So a few years ago, The Chronicle of Higher Ed published a “confessional essay” from a guy who wrote papers for students and had spent almost 10 years “helping college students cheat.” He’s now written a book (really? Can we even trust that he wrote it himself??) about his years as an “academic ghostwriter” – a doublespeak euphemism if I’ve ever heard one!
He graduated with a bachelor’s from Rutgers University, which is, he claims, where all his bitterness towards higher ed began. He’s not a freelance writer. (Hello, whoever is currently employing him – how can you trust him?)
One thing he said really and truly stuck in my craw. According to this wonderful liar and cheater, “he saw vastly different levels of expectations” across the range of colleges and universities he ghost-wrote papers for. “The lowest, he said, was at for-profit colleges, where he often saw the same assignment recycled. Sometimes he was hired to complete writing assignments for online discussions at for-profits, where the grades are based on whether the work is completed, not on its quality. Such work received little of his attention, he said, ‘because it was clear to me that nobody, nobody, nobody cares.”
Well, Mr. Tomar of the bachelor’s degree who is so brilliant and such a master of writing…I care. I currently teach at a for-profit, and I don’t just care if work is completed. I care if it’s good. I take time out of my schedule to call my students. I give them feedback. I hold office hours, even if no one shows up. I do the same level of work I do at any college or university.
I don’t deny that some teachers – and some schools – don’t care. One school that I refused employment at (note what I said – I quit before training was done when I saw what they expected) thought that no one should fail for plagiarism unless it could be proven that they bought the paper. Otherwise, as instructors, we had to let them re-do the work. When I questioned it, someone was supposed to call me. No one ever did, and I resigned from the training.
There’s a difference in writing papers and learning, and I don’t think that Mr. Tomar learned that while he wrote all the psychology papers for his PhD client. Maybe he understands himself, but he doesn’t understand education.
The irony, however, is that today, the day that I write this, is International Literacy Day, September 8. The UN proclaimed it, the International Reading Association is happy about it, and there is a huge push to get people literate. Yet kind people like Mr. Tomar instead helped to stop that literacy. He took money to help people get degrees they didn’t deserve, and he helped them get stuck later on in life. Sure, they got the degree. But what happens when they get a job and get fired because they’re incompetent at reading and writing? He did worse than the system he blames. The system may have failed to catch the cheating, but he actively sabotaged their lives. I hope he can sleep at night, knowing that he’s earning money from writing a book that his “clients” can’t read.