Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 15, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

GULLIBLE OR CREDULOUS?....YOU MAKE THE CALL....I suppose it's a little meanspirited to highlight this, but this op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post is a humdinger. Amherst grad Bess Kargman writes that until recently she had been earning some extra money editing and proofreading college applications:

Then my employer suggested that I could earn more money working as a "comprehensive" editor....After a few days of e-mail correspondence, I would churn out the model compositions, which the students were instructed to use for "inspiration" during the process of writing their own. I didn't question why a student (or, rather, a parent) might be willing to pay as much as $399 for a service that provided nothing more than inspiration.

....Several weeks into the process, I found out that my first comprehensive client had in fact included my essay with his application verbatim....I confronted my supervisor: How could the company offer a service that was so easily abused? She said unapologetically that the firm's practices and intentions were legitimate. I was taken aback by this blatant indifference. Actually, the company's only real response was to stop sending me any clients altogether. After all, they have a whole slew of college graduates willing to do the kind of bogus work I've decided to turn down.

This form of organized, for-profit cheating was unfamiliar to me....

Do I have any Amherst grads out there? Is it really possible that a grown woman who spent four years there is so painfully naive that she didn't realize her essays were being used for a wee bit more than "inspiration"? And furthermore, was shocked to discover that an online essay writing company might not be entirely on the up and up?

The mind reels.

Kevin Drum 12:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (100)

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A while back there was an essay on Newsweek's My Turn page about exactly this kind of thing. The author of that one knew what was going on and was pretty unremorseful about it.

Posted by: Linkmeister on January 15, 2006 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

Don't let her out of the house. She's too dumb to protect herself from the world's dangers.

Posted by: shortstop on January 15, 2006 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

That's why liberals feel and conservatives think.

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on January 15, 2006 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

Is she cute?

Posted by: Sonny on January 15, 2006 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

Amherst grad here. Not that that gives me any special insight into what this person was thinking. But I gather that college kids these days are very well aware of the many avenues for finding "inspirational" papers on the internets. So, fwiw, I find her story hard to believe, too.

Posted by: Garamond12 on January 15, 2006 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

As long as the essays are conservative oriented, Rove will provide them for free. Just ask Tbrosz.

Posted by: Michael7843853 GO in 08! on January 15, 2006 at 12:45 AM | PERMALINK

Freedom Fighter: That's why liberals feel and conservatives think.

You're a man without a party, eh?

Posted by: shortstop on January 15, 2006 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

No one is that naive. She's just trying to make herself sound morally righteous.

Posted by: Rad Racer on January 15, 2006 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, Kevin, it is really possible that a grown woman who spent four years there is so painfully naive that she didn't realize her essays were being used for a wee bit more than "inspiration". And furthermore, she was shocked to discover that an online essay writing company might not be entirely on the up and up.

The mind reels. Next!

Posted by: Kenji on January 15, 2006 at 1:10 AM | PERMALINK

It seems a bit naive to ask the question in the first place.

Posted by: Archie on January 15, 2006 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK

There are some good salesmen out there, and quite a few people willing to believe them.

Posted by: Jimm on January 15, 2006 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

Your university education gives you no immunity, in and of itself. Indeed, pride is one of the key devices that salespeople enjoy leveraging against you, whether this pride is that you went to an elite university so you must be smarter than other people and not easily joshed, or the 10 thousand other things it could be.

Posted by: Jimm on January 15, 2006 at 1:39 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, please tell me how I can get in touch with this woman. I've been a self-employed consultant for lo these many years and it occurs to me this could be some pretty easy money. Somebody wants to use my peerless prose, they're welcome to it. So long as they pay, that is.....Same offer for all readers of Kevin's blog. You call, I haul. That's my motto.

Gee, if I could help out a poor struggling student and make a little beer money at the same time, what's not to like? Sure, I'm a whore. It's the American way. I'm thinking of running for political office.

Posted by: Nixon Did It on January 15, 2006 at 1:40 AM | PERMALINK

If you can generate text worthy of other people's theft, there's no way you can be elected to high office in the USA. Sorry, but they hate them some 'leets.

Posted by: Kenji on January 15, 2006 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, some people don't look more than skin deep.

Still, it could've been used for dozens of other uses like material in tests and textbooks and such.

But this sort of behavior in companies and people is becoming very prevalent. I don't understand it.

There's entire industries made up of people helping other people cheat - in games, school, etc.

And since they themselves aren't breaking any laws...

Ugh. It's repellent.

Posted by: Crissa on January 15, 2006 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

KEVIN DRUM: Is it really possible that a grown woman who spent four years there is so painfully naive that she didn't realize her essays were being used for a wee bit more than "inspiration"?

Gee, I don't know, Kevin; how many years have you been following Bush now? Seems to me you could have earned a major in him by now. And yet as recently as a few weeks ago you were confident that he had the "best of intentions" when he ordered illegal wiretaps. What is the inspiration for your naivet?

As for Ms Kargman, after reading the article in its entirety, I'm inclined to think she really may just be very naive:

BESS KARGMAN: But in the process they were losing something far more important: an opportunity to define their own authentic voices.

She sounds as if she believes every candidate freshman has the capability to write a coherent essay if they just knuckle down, when probably fewer than half of graduating seniors can pull it off.

On a lighter note:

SHORTSTOP: You're a man without a party, eh?

I don't get that many genuine chuckles reading the comments here, but this hit the spot..:)

Posted by: jayarbee on January 15, 2006 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

...sounds as if she believes every candidate freshman has the capability to write a coherent essay

Coherency is possible, even from an eighteen-year-old.

Further undermining of the liberal consensus, I submit.

Posted by: snowy s.o.b. on January 15, 2006 at 2:39 AM | PERMALINK

Totally offtopic: Stardust reentry tonight, about 1:55 AM PST. Heads up to those in northern California and Nevada!

Posted by: tbrosz on January 15, 2006 at 2:45 AM | PERMALINK

Nobody asked why colleges still refer to the essay when they are so easily counterfeited.

Posted by: Matt on January 15, 2006 at 2:54 AM | PERMALINK

Why next thing you know they'll find evidence of widespread cheating on exams at Westpoint and dishonest Congressmaen and Senators.

Posted by: murmeister on January 15, 2006 at 3:50 AM | PERMALINK

And I use to wonder why I was seeing a large increase in the number of cases referred to the Student Conduct Committee.

Posted by: college on January 15, 2006 at 3:54 AM | PERMALINK

Send this letter to your representative and senators.



Dear Senator (Representative)

Pass this progressive agenda or face a mass boycott of Republican contributors.

Please also forward this message to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority leader of the Senate.

I demand that you get the Republican Party to hold a press conference and accede to these demands. Until such a press conference happens and the legislation and/or actions gets passed I will boycott products from Republican contributors Walmart, Wendys, Outback Steak House, Dominos Pizza, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Eckerd, CVS and Walgreens, Curves for women health clubs, GE and Exxon/Mobil.

I demand that congress pass legislation ending the war in Iraq and withdraw the troops and arrange with the United Nations to replace US troops with UN troops to defend Iraq until The Iraqi army can defend Iraq.

I demand that the Republican party end their aggressive and hateful action to end a womans right to choose abortion or not.

I Demand that congress not confirm judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme court as he will NOT support a womans right to choose her own medical treatment including abortion.

I demand that the Congress of the United states and the president of the United States enact a law to increase the minimum wage to TEN dollars an hour and also to extend unemployment benefits to a year or more for all people whose unemployment benefits expired after 6 months even though they still seek work.

I demand that the Congress of the United States to not privatize social security benefits in any form including taking a percentage of the social security tax and placing it in private accounts. People can already create their own pensions with money after taxes in the private sector.

I demand that the congress make all of a persons earned income taxable for social security FICA tax purposes and remove the 88,000 dollar taxable income limit. This will make social security solvent for many years to come.

I demand the congress increase the payroll tax in order to make social security solvent as well.

I demand congress and the president enact a prescription drug benefit under Medicare Part B which covers 80 percent of medication cost, with no extra premium, no extra deductibles, no means test and no coverage gaps, and no penalties for signing up in a succeeding year.

I demand congress repeal the faulty Medicare law HR 1 / S 1 passed by congress in Nov 2003.

I demand congress enact single payer universal health insurance for every citizen as minimum coverage.

I demand that congress and the president enact universal vote by mail throughout the 50 states of the United States of America with paper ballots easy to fill out and difficult to change or invalidate by Republican Party officials. This will prevent Republicans from vote suppression by skin color and political party which happened electronically and in person in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

I demand that congress and the president enact that civil servants on every state payroll keep track of voter registrations and vote counting of mail in votes in each precinct and not companies such as Choicepoint. We need to take the Republican Party out of the business of keeping track of voter registration and counting votes.

I demand that congress and the president ban the secretary of state in each of the 50 states from engaging in politics especially acting as a campaign official for a presidential campaign.

I demand congress enact legislation protecting private pensions from corporations deliberately declaring bankruptcy or ending pensions outright.

I do this in the spirit of peaceful resistance to a congress that refuses to enact this legislation.

Yes, I vote and I will vote against you if you don't pass the above measures but I also vote with my dollars and I will not buy any products from these Republican contributors until you get the RNC to accede to our demands.



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Posted by: maximus on January 15, 2006 at 4:02 AM | PERMALINK

I think we're losing sight of the goal here. As Sonny asked... IS she cute?

Posted by: MNPundit on January 15, 2006 at 4:28 AM | PERMALINK

Hmm, thanks to Google we have this picture of a soph. Bess Kargman re: Amhurst 2001-2002. So um, you make the call. Maybe it's not her, how many Amherst Bess Kargman's are there? Although this is the only one Google image came up with.


Posted by: MNPundit on January 15, 2006 at 4:32 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps she's faking it? She may want to move on to another career path, and the best way to explain the resume stain is to act shocked-- SHOCKED-- that there was gambling going on in the casino. What better way to make that credible than to convince the Washington Post to publish her op ed on the subject?

Posted by: Gaheris Rhade on January 15, 2006 at 4:49 AM | PERMALINK

SNOWY S.O.B.: Coherency is possible, even from an eighteen-year-old. Further undermining of the liberal consensus, I submit.

So then, you must be what? About sixteen or seventeen? Hang in there!

Posted by: jayarbee on January 15, 2006 at 4:56 AM | PERMALINK

As an Amherst grad, I cringe. But I remember noticing that some (not all) of the best students in my class were very unquestioning and non-curious types. I figured that's how they got so successful in the first place: giving professors precisely what they wanted and nothing else. It's probably a common phenomenon at other top colleges too. After all, George W. Bush went to Yale and Harvard Business School.

Posted by: Rob on January 15, 2006 at 5:08 AM | PERMALINK

Institutionalized Deceit (a different form of ID) is a serious threat to our way of life. We depend on people following the rules without being policed. The example cited in Kevin's post is one outrageous example of a national trend. It will kill us. Already the students at elite colleges cant be trusted with simple writing and calculation tasks, and many of them are mystified that professors expect them to have these skills.

To readers who believe that everyone cheats the system, consider this example from my experience while living in Italy. Italy is not high on most people's list of follow-the-rules societies. In the city where I live there is a public bus system that costs one euro per 60-minute interval, with daily, monthly and yearly passes for convenience. The busdriver does not take money or even look at the eyes of the people he/she picks up, because most enter from the back of the bus. Fares are enforced by roving inspectors who in theory challenge bus riders to show their tickets.

Heres the interesting fact. In five months of riding these buses I have never seen anyone's fare checked. My wife however had one instance in five months where an inspector boarded a crowded bus and checked everyone's pass or ticket. Guess what? Everyone had one.

Can you imagine that situation occurring in the 21st-century United States? Me, neither.

Posted by: troglodyte on January 15, 2006 at 5:21 AM | PERMALINK

What I can't believe is that some 2/3 of this country was so gullible and naive as to believe that Bush/Iraq was a good idea.

My mind is still reeling.

Posted by: tristero on January 15, 2006 at 6:20 AM | PERMALINK

Nixon Did It: I've been a self-employed consultant... Sure, I'm a whore.

"Intellectual prostitute" is my preferred description (especially when acting in a consulting role :)

Posted by: has407 on January 15, 2006 at 7:15 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you don't know English majors. We're all of us starry-eyed saps, ready to be led around by whatever smooth-talking con-person shows up with a plausible tale.

I think she was "that naive." I sure as shit was at that age, a year out of Berkeley, or I would have worked for Nixon instead of McGovern. Being a well-meaning chump, I passed up on the big bucks.

Fortunately, I'm proud to say I'm still a rank sucker most of the time. "'You see things; and you say, Why? But I dream things that never were; and I say, Why not?'"-GB Shaw

I'm glad to hear there are still college kids who are capable of being shocked. Most are cynical little snots who don't even vote.

Posted by: Steve High on January 15, 2006 at 7:48 AM | PERMALINK

As a Williams graduate, I can say that nothing surprises me regarding the gullibility, naivete, and light cerebral capacity of anyone coming out of Amherst.

Posted by: Eph on January 15, 2006 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

I teach at a university and I have many students are naive about what many of their peers are doing. It is not strange. Would that more of them had that naivete.

Posted by: Some Guy on January 15, 2006 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

With the Internet and today's word processors, you don't need someone to write a paper or essay for you. There are whole sites with papers of any topic you care to name. Do a 'search and replace' for certain key words, and no one will ever know that it is plaigarism.

Welcome to the brave new world of higher education, Kevin...

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on January 15, 2006 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

But in the process they were losing something far more important: an opportunity to define their own authentic voices.

Ah. Written like a wanna-be writer. Many people regard writing as a utilitarian endeavor and couldn't care less about defining "their authentic voices."

Look, I don't hold the naivete of a 22-year-old against someone. It's the mark of a basically honest person that she has no conception of how someone could be as brazenly dishonest as her clients. However, the earnestness she exudes about how "the students are really cheating themselves" is really over-the-top. A little more condemnation, a little less earnest concern for the students' well-being, please.

Posted by: Constantine on January 15, 2006 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK


"Recognized worldwide as the standard in online plagiarism prevention, Turnitin helps educators and students take full advantage of the internet's educational potential....."

Posted by: Guy Banister on January 15, 2006 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

If the NSA is able to "sift" data on anyone it chooses, why not have academic records from, say 2nd grade on, be available to colleges online. Complete with writing samples.

That way a college could see a student's progression over time. We could demand that teachers scan documents and post into a database.

Think about it, you could locate that report you wrote about Greek merchant ships in 4th grade online.

Good writing portfolios (of students' work)are powerful tools for educators. When looked at overtime it's possible to see the progress (or lack) overtime of a given student as a writer.

Stand alone essays are obviously suspect in this brave new online world.

We focus on test scores, demand children take ELA tests annually, but we don't require original writing pieces to be rendered electronically.

Transparency is the key to authenticity!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 15, 2006 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

I was going to make a snarky remark about Amherst (here it is:Ummm...have you ever been to Amherst? The town that is. It's pastoral idyllicness is astounding. Take a sheltered student, put it in an even more sheltered environment for four years. Its amazing what will come out), but then I read the essay. Reading between the lines, I found my eyes opened a wee bit. I am professor at an institution with a lot of ESL students who (we know) hire writing tutors to help them with their essays. We are also aware of the essay shops that sell finished products. My department has a new quasi-policy of mandating students disclose that they use a writing tutor.
The 'on-line editing' service that Bess Hartmann worked at clearly does a lot more that college application essays. I found myself feeling a little amazed -- so this is how it works! I knew it was there in theory, but the insight into the operation still brought the system home. How much is a student willing to pay for an course essay? Who writes them? How much do they make?
And one last question: How is this different from the ghostwriters of CEO speeches and op-ed pieces, and for that matter the SOTU address?

Posted by: lisainVan on January 15, 2006 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

I've had students turn in exactly the same paper in a class of 30 and expect that I wouldn't notice the duplication. I had an A student who loaned his paper to a friend to use as a model (for inspiration) then was shocked to find that he had copied it word for word and turned it in. I think you are all forgetting what it feels like to be 18 yo.

Cynicism is a function of life experience. I don't find it admirable, as Kevin apparently does (judging by his Voltaire quote). I don't see any reason to deride someone who expects better of people and has learned to trust instead of distrust.

I have a friend whose response to every political outrage is to say that that's the nature of politics and what did I expect? Should we all lose our innocence to the extent that we no longer expect better of elected officials? Would it be right to run an editorial mocking those credulous enough to expect honesty from a president?

Posted by: Nancy on January 15, 2006 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Special (expensive) SAT prep courses, "personal tutors" to help people "write" essays by giving them "inspirational" examples, deliberate falsification of scientific data, Enron-style accounting... I really doubt Ms. Kargman had no idea anything dishonest was going on. I rather expect she thought her "inspirational essays" would be treated the same way encyclopedia articles "inspired" my grade school history reports.

And yet, there is something shocking about the entire cheating industry and its acceptance today. Meanwhile, people are shocked, SHOCKED at the wild tinfoil-hatted cynics suspecting voting fraud in the 2004 election. How COULD anyone suspect that highly partisan officials would fudge the results of an election merely because the paperless electronic system's counts can easily be altered with no way of conclusively proving the fraud?

Next thing you'll be saying is that these people's kids are getting into colleges by cheating, and purchasing their college papers on line...

Posted by: RepubAnon on January 15, 2006 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Plagiarism and cheating are the norm the first assignment in my classes because the majority of professors can't be bothered to write custom assignments or Google suspicious turns of phrase. As a result, we're rewarding people who can game the system. Should we blame the students for picking up on the dominant ethos of the society?

Posted by: MarkC on January 15, 2006 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK


It is my experience that the best schools have their fair share of idiots, fools, and legacy admissions.

Posted by: Jon Moyer on January 15, 2006 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

She got to, and through, Amherst, and never heard the phrase pecunia non olet?


Posted by: Davis X. Machina on January 15, 2006 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

I think it's telling that you appear more concerned with the woman's being naive, than the fact the employer was assisting academic cheating. Tells me a lot where your priorities are.

Posted by: coffeequeen on January 15, 2006 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

I think it's telling that you appear more concerned with the woman's being naive, than the fact the employer was assisting academic cheating.

Evil can be conquered, but the gods themselves struggle in vain against stupidity. (Paraphrasing Goethe, IIRC.)

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on January 15, 2006 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin man, I love you (platonically), but this is funny from the guy who was originally telling us to cut the Republicans some credit on the Iraq issue before the War. I know, I know, it was a longtime ago, and it's unfair to beat people over the head with it so long after the fact. At the same time, I find this woman's honesty astoundingly refreshing. No modern politician or pundit would ever admit that they were so thoroughly duped and that their work had been so thoroughly misused. In the pundit/politico-sphere, she would have modified verbatim with "basically" or "essentially" - anything to lessen the scandal.

Also, you have someone like Specter saying he thinks Alito won't "overturn Roe." In a world where that doesn't bring a massive amount of disdain, why do we expect people not to be naive? Sitting where I am right now, it looks like everyone plays "naive" in order to be "polite." The only difference is that this woman wasn't "playing" which is a nice change - and that unsophisticated people become naive in a world where everyone plays naive isn't exactly shocking to me.

Posted by: MDtoMN on January 15, 2006 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Oh come on -- she almost surely knew what was going on, got tired of it after a while & then realized that by faking naivety she might be able to pull off an interesting little op-ed-style expose & get some publicity & an entryway into a more interesting job...

Posted by: J on January 15, 2006 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: Totally offtopic: Stardust reentry tonight, about 1:55 AM PST. Heads up to those in northern California and Nevada!

Wish I could've seen this. I love that stuff.

Posted by: shortstop on January 15, 2006 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

In four years at Amherst (even it was forty years ago), I never knew anyone (especially an English major, in my experience a lot less naive than economists) that naive. There were a few people who were pretty good at rationalization....

And, dear lisainVan, we heard that pastoral stuff out of the NYT all the way back then. I submit the place was a hell of lot less provincial than New York or Washington, and, as best I know, probably still is.

Posted by: Gene O'Grady on January 15, 2006 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

"Paraphrasing Goethe, IIRC."


Posted by: Joel on January 15, 2006 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

People who are very honest, very young, very earnest, and very smart can be painfully, almost poignantly naive to the rest of us.

She doesn't merit disdain, scorn, or mistrust.

Posted by: Mike B. on January 15, 2006 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

And one last question: How is this different from the ghostwriters of CEO speeches and op-ed pieces, and for that matter the SOTU address?

The day-to-day business of CEOs and presidents isn't learning (as we've been reminded most painfully during this administration). Op-eds and SOTUs are by-products, not centerpieces, of the work that executives and politicians do. In contrast, students have entered into a contract--sometimes quite literally, if you consider the honor code adopted by most colleges and universities--in which doing their own research and writing represents their end of the bargain.

A better analogy might be a CEO spending the winter in Barbados while someone else directs VPs and attends the annual meeting, or a president who has outsourced all policy work and decisionmaking to others. Snerk.

Posted by: shortstop on January 15, 2006 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

I consider myself fairly cynical, but I'm a bit surprised by this, and at how far the ethical barometer has fallen in such a short time. I'm 38, and this would've been pretty shocking twenty years ago. I often think my Korean-war era parents and their generation were the last one who knew how to raise kids, at least in view of the McMansion-Boomers who see their children as extensions of their egos and think that anything is justified as long as Caitlin and Ryan (in ten years, all college applicants of both sexes will be named either Taylor or Madison) get into the right school so they can study business and communications

Posted by: jim on January 15, 2006 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Let's see: If you have enough money you can get your child's college essay written for them, you can have their grades artificially inflated with high priced "tutors", and you can spend thousands of dollars on SAT tutors. Seems like a fair system to me.

Posted by: gq on January 15, 2006 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, she should have known what was going on, but you are pounding on the wrong person.

There's a whole industry full of unethical scum, and you are jumping on somebody for her lack of awareness.

That sounds an awful lot like what big media does with stories.

Posted by: Ottnott on January 15, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Last Fall I started teaching a college class, and I was asked by the faculty member who hired me to make sure the students got in plenty of writing experiences. I hate to say it, but I was shocked at the inability of some- not all- college juniors to write coherent, grammatically correct, and properly spelled essays that were only two pages in length. It's unfortunate, and the only way to combat their lack of skills in college is to make sure that kids write often from the earliest years, learn grammar and spelling early, and give them lots of critical feedback to correct their errors.

As for cheating on essays, that wasn't a problem, as my assignments were unique (like picking up that week's local scandal sheet and analyzing the editorial under the libel law), and the grades weren't significant enough to warrant paying anyone to write the essay. Plus, since I had all students e-mail their essays and I read them, I would have been tipped off by a sudden huge improvement in style and skills

Posted by: James Finkelstein on January 15, 2006 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

"all college applicants of both sexes will be named either Taylor or Madison"

Bet none will be called Bush.

Posted by: Kenji on January 15, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

I have heard from a reputable source that she went there for the waters. But, you say, there are no waters at Amherst. She was misled.

Posted by: murmeister on January 15, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Gene O'Grady: I lived in Northampton for three years in the late 90s early 2000s, teaching at one of the Five Colleges (not Amherst). Amherst is much more pastoral and insulated than Northampton, a mere 10 miles down the road, and Amherst students are less likely than those at the other private institutions in the 'Happy Valley' to take courses at one of the other colleges in the consortium. From talking with Amherst faculty, it seems that in order to get tenure at Amherst you really have to demonstrate that you fit with the ethos of the institution (and here I think Amherst shares this attitude with other elite liberal arts colleges: Williams, Wesleyan, Pomona, Colgate Bates, Colby, and the like).
That being said, Institutionally, the place(s) -- the location, the school, the institutional ethos -- is geared towards making real a kind of ideal. Part of that ideal is the power and glory of a liberal arts education. I can guess that Ms. Kargman really thought she was doing good, helping ESL students improve their potential lot in life, by giving them help that they (given they are willing to pay what they do) cannot get elsewhere. Part of what she lost through this experience is a conviction that the ideal world she was educated isn't as pervasive as she (and we) would like to think.
Here is a small analogy: I am still surprised by students who are content getting a C in a course. I didn't realize people like that existed when I was college. And I worry about that day that I am not surprised. If I went into a class thinking that students weren't there to learn, I am not sure I would be able to motivate myself to teach.

Posted by: lisainVan on January 15, 2006 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK


Thanks, joel.

From the perspective of a classicist, all those modern barbari do run together somewhat.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on January 15, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Gullible OR credulous??? Just to be sure, I looked it up. They are synonyms.

Posted by: Michael7843853 GO in 08! on January 15, 2006 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

I had thought myself another man without a party, 'til I was reminded of Schiller, which took me home. He the man.

Posted by: not annoying on January 15, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Naivete can be fatal. A truck driver from my state went to Iraq to work for a private contractor a couple of years ago, shortly after the capture of Saddam, and died in an IED blast shortly thereafter. his widow said he went over after hearing the administration's assurances that the insurgency would die out with Saddam in custody. Repeat: he believed something the Bush Admin. said about conditions in Iraq, and died as a result. Almost qualifies for a Darwin award.

Posted by: markg on January 15, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

jim: "I consider myself fairly cynical, but I'm a bit surprised by this, and at how far the ethical barometer has fallen in such a short time. I'm 38, and this would've been pretty shocking twenty years ago."

I'm 38, too, and the only thing I can say is you must have taken a time warp to get to your campus. While academic dishonesty wasn't exactly commonplace at the small, Midwestern, liberal-arts college I went to, I certainly realized it was going on.

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on January 15, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Should we blame the students for picking up on the dominant ethos of the society?"


Posted by: s9 on January 15, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin --

Talk of credulity is a bit much coming from someone who just 6 posts ago posted the following: "ZAWAHIRI DEAD?.... No confirmation yet, but if it's true it would certainly be a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary news week." Oops, just a few more innocents killed in the Great American War On Terror... But only an Amherst grad could be credulous, right? I'm still waiting for your followup post on this one...

Posted by: Alex R on January 15, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

This is why the SAT added an essay portion. The score isn't so important, but the colleges can request a copy of the SAT essay and compare it to the submitted essay.

I took a writing class at Harvard Extension where a writing sample was required for admission. You also had to write a brief essay on the first night to show that somebody else hadn't written your essay.

It wouldn't suprise me at all to see this spread to undergrad orientation sessions - a short 1-2 week session where there is a double check that all the students are at the level their applications suggested.

Posted by: NotThatMo on January 15, 2006 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

NotThatMo -- it's not just the SAT, which was the last domino to fall. The GRE (last year), the GMAT (almost 10 years ago), and the MCAT (over 12 years ago) have had a scored-essay that is written AT the test site as an integral element of each exam. Ironically, many schools pay less attention (some zero) to the essay grade than to the 200-800 score itself. The latter is from multi-choice Q+A alone, no writing. Why would the schools behave that way? Could it be that the school-ratings, as compiled by USNews and others, pay attention to the multi-choice test scores in determining "rigor" and "selectiveness," and not the essay grades? Now who's being cynical?
BTW, for those of you castigating the test-prep field as "institutionalized cheating" -- I run a test-prep firm with need-based, sliding-scaled tuition; everyone can afford our courses, regardless of financial circumstances or background. We also teach critical thinking and reading skills, along with the test-specific tricks involved in raising scores. So watch where you aim that blunderbuss, ok? Thanks.

Posted by: smartalek on January 15, 2006 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

the bees steal from this flower and that , butafterwards turn their pilferings into honey , which is their own ; it is thyme and marjoram no longer. so let the pupil transform and fuse togather the passages that he borrows from others , to make them entirely his own ;
that is to say , his own judgement . his education , his labour and his study have no other aim but to form this . let him conceal all thathas helped him , and show only what he has made of it . PLATO : FROM MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE , DOB-28 FEBRUARY 1533

Posted by: PLATO on January 15, 2006 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK


At what age did you lose your innocence?

Most people I know have it till they've been in a real workplace for a few months or even years.

Posted by: Name on January 15, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

This is Bess Kargman just writing to say hello! I'm flattered that this blog has made me so "popular"--I enjoyed reading everyone's comments (including the below-the-belt ones).
Alas, I could spend hours defending my "gullibility, naivete, and light cerebral capacity" but instead I thought I'd share with everyone a portion of an email from one of my "fans", as well as my reply to it. Hopefully you'll find it interesting:

"Given that the Internet is well known as a clearing house for bogus/plagiarised/forged writing assignments and given the amounts that people were willing to pay for your "inspirational" musings, your claims of child-like simple-mindedness about what was really going on makes me wonder whether you received any real value for your own education.
Sorry, but I just don't buy your "I was taken advantage of" excuse...you neglected to mention what your cut of the $399.00 for the "model essays" was...
Interesting article...I think it would have been a better read had it been more truthfully titled: How I Made Easy Money Selling Phoney Essays on the Internet."

"...perhaps you'd feel a bit differently about my "incredulous navet" if you knew more about the company and what it was like to work for them....
Alas, in a perfect world i wouldn't have been given a word limit for this article. I might have been able to include more detail about my experiences such as: what exactly my employer told me in order to convince me to accept a few comprehensive clients, how many comprehensive jobs I turned down, and how frequently clients utilized the model essay in the way it was intended. When presented with all of this info, I'm pretty sure you'd only call me semi-naive.

Had I not found working with these kids to be extremely gratifying (note: I was a comprehensive editor for only a couple of weeks- most of my work for the company was as a basic editor), it would have been better for me financially to become a barista at Starbucks. "Easy Money"--I assure you, it was not. Nevertheless, had I included this information in my piece, it would have become an article about how the company exploited me which is not what I wanted my piece to be about. I simply wanted to shed light on an issue that many people don't know about.

Regardless--thank you for your email. I always enjoy constructive criticism."

If you'd like to email me (either to criticize or to praise), I can be reached at bess@kargman.com.


Bess Kargman

Posted by: Bess on January 15, 2006 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

I was about to vote for "naive idiot," then paused long enough to channel my long-ago college student self, and came up with quite a different take.

We knew - of course we knew - that people lied and cheated in school. There was a thriving trade in counterfeit term papers long before PCs and the Web put them at peoples' fingertips. And, yes, we were equal parts amused and pissed off.

But here's the thing: we also pitied those cheating losers, for very much the same reason Kargman does. College is way too soon to sell one's integrity, of person and of mind; the payoff (a better grade??) is way too paltry; and just writing your own stuff isn't, fer chrissakes, that hard.

It seemed to us that anyone so incapable of expressing themselves, and so willing to pay someone else to do their thinking/writing for them, didn't have much integrity to lose in the first place - nor anything of their own worth saying. And to be that empty that young was by any measure a pitiful thing.

Posted by: CaseyL on January 15, 2006 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

Great one, Kevin. Having probs with the trackback...so click on my name for Media Orchard's thoughts on this one.

Posted by: scott on January 15, 2006 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

Bess Kargman: Alas, in a perfect world i wouldn't have been given a word limit for this article. I might have been able to include more detail about my experiences such as: what exactly my employer told me in order to convince me to accept a few comprehensive clients, how many comprehensive jobs I turned down, and how frequently clients utilized the model essay in the way it was intended. When presented with all of this info, I'm pretty sure you'd only call me semi-naive.

This is not the Washington Post. You're not being given any word limit here, so please present the info you think would make us view your case differently.

Posted by: shortstop on January 15, 2006 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

or go here:


Posted by: scott again on January 15, 2006 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: NO COMMENT on January 15, 2006 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, why bleg for an Amherst grad among your readers when you could just get Patrick Fitzgerald on the phone and ask him?

Posted by: phil on January 15, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

OTOH, for the aspiring executive, this could be turned to advantage...

Today, the income/giving potential of future alumni is critical to the survival of education institutions such as yours. And ss I'm sure you'll also agree, that potential is of critical importance when evaluating candidates.

I am the candidate you are looking for. I am an excellent judge of character, and have a firm grasp of my strengths and weaknesses. I am an excellent time and people manager, and I am able to delegate effectively.

I have a proven track record for effectively managing and optimizing complex capital/labor and make vs. buy scenarios.

As evidence of my capabilities, see the attached composition, the entirety of which I personally outsourced. Responsibilities and tasks included:

  • end-to-end project management, including the management of a competitive vendor selection process;
  • contract negotiations;
  • contractor management;
  • conceptual, strategic and tactical direction and oversight;
  • development and validation of the Composition Relevance Analysis Program (CRAP); and
  • CRAP-based deliverables evaluation and acceptance.
Moreover, all of the above was accomplished using state-of-the-art technologies, means and methods, reducing cost and cycle time, increasing quality, with a net-net quantum improvement in overall speed, and cost/benefit.

While my approach may be unorthrox, the results speak for themselves. If you and your stakeholders wish to share in those results, the clock is ticking.

I look forward to your acceptance letter. Please feel free to contact my executive assistant with any questions or comments, or to make an appointment with a representative.

Posted by: has407 on January 15, 2006 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

As usual, money makes a big difference. How many poor kids could write as well as a professional and how many poor kids could afford to pay a professional to write their essay?

I wonder how many people still don't realize that politicians don't write their own speeches and that if left to their own devices many would not be able to write or give a coherent speech?

Notice how, in the recent Alito nomination hearings, that when asked a question he hadn't prepped for that Alito's speech slowed down to a crawl?

Notice how, when faced with unfamiliar questions, Ronald Reagan had to be provided answers by his wife Nancy?

Posted by: MarkH on January 15, 2006 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

When I read Bess's article, I was wondering who if anyone would be mean-spirited enough to mock her naivete, but I'm surprised that Kevin would be the one to do so. I guess that was my naive moment for the day.

I'm sure most of us were naive in our own way at age 22, and most of us still are. I know I would have made the same mistake in large part because at that age (or at any age) you want to believe that your talents and college education are useful, that you can inspire others, and that you can get paid and live honorably doing what you love. I'm really sad that Bess was taken advantage of in her attempts to do something worthwhile, and I'm even sadder that so many of you can't imagine or have entirely forgotten making such a "naive" attempt yourself. I imagine Bess feels much like I did when I thought a certain professor devoted extra attention to me because he respected my work, when it turns out he just wanted to get me into bed. There's a lot of nasty shit out there, Bess, but I hope you don't abandon your ideals.

Posted by: Jess on January 15, 2006 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

This girl should not walk down the street without a helmet.

Posted by: Global Citizen on January 15, 2006 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

I think I was that naieve when I was 16? I don't know but I think my generation (which is Bess's) is supposed to the most cynical -- i've noticed that the generation after us is markedly LESS cynical.

Seriously the system does NOT depend on people following it. The system depends on PEOPLE ACTING AS IF THEY BELIEVE EVERYONE FOLLOWS IT. Society is built on perception.

Posted by: MNPundit on January 15, 2006 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

There is nothing about which one cannot be cynical. Take that bitch, Mother Teresa, for example. Who did she think she was kidding with that "I love humanity" act?

It is naive to think that Bush can be impeached. But , if he is, it will be because of the efforts of people too childishly idealistic to know that ordinary citizens aren't supposed to defend the constitution.

Personally, I have an irrational belief in the American people, in the memory of members of my family who have fought and died for America, and in our traditions of liberty, decency and democracy.

We are swimming in a cesspool of proto-facism and corruption, but I believe that:

... borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear.

Without that belief--which could be characterized as a naive belief--onemight just as well move to North Korea where things are cheaper.

Posted by: Steve High on January 15, 2006 at 7:56 PM | PERMALINK

There's gambling at Rick's?

The hell you say!

Posted by: Birkel on January 15, 2006 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

I grew up in Northampton, next door to Amherst.

I agree completely with J's comment. The woman is feigning naivete to hide her own acquiescence with the system for four years, so she can now feign moral righteousness, write an op-Ed, and get a better job. Those who take her at face value are the ones who are naive.

Posted by: a on January 16, 2006 at 1:26 AM | PERMALINK

Something very similar happened to me while I was in college. I took a philosophy course as a sophmore which required a final paper in a fairly difficult format. A year later, a dorm-mate who was taking the same course that year asked me for help. I thought she wanted help with the format; it didn't occur to me until I had let her see my finished paper that she intended to copy it outright.

I don't think I was quite as naive as Kargman - I mean, it was pretty obvious to me that the professor would have recognized a paper that he had graded less than 12 months earlier. It would have been unbelievably stupid for anyone to try to plagiarize it the very next year. Unfortunately, "stupid" was the operative word here.

When it finally dawned on me that the girl was going to cheat, I didn't know whether to be more insulted that she assumed I wouldn't object that she was making me her accomplice, or depressed that it never occurred to her that I would object.

Posted by: SV on January 16, 2006 at 2:07 AM | PERMALINK

Hardly surprising a Williams grad would read naivete into BK's discovery, as half of them no doubt became quite familiar with such services while "writing" their own essays for college.

But the level of idealism of college kids in general, especially rich ones, does boggle the mind. I put in my four up at Amherst in the late 80s, and back then, in the height of the PC "revolution", many students actually believed that if we all just wrote "womyn" instead of "women", and so on and so on, it would transform society from the male chauvinist place it was to something more egalitarian. Uh, I'd hate to burst anyone's bubble, but...

I guess something good did come of all the divestment uproar, though. At least one likes to think so.

I think "sheltered" was a key word in a post up above. But in BK's defense (character issues aside), she does turn over a rock covering a somewhat interesting species of lowlife. The sad thing is probably the pressure placed on HS kids today to get into good schools, that creates their niche.

Go Lord Jeffs! (lamest mascot ever, except maybe for "Ephs". wtf?).

Posted by: Andy on January 16, 2006 at 2:15 AM | PERMALINK

Something very similar happened to me while I was in college. I took a philosophy course as a sophmore which required a final paper in a fairly difficult format. A year later, a dorm-mate who was taking the same course that year asked me for help. I thought she wanted help with the format; it didn't occur to me until I had let her see my finished paper that she intended to copy it outright... I don't think I was quite as naive as Kargman.

Naive, but perhaps not as naive as she was. The key difference is that you were asked by a friend, not by a stranger who was paying lots of money. If your friend had said, "I'll pay you $100 if you let me look at your paper," I suspect you'd have been more suspicious.

Posted by: David Nieporent on January 16, 2006 at 5:41 AM | PERMALINK

I think you know the answer, but for other readers, the short answer is: to add enough subjectivity to the process to allow admission of students whose objective qualifications (test scores, class rank, extracurricular achievements) are not as good as others. There is a whole industry in this country devoted to gaming the college admissions system because the financial rewards of admission to a top-rank school are so great. The way to end the fraud is to make the costs equally high: make fraud on an application punishable by expulsion, publication of the name, and a mandatory cooling off period of two years before being allowed to apply to any four year college.

Posted by: m on January 16, 2006 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

I have a mixed reaction to this, to be honest. Full disclosure, I did the absurdly expensive prep school route which lead to the aforementioned Colby in the mid-90's.

This is obviously wrong. no question. But frankly, the stakes are so high in the college game that you almost have to gain any competitive advantage. Amherst is a crap shoot for most applicants, and an essay is one way to gain a little bit of an edge.

That said, the entire system is rigged, as anyone with real experience can tell you. For my parents' 65 grand, I had a high school dedicated to getting me, and my classmates, into the college of our choice. 52 people, three college counselors. 10 of us (not me) were classified as 'learning disabled' and were able to take untimed SAT. We sent 'learning disabled' kids to Stanford, Chicago, and, yes, Amherst. If you don't have that advantage, you go buy one from somewhere else, for a little less money. I had four people reading my college application essays at school alone (and more at home, my dad is a college counselor) Did they 'guide us'? of course they did. I bet this program was a lot less than 65 grand, right? Hiring an application service is the poor man's cheat, the rich don't need it, they already get all the advantages (yes, I was in that pile as well)

It's a rigged game with incredibly high stakes, if you can't afford to play in the big leagues, you have to go the cheaper route. Why is one cheating and the other not?

Posted by: northzax on January 16, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

In a post located above, an Amherst grad named "Andy" suggested that many Williams College students became "familiar with such services while 'writing' their own essays for college."

Andy, Andy, Andy. What a classy, inciteful post.

I think it is great that you bravely stepped forward and fulfilled all those Amherst stereotypes so well. Thank you!


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Nobody is blaming who's really responsible here: the parents. Where are these kids getting the $400 bucks from? Where are these kids learning that it's OK to hire someone to write your college essay for you? There's no way I would have tried a stunt like that. And hopefully I'm teaching the same lessons to my kids.

At some point these dunderheads are going to be in a job where they finally learn they can't fake their way out of everything.

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