There are many things that can be said about this incredibly depressing article – written by a guy who makes a living writing papers for college students – from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The first is that life imitates Judd Apatow:
More seriously, if I enrolled in a trade school for auto repair and somehow managed to outsource my assignments to a third party, I might get a nice certificate for my troubles. I could parlay this into a job at an auto repair shop, but the minute I actually had to fix a car, it would become immediately apparent that I had no idea what I was doing and I would be fired.
A liberal arts education is supposed to prepare you for a wide range of ‘aspirational’ careers. The guidance-industrial complex drilled this mantra into our collective consciousness circa junior year of high school. But the ease at which students pass off somebody else’s work as their own gets at something that should scare the living daylights out of college administrators everywhere: namely, the apparent disconnect between the knowledge liberal arts institutions are supposed to impart and the skills required for the careers college graduates want.
It would be unthinkable for someone learning a trade to outsource their assignments during an apprenticeship or a technical course. According to The Chronicle’s anonymous correspondent, however, this is a perfectly viable academic strategy. The liberal arts are supposed to help students develop an analytical framework that can be applied to just about any pursuit. The reality is that buying your paper on Justinian or Madame Bovary has no appreciable impact on your ability to get hired or perform in the workplace – unless, of course, you happen to get caught. Now that we’ve moved beyond crude plagiarism, I doubt this will be a problem for the next generation of undergraduates.
I’m not unsympathetic to the ideals of a liberal arts education and can anticipate at least one defense of these institutions. Acquiring knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a worthy goal in of itself, and faking it through four years of coursework leaves these pseudo-graduates intellectually worse off than students who do their own work. Unfortunately, the Chronicle’s anonymous correspondent has something to say about that, too:
It’s not implausible to write a 75-page paper in two days. It’s just miserable. I don’t need much sleep, and when I get cranking, I can churn out four or five pages an hour. First I lay out the sections of an assignment—introduction, problem statement, methodology, literature review, findings, conclusion—whatever the instructions call for. Then I start Googling.
I haven’t been to a library once since I started doing this job. Amazon is quite generous about free samples. If I can find a single page from a particular text, I can cobble that into a report, deducing what I don’t know from customer reviews and publisher blurbs. Google Scholar is a great source for material, providing the abstract of nearly any journal article. And of course, there’s Wikipedia, which is often my first stop when dealing with unfamiliar subjects. Naturally one must verify such material elsewhere, but I’ve taken hundreds of crash courses this way.
After I’ve gathered my sources, I pull out usable quotes, cite them, and distribute them among the sections of the assignment. Over the years, I’ve refined ways of stretching papers. I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and I’ll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages what most normal people could say in a paragraph.
I’ve also got a mental library of stock academic phrases: “A close consideration of the events which occurred in ____ during the ____ demonstrate that ____ had entered into a phase of widespread cultural, social, and economic change that would define ____ for decades to come.” Fill in the blanks using words provided by the professor in the assignment’s instructions.
I phoned in more than a few papers in college, and I’m afraid this rings true. The Internet has made it remarkably easy to put together a seemingly-authentic academic paper without actually cracking a book. This is incredibly depressing to write, but the rise of systematized bullshit artistry suggests that even students who put in the time aren’t getting much out of what are supposed to be some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world.