Other people’s papers. Or, what’s in a college degree?

cheater cheater

cheater cheater

I did it in college. I might have done it in high school. And here we are –  nearly ten years later – and I’m still getting paid to write other people’s research papers.

2004: One of my senior-year college roommates offers me $50 cash to write her 10-page research paper on cleft palates. (She was an education major.) And while my parents were my only source of income at the time and their preferred method of payment involved my blue-and-yellow VisaBuxx card (the credit card you pre-load; Target market? Teens.), I didn’t do it for the money. I did it for the thrill.

It took me 24 hours. I stayed up. I took Adderall for the first and last time. I learned kind of a lot about cleft palates. I finished the paper, literally sick and tired, but found myself curled up in my Ikea bed around 10am after the all-nighter bloated with a strange pride. We gamed the system. We stuck it to the man. This is what it feels like to live!

My love affair with academic dishonesty flared up again this past week: Through a virtual-assistant web site, I started working for a girl – T – who needed some help with a short research paper for her business class. “Help” really meaning someone who would write the paper for her. I worked on it at work. At home. I became invested and engrossed. I emailed the final version to her with a little note: “I love doing this kind of work, so if you have more and would like to work outside the site, let me know!”

She took me up on the offer. It’s all a little mysterious, but from what I can gather, I now seem to be completing the course for her. And while I love the work and the set-up, it doesn’t mean I think it’s ok.

This is how I look at it semi-freakonomically. I think the argument against T and I’s arrangement is a) it’s dishonest, and 2) it isn’t good for the student. And what would we as a society do if a majority of our college graduates had actually employed a smaller minority of outside individuals to complete their collegiate work for them? Are the graduates fit to enter the workforce? It really begs the question – what does having a college degree in America today mean?

College can be just as much about learning to live with the institutions that govern our lives, figuring out how to maneuver around the red tape, as it can be about learning. For all I know, T is a hustler – she’s getting a degree to get ahead, not to apply the concept of marketing myopia to her employer’s mission statement. There’s an opportunity cost to doing her college coursework – what could she be doing instead? How do we know that that something is not more beneficial for her?

I do it because I miss the urgency. The high stakes. The deadlines. I’m lucky – at least in terms of collegiate work. I love learning, particularly through writing, putting pieces of a puzzle together and not having the luxury of over-thinking the whole thing. (It’s pretty rare that someone approaches you three weeks ahead of time with a paper to write.) I think I especially like the ability to put the work aside when I’m done. It’s the best way to get around the writer’s ultimate dilemma: that the success, or lack thereof, of something we produce says something about us fundamentally. This kind of work – it’s part of me, but not who I am.

At this point, I’m mostly worried that T will start spending money on me that she doesn’t have, the dependency issue. I’m also worried that maybe she does need to know some of this stuff. If I start getting indications that either is happening, I’ll have to take a second look at our arrangement.

For now, it’s one of those things in life that’s best approached as…it is what it is.

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2 responses

  1. OMG, I’m doing it right now and he isn’t living up to his side of the bargain where he does enough his parents can ‘believe’ at the end he’s done the work. I am loving what I’ve learn’t about Sylvia Plath but by Tuesday my student better have written something I can UTTERLY change or he will not begetting the A*, A, B* he expects.

    1. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!!!! I’m researching Mattel’s international expansion!!! I’m jealous of your assignment. And this brings up so many thoughts about the implicit social contract of it all!!! I hope he gets his act together. 🙂

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