Did that brilliant essay come from your student–or from somewhere far, far away?
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an engrossing story entitled “Cheating Goes Global as Essay Mills Multiply” by Thomas Bartlett. It tackles this question, and is quite worth a read (photo: The Chronicle).
The gist of the situation:
“Everyone knows essay mills exist. What’s surprising is how sophisticated and international they’ve become, not to mention profitable.
In a previous era, you might have found an essay mill near a college bookstore, staffed by former students. Now you’ll find them online, and the actual writing is likely to be done by someone in Manila or Mumbai. Just as many American companies are outsourcing their administrative tasks, many American students are perfectly willing to outsource their academic work.”
Profile of an essay-mill writer:
“James Robbins is one of the good ones. Mr. Robbins, now 30, started working for essay mills to help pay his way through Lamar University, in Beaumont, Tex. He continued after graduation and, for a time, ran his own company under the name Mr. Essay. What he’s discovered, after writing hundreds of academic papers, is that he has a knack for the form: He’s fast, and his papers consistently earn high marks. “I can knock out 10 pages in an hour,” he says. “Ten pages is nothing.”
One student’s need for help on a paper on Christ:
“[One student] paid Essay Writers $100 to research and write a paper on the parables of Jesus Christ for his New Testament class. This senior at James Madison University majoring in philosophy and religion, defends the idea of paying someone else to do your academic work, comparing it to companies that outsource labor. “Like most people in college, you don’t have time to do research on some of these things,” he says. “I was hoping to find a guy to do some good quality writing.”And his subsequent (and amusingly ironic) epiphany:
“The philosophy-and-religion major who bought a paper for his New Testament class still doesn’t think students should have to do their own research. But he has soured on essay mills after the paper he received from Essay Writers did not meet his expectations. He complained, and the company gave him a 30-percent refund. As a result, he had an epiphany of sorts. Says [the student]: “I was like — you know what? — I’m going to write this paper on my own.”
There are many things to discuss in this piece, but the main point that jumps out at me is the ease with which sin can be commercialized in our world. Man possesses ingenuity and ambition, and it is scary to see what he can accomplish when he sets his mind to enfranchise evil. In this article, one gets a glimpse of just how much hard work goes into the abhorrent and ethically disgusting practice of essay-writing by proxy.
The fact that a student paid for an essay on Christ is an act so pregnant with irony one can scarcely wrap one’s mind around it. It is of course disheartening to see that this irony utterly escapes the student in question in this article, and that only performance and market-driven concerns could end his association with essay mills. Morality and ethics have nothing to do with such decisions; only results and money factor in.
There’s an insight here for Christians and pastors. Many–though certainly not all–people live with an intellectual and ethical grid that is largely scrubbed of traditional moral concern. Many of the people we meet make decisions based on convenience and results. It is not that Christian moral ideas matter little to them; it is that they do not matter at all.
Finally, one can only wonder how widespread this practice is in the secular academy and also the Christian institution. I suspect that the reality is far worse than one might think. Perhaps that flash of brilliance one saw in class as a student read his paper came not from that student, but from some poor soul pounding away on a computer in Manila.