papers for students. Employed in the industry since 2004, Dante has come forward to make college educators aware of the extent of academic fraud on campuses.

Dante estimates that he's written 5,000 pages of academic research in the past year. He says he's written papers on pharmacology, maritime security, anthropology, municipal budgeting, cinema, postmodern architecture and other academic subjects too numerous to mention. Perhaps most alarming is that these are not all essays for lazy undergrads trying to pass Soc 101. Rather, he's also completed extensive work for doctoral and master's students, including 12 graduate theses of at least 50 pages.

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Audacious Academic Dishonesty

The sheer scope of the academic fraud that Dante reveals is startling and likely to leave many wondering how such breaches of academic integrity could go unnoticed. To bring light to this topic, Dante describes the students he typically writes papers for. Many, he says, are not without ability but simply unmotivated. Other customers are usually either learning English as a second language or totally overmatched by academic content.

It is these latter two groups of students that Dante believes colleges are failing. He feels that an emphasis on grading, rather than learning, incentivizes students struggling with English or course content to cheat rather than invest the appropriate time in the material. Dante also suggests that instructors simply aren't vigilant enough, citing the fact that none of his clients have been caught for plagiarizing. He wonders how this is possible given what should be an evident disconnect between students' language or cognitive limitations and ideas expressed in his papers.

In a final analysis, the reasons behind why students are cheating are likely more complex than those presented in Dante's expose. But what the article does reveal is that an incredible level of academic dishonesty permeates even the highest realms of academia. A recent article in Varsity, a Cambridge University student newspaper, reveals that ghostwriting student papers is even an open problem at that venerable UK institution of higher learning.

Dante's stated goal with his piece is to get a conversation going about plagiarism and the custom research paper. Judging by the lengthy comments on the article, he's at least done that.

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