Paying other people to do your homework

What can universities do to fight this kind of cheating?

It’s no secret that cheating is rampant on university campuses, but a fascinating article in the Chronicle of Higher Education gives an indication of how deep the problem may go and how hard it may be to fight it.

The story is a first-person piece by a professional essay writer. Students pay him to write their assignments, they stick their own names on his work and hand it in.

What’s especially concerning about this kind of cheating is how difficult it is to expose. It’s one thing to detect plagiarism, especially in the age of Google, but it’s a whole other thing to discover who actually wrote an original assignment. Even if a professor has some suspicions, it’s next to impossible to prove whether the student who handed in an essay actually wrote it.

Now this article is from an American publication, but it would be foolish to think that this kind of cheating isn’t rampant in Canada. When I lived in residence, in my first year at Concordia, I was offered cash to write an essay for one of my neighbours. I didn’t take the offer but I know that another resident did and this wasn’t an isolated incident.

Academic dishonesty doesn’t just affect cheaters, it hurts us all. Honest students end up with the same degree, the same qualifications, as students who cheat. Cheaters devalue everyone’s degrees.

So what can universities do?

Well some of the blame probably does lie with professors and administrators. In his piece Ed Dante (a pseudonym) does a lot of finger pointing, mostly at universities and teachers for “failing” some students, who have no other choice but to use his services. He claims that many of his customers are international students, for whom English is a second language. This is pretty self-serving, as it is the students who decide to cheat rather than seek out the resources provided at their schools. But if this is true, it is concerning. When schools accept students whose first language isn’t the language of instruction, they need to ensure those students have the resources to succeed.

But as for the other customers of people like Dante, solutions are more difficult.

He says that students who are “hopelessly deficient” form another large part of his customer base. Students who are incapable of doing the work required of them in university probably shouldn’t be in university in the first place.

As for the last group of customers, lazy rich kids, there’s no blaming anyone else for their dishonesty. But fighting it is going to be difficult.