On Political Books

November/December 2012 Memoirs of an Academic Fraudster

Inside the shadowy business of ghostwriting college students' papers.

By Daniel Luzer

This is rhetorically rather compelling, but is it true? The book’s major flaw is that the proof for the level of academic dishonesty Tomar is exposing remains frustratingly anecdotal. He amasses a lot of evidence about student loan debt and class size and grade inflation, but he fails to demonstrate that students today are really cheating more. After all, organized systems of plagiarism have existed on campus for decades. Any decent fraternity will have in its library a filing cabinet stocked with papers on everything from the German Renaissance to Dr. King’s March on Washington. If there is more cheating today, the simplest explanation is not that today’s students are lazier or more dishonest but that the Web makes academic fraud easier to engage in.

Certainly all of the students with whom Tomar interacted seem to be selfish, demanding, dependent, and eager to cheat. But that’s a self-selected group of people, and it’s neither fair nor accurate to say that they represent American young people as a whole. Indeed, there’s every reason to believe that this industry attracts the very worst American students, intellectually, morally, emotionally.

Even if Tomar’s thesis is a little weak, however, he does manage to evoke how academic dishonesty really works now. The increasing size of the administration of American higher education has made college mind-numbing and impersonal for many students. (“If you’d like to pay your semester student fees by credit card, please press one.”) What Tomar manages to demonstrate is that the faceless bureaucracy of the American university extends beyond the school and into its affiliated industries—even the illicit ones.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • TCinLA on December 01, 2012 10:09 PM:

    American academia has been a fraud employing the otherwise-unemployables for decades. I have three advanced degrees and can remember exactly three professors in all that time as anything other than morons.

    Not only that, but as a relative of mine who used to be a professor told me when we once discussed this topic, the school administrations go out of their way to make it hard on any instructor (I include those wielding the title "professor" on down in that category) who wants to make a big deal out of this. The schools want the money and they don't really give a rat's patootie how they get it.

    The students are merely reacting to what they see going on around them. American academia supposedly leads the world. I submit the one thing they lead the world in is moral corruption.

    People like you who make a living out of defending the system have as much reason to say this doesn't happen, or doesn't happen as much as Tomar suggests, as those who ignore it. You're all part of the same system, whether you want to believe it or not.

  • Robert Abramowitz on December 02, 2012 10:25 AM:

    Sure looks like a picture of Bill Hader from "Saturday Night Live" on the front page lead-in to this story.

  • Anonymous on December 03, 2012 2:52 PM:

    @TCinLA No one said it didn't happen. The question is whether it's any worse than it ever was.

  • smartalek on December 28, 2012 3:08 PM:

    I once wrote a paper for a friend of mine as a favor -- and because I liked the assignment so much; it was fun to do for its own sake. (In the frosh art-history survey class we shared, it was supposed to be a little 3-pager analysis / assessment / personal response to any single object from our local art museum.)
    Ironically, I wound up doing a significantly better job on her paper than on my own -- but mine got an A+, and the one I did for her got her only a B-.
    I was convinced that (despite my confidence that I'd successfully squelched my own voice, and convincingly emulated my friend's), the prof was on to us, and had deliberately undergraded the work as a challenge, and/or the best way of dealing with our suspected academic malfeasance.
    I begged my friend to grieve the grade, offering to feed her everything she needed to know to succeed at doing so. But she refused, saying she was perfectly satisfied with the outcome. (Her future was assured by her family's very successful business. Gradewise, any distinctions above passing were nearly irrelevant to her.)
    That still ticks me off, decades later -- though I do recognize that I have little ground, by most reasonable standards of justice.

    @TC: That's deeply discouraging.
    I never finished my college, nevermind advanced degrees, and the college I attended was a well-regarded libarts institution, but no Ivy. But I never had a single prof, nor have I met or worked with any in any of the two-dozen schools (including one actual Ivy, two Ivy-level, and a range of others down to less-competitive state colleges) I regularly deal with for my firm, whom I've found to be anything less than very bright, and highly committed to their students. Perhaps I've just been lucky -- or am easily snowed.