I felt pretty guilty doing the work at first, but I quickly realized that most of the assignments were so banal that I don't think the clients missed out on much learning value by outsourcing it. Why are college courses giving "major" assignments that can reasonably be completed in 5-10 hours by a smart person with no training in the field? If a college degree just means you banged out a bunch of garbage essays, as it does for many people based on the assignments I saw contracted out, should we really be outraged that some people are not doing the work themselves?
I would argue that the real scandal is not that some people are paying for help, but that many degree programs demand so little in terms of knowledge and thought that they can be easily gamed in this way. I would like to see fluffy degree programs ended, so that legitimate work in the humanities can continue without anyone wasting time and resources shuffling average Joes through the pipeline to middle class office jobs.
The most surprising discovery for me was that it seemed like after foreign language students the heaviest users of the service were education majors. No joke. I never figured out if the noticeably heavy use by education majors was a selection bias caused by the way the service was advertising itself, a sign of especially low ethics among education majors, or an indication that there might be a higher incidence of lifestyle factors (e.g. going to school while working full time) that made it difficult for them to crank out all the BS assignments required of them.
It's also interesting to me that the author of this piece seems to be an independent contractor whose business increased as she became known. Generally, I would expect ghostwriters to want to keep a low profile which makes it hard to be independent. I certainly didn't want anyone knowing how I was paying the bills when I was in it. And unless you are charging top-end rates, the overhead of marketing yourself and picking up envelopes of cash at Starbucks is probably an inefficient use of time. Both of these factors mean that a lot of people end up working for agencies that do the work of finding clients and managing payments, and also provide double blinding. So the writer never knows the identity of the client, and vice versa. It's a pretty good system overall.
which is what I do in my everyday job. And I am not shadow-writing, I am a consultant...Writing ideas that superiors represent as their own, or clients do. I guess this is capitalism, life or something. And someone not worth it has to be promoted before I do, as in the author's case someone has to be admitted for her to live.
Who is to say that the valuable skill she developed wasn't her delegation and management skills, and that those were far more important in the long term than her ability to wax poetically about Plato's Republic?
The fact that she had to write that 5-10%, and do the occasional in class essay, that she did okay in, suggests that not writing the other 90-95% didn't seem to negatively impact her, "Learning Experience."
What I find particularly humorous, of course, is that all these random people, none of whom had taken any of the course work, or background that she presumably had, and many of them without college degrees, were capable of whipping out a paper with a day or two of research (under her guidance, and with a bit of her editing and supplying of facts) that passed muster at Berkeley.
Nobody. It's likely a highly useful skill. However she should not have a degree as she didn't do the work.
It's pretty simple.
Nope. While the people running the degree should take reasonable precautions, it's not on them to entirely prevent people abusing the system. They're running a course, not trying to be the police.
>> Of course there are always ways to game any system, but it shouldn't be quite so easy.
Manipulating multiple people into doing 90% of your work for you over several years is not exactly entry-level cheating.
>> If a reasonably intelligent person who is good at writing can do the work required to get a degree given a few weeks and internet access, then the degree probably needs to be reworked.
I would agree. It doesn't sound much like that happened here though.
However, I don't agree with that comparison in one respect - you typically have plenty of flexibility in college with regards to when you actually complete the assignment. You get it weeks in advance, allowing you to plan things out meticulously, if you're that sort of person.
And this is true - I remember people from college like this. They didn't have the raw brainpower or intelligence that you might expect of a typical high achieving student, but they made up for it with superior time management skills and perennial self discipline.
I've watched her at work, and really, it seems like she's mostly an excel jockey who dresses well, drives a nice vehicle and takes a lot of meetings with vendors.
Honestly - It's not clear to me that she couldn't have done exactly the same thing without her degree - she got a B.S. in Conservation and Resource studies. What she's doing now seems entirely unrelated.
If they actually do that, it'd be considered unethical. While specific credit isn't always given to the originator of an idea, superiors shouldn't pretend they actually had the idea. In many organizations, explicitly passing off an idea as your own would be a pretty serious offense.
There's a big difference between passing someone's idea off as your own, and allowing someone to pass an idea off as their own.
I guess I'm considered "unethical" around these parts, but I stand firmly in the court that the buyer may have ethical issues, but certainly not the seller.
(Yes I'm a bit bitter about high school english courses and college admissions processes favouring good bullshitters. I was still accepted to a good engineering school and had good success job hunting by demonstrating my skills in-person, so it ended well for me anyway.)
As someone reading about this from the other side of the Atlantic, what I'm seeing is an entire system that's corrupt from the top down, with the sort of crazily ridiculous levels of corruption I'm used to reading about in the most dysfunctional of Third World dictatorships. Frankly, unless radical changes are made, I wouldn't be optimistic about how long a society like that can keep coasting along on the momentum of past glory. Ghostwritten essays are the least of the bad behavior generated by the system that creates such terrible incentives.
If you want to call out the unethical behavior of the ghostwriters, fine, but if you want to have a leg to stand on in doing so, do it in the context of also calling out the rotten system that creates their jobs.
This is an intricate topic. On what grounds do you claim this to be wrong? What is the alternative and why is it so much better?
> It lets them receive qualifications that they didn't earn and others who want those qualifications in competition with them, do not receive them.
You are mistaken here. From what I read in the article it seems these admissions essays have little to do with actually picking out the people most qualified for the positions, but rather the people that can hit the reviewers' emotions the hardest.
This is an inadequate system to begin with. Any fault should be placed on the people in charge of the system rather than the individuals trying to wiggle their way through it.
Frakly, I'm disgusted by how our society treats people sometimes.. "You have to be timid yet idealistic, ambitious yet giving, and reserved yet honest" What is this crap? Why can't we let people be what they are? How is this any better than discrimating based on physical properties?
Why should anyone care about anything more than aplicants being honest, faithful/conscientious and qualified?!
> It might just be a mundane 10 hour essay, but that person may not have had the time management skills, writing skills, or will to do it and therefore should not have received the marks that he did
All qualifications required for the titles earned will (or at least should) be taught to the students during the course of their studies. If they lack the time management skills necessary for the degree, the evaluation of their abilities during the course of the studies should make sure they eventually fail. If the students find ways to offset their limitations, then I fail to see any issue. Don't we all have limitations that we eventually need to find ways around?
If they don't find ways around their limitations, and the system still awards them a degree, the blame still lies on the system.
Humans are fallible individuals, and only so much can be done about that. It is processes that should be engineered to perfection, in order to guide the people within them towards making the right choices. Not the other way round.
- It's wrong to help others pass off someone else's work as their own.
- It's wrong to promote a field or degree program that's so shallow that this kind of thing even works.
I'm not exactly sure what you're replying to. I didn't say anything about security - I simply was making the point that participation in this effort is largely unethical.
Because that's precisely the point of a liberal arts or humanities education: to make you able to look at a new field with a modicum of critical thinking & intelligence.
Within the humanities, it is largely irrelevant post-grad what field you actually studied since actually working in that field (usually the only humanities jobs are in academia) means post-grad study. Instead, that field provides a framework for you to learn how to acquire, analyze, and summarize knowledge.
Hence, it's absolutely expected that any educated adult should have no problem writing in an unrelated humanities field, because they've already gone through the system.
This of course doesn't mean a random person can easily write such an essay (hence the demand for ghostwriting services). Many of my high school peers would've flunked out of even a basic college course. Hence, despite its apparent tedium, college does provide an important certification/funnel—even for mid-level office jobs, whose chief qualification is reading and synethsizing reports.
I do hope you understand how it's unethical to aid and abet people in cheating their way through college. This does a disservice to them (they likely won't learn the necessary writing/analysis skills for the workplace), to employers (they might be hiring incompetent writers), and to society (by credentialing the wrong people, potentially driving out smarter/more ethical people). It's ethics 101 that claiming someone else's work as your own is wrong.
> the heaviest users of the service were education majors.
I sadly suspect that has something to do with class dynamics. Education is not very prestigious and (based solely on the ads I see in the subway) is one of the fields (together with "business administration," "IT management", etc.) targeted at low-income/low-ability people who probably don't belong in college at all.
It's also part of the reason most reporting on technical fields is so horrible.
Indeed. Your humanities degree is enough to understand the basics of economics, politics, etc. — but not compilers.
Unfortunately, when technical people do the writing it rarely ends up much better (since most were never taught how to effectively synthesize ideas for a general audience). Hence why I wish more technical programs had larger disciplinary and liberal arts components.
I have some background in econ (my college major) and most mainstream reporting is passable—it's not great, but it at least attempts to have some understanding, as opposed to the mainstream approach to technology (it's basically magic).
Econ, politics, etc. are still in the humanities and many journalism majors will have some GenEd requirements to take those courses. Yet there's zero expectation or requirement of basic technical literacy.
Yes, journalism usually lacks depth and experts from all fields will find something to quibble with. But the understanding gap is much worse in STEM fields because they're kept so far apart from the humanities.
Complete agreement, but there's a paradox here. On the one hand, it would be nice to have journalists able to write for a general audience but also technically knowledgeable enough to avoid most of the common errors journalists make.
On the other is the fact that a student able to absorb technical material sufficient to make him or her a serious journalist, would be strongly motivated to change majors, because of the much higher status and rank of any technical major compared to journalism.
It's why there are so few technically adept college professors -- most who actually understand their subjects have long since jumped ship and are working for Google/Facebook/etc.
Not a huge mystery here; check the average GRE scores by major here (2001-2004, but the general effect is well documented): http://www.ncsu.edu/chass/philo/GRE%20Scores%20by%20Intended... . Data provided is average GRE score in Verbal, Quantitative, and writing sample, for 50 majors. Here are #s 41-50 in verbal, along with some reference points:
1. Philosophy (589)
25. Business - Bank. and Fin. (476)
41. Engineering - Industrial (440)
42. Business - Administration
43. Education - other (437)
44. Home Economics [?!]
45. Education - Special (432)
46. Education - Counseling (428)
47. Social Work
48. Education - Administration (427)
49. Education - Early Childhood (418)
50. Business - Accounting (415)
1. Physics/Astronomy (738)
25. Education - Secondary (577)
41. Education - other (531)
42. Social Sciences - other
43. Education - Elementary (527)
44. Education - Administration (523)
45. Public Administration
46. Education - Special (502)
47. Education - Counseling (500)
48. Home Economics
49. Education - Early Childhood (495)
50. Social Work (468)
Given the inefficiency/pointlessness of much of the effort involved in compulsory education, I'm not sure better teachers would be able to significantly improve the system. We need a structural change here first, and only then start to look around for brigther people. Otherwise, any bright people that may enter the system, will eventually be frustrated, give up, and in the end achieve results (in the field) that are no better than those of the borderline-acceptable teachers.
If you do things this way, the effectiveness of the current people is likely to suffer (in pretty much any area, not education specifically).
> ... the heaviest users of the service were education majors..
Aren't you contributing to the fluffy education problem by creating fluffy educators?
Why are college courses giving "major" assignments that can reasonably be completed in 5-10 hours by a smart person with no training in the field?
Without knowing the assignment, it's because the college students are still growing up. A lot of things that are hard for high school and college students are easy for smart adults. Part of that is because the college students haven't ever done them before and don't know what they can do.
Or maybe the assignments are just crap. That could 100% be true.
Here, you are usually expected to write a paper based on multiple recent papers on a current topic.
The effect is that you get a slew of totally unmotivated, clueless students who slow things down for everyone else. Spanish especially, since it's the "easy" foreign language for English speakers, was overloaded with students who had no desire to be there, at least until you made it to the 5th semester and beyond classes.
I read that to mean foreign nationals (non-native English speakers), not students studying foreign languages (which rarely have long essays for introductory courses). That people with poor English skills would use ghostwriting services (like the article author's clients) seems pretty intuitive.
Nope, but you would expect them not to reveal their clients.