The National Catholic Review

Imagine a hard-working college history professor, John Brayne, alone in his study at home late at night. He is hunched over his desk pushing his way through a pile of sophomore three-page papers on the Civil War, depressed because five out of the 20 failed to hand their papers in and three tried to hand them in late. He had told the class that absolutely no papers would be accepted after the class had begun, but he had allowed them to chew him down with stories about traffic jams and failed alarms clocks. The spelling and grammar were deplorable—unable to distinguish then from than, where from were.

But here at last was a well-written paper that seemed to suggest that its author, an athlete named Joe Hotz, had done his homework.

“In the election on August 1, Lincoln received more votes than any other candidate. He continued to have the strong support of his neighbors in New Salem, who were Whigs like himself. But the more rural neighborhoods, like Clary’s Grove, were Democratic, and even Jack Armstrong , who continued to be a warm personal friend, failed to vote for him.”

There were two problems. One, it wasn’t about the Civil War. Second, Hotz had flunked the last quiz and received Cs in his other papers. Brayne, reluctantly, typed the sentence into Google, and “Bingo!” there it was, page 60 in David Herbert Donald’s biography, Lincoln.

What happens now?

In “The Shadow Scholar,” a long article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Nov 19, 2010), “Ed Dante” (a pseudonym), revealed to the American academic world that he had written 5000 pages a year of the term papers students had handed in to professors as their own, including 12 graduate theses of 50 pages each. His staff of 50 is overwhelmed with English-second-language students, hopelessly deficient students who shouldn’t be in college, and lazy rich kids who would rather buy a paper than write one.

Relying on Wikipedia and Google, he has never set foot in a library and can expand a four word sentence to 40 words. “A close observation of the events that occurred in blahblahblah during the blahblah demonstrate that blahblahblah.”

He confesses that, though he works hard for a living, he is the bad guy.

In the January 14 issue of the Chronicle, the faculty weighed in in self defense, blaming: the admissions office for letting in their low-motivated students, grade grubbing students who threaten to sue profs who mark them low, parents who pressure faculty, students who choose to cheat rather than work — as if the faculty had nothing to do with their decision to fake it, and the criminal author of the Chronicle article. In two pages of small print, only two faculty fessed up to the professor’s responsibility to out-maneuver the cheat. Some faculty solve the plagiarism problem by not assigning papers.

The alternative is to assign papers systematically, checking on each student’s progress every step of the way. What have you taken out of the library? Let’s see the books you’re relying on. Let’s see your first, second, and third draft.

This is where the kids can really wear you down — you work much harder supervising them than they work on the assignment.

Dante himself put it best. No client complained that the originality of his work had been questioned and that he had been expelled from school. Not one had been caught.

Why Cheat?

The underlying reason, of course, why the Hotzes cheat is that they have not settled into college and committed themselves to the work they are obliged to do. They might be in college physically — they have a dorm room and a seat in class — but they don’t see study as their priority. So when study interferes with their real priorities — football practice, frat or sorority life, an off-campus job, a romantic interest, or just hanging out and talking — they calculate that they can con their professors and get away with it.

They may be right, until they run up against a professor who actually cares about the quality of work his or her students do. If the college is any good at all, somewhere along the line Hotz will miscalculate and get caught.

What matters now is how Hotz interprets this reversal. If he says simply, “Damn it, I got caught,” he has learned nothing. If he can be made to understand that the worst thing anyone can do is to lie, to compromise his integrity, to accept “cheater” as his middle name. If he can’t see how that’s wrong, he has put a brand on his forehead for life.

In my judgment Frayne has to make him see this, fail him for at least the paper and perhaps the course, place a written report in the dean’s office of his offense, with the understanding that a second offense will expel him. This works, of course, only if the majority of the faculty do the same thing. As Dante says, they don’t. Frayne has weakened his credibility by accepting those late papers in the first place. It’s a signal to the class that he’s not serious. That he won’t check and follow-up on their plagiarisms, and if he does, he’s the exception. They’ll take their chances.

Raymond A. Schroth



Bob Baker | 5/1/2013 - 2:45pm

Though many may be surprised, plagiarism is often prevalent in Catholic 4th and 5th grades. Despite taking the time to show students how to construct a single or two page paper, cite sources, etc, there are ALWAYS a couple who ignore, wait until the last day to begin, or have their parents do the paper for them (though this is sometimes hilariously funny as some parents also need to return to elementary school given what and how they wrote the paper).
By the time these students reach junior high, they are trying to become more sophisticated in covering up their cheating, but they haven't bought papers quite yet.
There is not one Catholic high school in the local area (except one that is Jesuit) that doesn't use an on-line company where students submit their papers to check for plagiarism.
Principals usually hate to call the parents in because they have to do something about it (because it is written in the handbook and the student has just received an "F" for his plagiarism). Principals would much rather blame the teacher for not doing something right, though the student confesses. Parents are always shocked and want to blame the teacher too, until you show them where their student copied the item.
Catholic schools have always prided themselves in producing literate students who can write a sentence well. Now, it seems, we have to be more concerned with how well they can copy something and not get caught?

Kathy Hudson | 4/30/2013 - 3:38am

Plagiarism is the act of stealing the lines from various sources of references, and declaring it to be the original and self-written. Such cases started coming into highlight when people became aware of using
the plagiarism checker tool for checking the originality of content. If you are a student, using a plagiarized academic paper would be a grave mistake.

Marie Rehbein | 2/28/2011 - 12:11pm
Ed Dante, what kind of college, or what college, did you attend?  If you learned from writing papers for others, but not from you professors, was that because your professors did not assign papers?  Did the students who hired you to write papers attend better colleges than you, given that papers were assigned?
Ed Dante | 2/27/2011 - 1:21pm
To the contrary, Marie, I was not motivated by a resentment toward bad students.  I was motivated by a resentment toward bad schools.  I paid a lot of money to go to a crappy college and I left it with a lot of resentment.  Though I have grown out of this youthful bitterness, my endeavors were motivated by the fact that school was such a negative experience.  I got good grades.  I never struggled.  But I resented that because of the emphasis on grading and because of the high cost of education, learning was a distant priority.  I’ve learned more in a month of writing papers for students than I did in the four years I paid for in college.
I don't feel bad for students who cheat but I acknowledge that many of them do it out of desperation.  Marie, as you note, students view college as compulsory and our culture encourages this view even for those who aren't qualified.  More students than ever are graduating high school with deficiencies in basic areas of learning and, simultaneously, more students than ever are going to college.  Something is wrong with that equation.
Whether we feel bad for these students or not, they are a symptom that something is wrong.  And whether or not we pity them, they are the future professionals of America so it is incumbent upon us to acknowledge that something is wrong.
Ed Dante.
Marie Rehbein | 2/26/2011 - 10:05pm
The lazy and immature still have the mentality that school is compulsory even when it's college.
Marie Rehbein | 2/26/2011 - 10:04pm
The lazy and immature still have the mentality that school is compulsory even when it's college.
Marie Rehbein | 2/26/2011 - 10:06am
While I would say that criticizing you, Ed Dante, will not correct the problem, it is necessary to acknowledge that you, in addition to professors who choose to look the other way, or who grade papers in a vacuum that does not include knowing the student well enough to recognize that the quality of the work suggests cheating, bear a degree of responsibility for establishing an environment in which all students come to believe that the only thing wrong with cheating is getting caught.  I congratulate you for exposing your efforts, which I presume you are doing in order to counter this mentality. 

Quite frankly, I feel sorry for those students who feel so pressured in college that they cannot focus on the learning or for whom the language poses too great a barrier for them to be successful in humanities when they are here to study science.  My impression is that Ed Dante was motivated by resentment toward unqualified students and those who prefer not to work and would have liked for someone in authority to make things more fair to him and others like him, but given that this was not happening, he made a statement with his endeavors.

It appears that some of the problem is the result of people getting the impression that there is not enough to go around; that there is no place for them unless they keep up with people to whom things come more easily.  In my opinion, not everyone should go to college.  Education in trades should be more respected and not just seen as being for "losers" in order to keep them out of jail. 
Ed Dante | 2/25/2011 - 9:09pm
I would never try to justify the work I've done.  I did it to make a living.  I don't claim it was ethical.  It was simply what I felt I had to do to get by.  And it was absolutely selfish, a behavior trait that is not uncommon with youth.  I accept fully the responsibility of my actions and any criticism that is forthcoming.  I would not have published my story if I wasn't prepared to do so. 

But even now, having retired from the business of paper-writing, I still think there is little constructive value in scrutinizing me.  I'm just an outsider.  The students, the professors and the schools must look in the mirror if things are to change. 
Ed Dante.
Marie Rehbein | 2/25/2011 - 9:08pm

He has a staff of 50.
Kang Dole | 2/25/2011 - 5:04pm
I'm impressed that the guy was abe to find time between writing a thesis proposal concerning the Teapot Dome Scandal and churning out a twenty-page essay on Bruce Lee's interpretation of Heidegger to comment here.
Marie Rehbein | 2/25/2011 - 3:37pm
Ed Dante,

We can certainly agree that the motivation to cheat comes from external forces acting on people with weak personal standards, but is it your estimation that the world of higher education is so far gone that what you do is not actually contributing to a moral decline in society?  While your product may be impressive, it does not really benefit anyone but you to do this.  If you want to be a ghost writer, why not pusue that with integrity instead of cooperating with someone else's dishonesty?  I would like to know your justification, but I fear it is nothing more than if you did not do it, someone else would. 
Marie Rehbein | 2/25/2011 - 12:29pm
This is so unfair to the honest students.  Apparently, good grades are rewarded, but learning is not.  It's almost as if students need to come to school already educated given the emphasis put on GPA for getting job and internship opportunities.  Allowing these dishonest students to reap the rewards of their dishonesty is detrimental to society. 
Julio Vidaurrazaga | 2/25/2011 - 6:46am
I do belive this column should apprear as a WHOLE  article in ''America'', for all
kind of readers, not only "the happy few"
  As a College Professor (even if only of Mathematics) I see very well the
james belna | 2/24/2011 - 7:09pm
There is obviously no excuse for a student who cheats, but look at it from his point of view. In most colleges today, the faculty does not even engage in the pretense that it is trying to impart a comprehensive and meaningful education. The traditional core curriculum no longer exists, having been replaced by a laundry list of ''distribution requirements'' which typically consist of narrowly focused courses that coincide with the professors' idiosyncratic fields of interest. Many (and in large univerities, most) courses are taught by TAa and adjunct faculty in massive lecture halls. In other words, if you treat students like cattle, they will respond in kind.

The other issue is one of credibility. Can you name a single tenured faculty member who asked for Ward Churchill to be fired when it was discovered that he had falsified his academic credentials and plagiarized some of his published works? Laurence Tribe and Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School committed blatant acts of plagiarism - has anyone demanded that they be punished in any way? Most pertinently, Professor Daniel McGuire of (Jesuit) Marquette University teaches that abortion is not immoral under Church doctrine, which is the academic equivalent of holocaust denial - will any Catholic academics criticize his dishonest teaching? It is all well and good to lament the low ethical standards of today's students, but it might be more convincing if professors stopped covering for the cheaters in their own ranks.
Kang Dole | 2/24/2011 - 7:07pm
I fail the above post for number disagreement between pronoun and atecedent.
Kang Dole | 2/24/2011 - 5:55pm
Was there ever before a Chronicle article that generated such buzz?!

I think that it's necessary to distinguish between the ever common plague of plagiarism and the sort of service that "Dante" and his ilk provide, at least when it comes down to the brass tacks of an instructor trying to spot cheating. After all, with Google, it's become fairly easy to determine plagiarism, but Dante's product is something more complicated than a simple copy-and-paste job. Ideally, an instructor will have some sense of a student's past work and will be able to sniff out an instance of a bad student suddenly submitting passable work-but sometimes the opportunity to really get acquainted with a student's abilities isn't there. If the instructor does decide that something is suspicious, he or she is faced with the onerous task of proving what they suspect. It's one thing to be able to place a student's paper beside the journal article from the 70s that they ripped off, but it's an entirely different beast to prove that they contracted an essay from a pro. (Perhaps they could dig around in the student's trash for a receipt!?)

I have had discoveries of students' plagiarizing fall into my lap (one student actually cited in his bibliography the web site from which he bought his essay!), but I've also faced the extremely frustrating task of trying ever so hard to prove that a "too good to be true" essay was plagiarized. Moreover, after uncovering cheating, one must face the often even more depressing challenge of getting the administration to penalize a student (I don't doubt that my situation is that of instructors elsewhere: if I find plagiarism, I must turn in the suspect student and thereafter lose all control over that student's grade; I can't fail a student for plagiarizing, only the administration has the power to do that). All in all, it's a disheartening process: time wasted, students who don't care, and administrations that won't really act.
I have encountered students who cheated out of a sense of self-entitlement. Out of desperation. Out of sheer ignorance. If a student takes a course that they only see as being a required step along the way from point a to point b, and if that student is not burdened by a sense of guilt or shame in the face of their own self-entitlement, then what will keep that student from cheating whenever possible?
Anonymous | 2/25/2011 - 1:03pm

I think you are absolutely right.  As you observe, "good grades are rewarded, but learning is not."

From my experiences working for students-whether their motive is desperation, educational deficiency, dishonesty or laziness-I have found that it is this emphasis on grading over learning that drives the cheating business.  Students feel either threatened or compelled by the all-important implications of graded evaluation.  These implications far overshadow the intrinsic values of educational or personal growth. 

Ed Dante.

Recently by Raymond A. Schroth