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Ethics are optional?

A line graph of Enron's stock price (in USD) from April 23, 2000 to January 11, 2002. Data compiled from Enron Securities Litigation Web Site
A line graph of Enron’s stock price (in USD) from April 23, 2000 to January 11, 2002. Data compiled from Enron Securities Litigation Web Site. Created by Nehrams2020 and licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.

Yes, that’s always been true, and more true for some than for others. Popes who fathered children. CEOs who raided stock before departed for bigger and better things, leaving 401k plans in the dust.

But college professors who are “proudly unethical,” writing essays for students?  Yup, it’s going on right now.  Thanks to a recent Gawker article, I got another lesson in what other people think.

The article itself isn’t that amazing.  Like I said, there have been plenty of unethical people throughout history, and it kind of makes sense for academics to write academic papers.  Logical.  But totally, totally wrong.

The point is that there is a company in Montreal that hires unemployed college professors (are they “college professors” is they aren’t employed by a college? I suppose that’s another essay…) to write papers for students for money.  No attempt at teaching.  Purely a paper-writing mill.  The website itself acknowledges that it is unethical for the professors to be writing the papers, but, according to them, that’s okay.  “…because the academic system is already so corrupt, we’re totally cool with that.

Quick point – I’m not sure how they find the system corrupt.  There is no definition of how a college is corrupt.  Sure, I can see it when the administration raids the funds of the university to furnish their own home, but that really has no bearing on the actual quality and standards of the college itself.  (And I’m not going to go into the argument about whether or not grade inflation exists.  It does.  But, if anything, that is in the students’ favor, so don’t complain.)

But back to the point at hand.  The most interesting point about this article is actually the commentary from the people who have read it.  Some people think it’s cheating and therefore wrong.  Or they see it as double-cheating – you’re paying for an education and then cheating on the work, which means you’re also cheating yourself out of the money you’re spending on a supposed education.  My favorite one, however, is from someone who says:

“…if I was an unemployed professor…I’d rather sit at Starbucks writing some Johnnie’s 101 paper than work at Subway, rake leaves or any other d***sucking job.  THIS IS THE FUTURE. GET IN WHERE YOU FIT IN.  ETHICS HAVE BECOME AN IDEA, NOT A REQUIREMENT.”

Hence the title of this blog.  Ethics are optional, as per this anonymous poster who goes by the name “SadDaveKrieg.”

Well, hell, if ethics is optional, why am I paying my bills at all?  Why work?  I can forge forms showing I have a disability.  I mean, obviously, I don’t belong working at a – gasp! – Subway! Only the lowest of the low would do that.  And…bigger gasp…raking leaves! Manual labor? For someone with a degree?  Now that’s even worse than having ethics!

Seriously, what is wrong with this world when we think we’re entitled to do something “where we fit in.”  Who determines where we fit in?

And, keep in mind, I write this as an underemployed college professor who works part-time at two colleges to earn less than a full-time professor but has to teach more classes and has less support.  And I still would rather hang on to my ethics and not be “where I fit in.”  And if I had to work retail, I would.  And if I had to rake leaves, I would.  Because I’d rather have a job “below” me than discover that I compromised what I’d learned and what I believed in.  I have to wonder if “SadDave” has a college degree, and how honest he was in getting it.  And I also have to wonder…did “SadDave” ever take a critical thinking class, or perhaps one on ethics?  Because obviously he deserves his money back on both of them if he did.

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As Infectious Grooves once said, “I hate stupid people!”

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.

Literacy rate by country (2007/2008 UN Human Development Report) By Literacy_rate_world.svg: Original image by User:Astrokey44; new SVG version by User:Andrew_pmk derivative work: Joél be back (Literacy_rate_world.svg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Literacy rate by country (2007/2008 UN Human Development Report) By Literacy_rate_world.svg: Original image by User:Astrokey44; new SVG version by User:Andrew_pmk derivative work: Joél be back (Literacy_rate_world.svg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons