Desprit to pass spring projict
November 14, 2017 1:27 PM   Subscribe

The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students' papers tells his story. Two days had passed since I last heard from the business student. Overnight I had received 14 e-mails from her. She had additional instructions for the assignment, such as "but more again please make sure they are a good link betwee the leticture review and all the chapter and the benfet of my paper. finally do you think the level of this work? how match i can get it?"

The Shadow Scholar is no longer in the biz, but if you're rich and desperate for a degree, you can skip the actual "research and report" parts of college and just hire someone to write your papers for you.

Another writer talks about the industry:
I make jokes about this work, trying to rationalize it to friends and even to myself. I sell my services under the pseudonym "Charles Darwin," and not a single client seems to realize that's not my real name. I've also proofread and fixed papers (a lesser evil, I tell myself). I feel that sparing an instructor these sentences may redeem me:

"World War II happened hundreds of years ago."

"Hitler had some good ideas — in a business-y kind of way."
A substantial number of writers specialize in services for non-native-English speakers: I Ghostwrite Chinese Students' Ivy League Admissions Essays.

Upwork has plenty of examples of people seeking to buy academic writing; many of the jobs are proofreading or business marketing, but some are blatant cheats:
Need experts in the subjects of business, english and math that would be willing to take tests and write essays. This is for a business set up to assist students and could be long time work
If you're looking for long-term work in the scam essay industry, HiringWriters is "an on-line research and writing company. The range of services we offer includes academic writing and research in all major fields of study at all levels (high school, undergraduate, graduate)."

Previously on the blue; Ask 1; Ask 2 (both about selling, no buying), and the MeTa.
posted by ErisLordFreedom (131 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can't detect, that you can't defend against, that you may not even know exists.

oh, we know it exists. and we can usually tell when it's being used, because while students might buy their papers, those who do so don't pay anyone to write their emails to their professors for them, and the disjunctures are generally... noticeable. but many of us are paid far less to teach these classes than the ghostwriters get paid to ghostwrite, and many of us work at multiple institutions to make ends meet, so many of us are too tired or too busy to actually ever pursue any sort of disciplinary action via academic judiciary.
posted by halation at 1:38 PM on November 14, 2017 [171 favorites]


I'm aware that, in many cases, the teachers' hands are tied even if they can identify the fraud. Colleges don't like to expel rich students; they don't even like to give them failing grades. A "hardcore" teacher who actually confirms that the students are doing the assignments, may wind up passed over for promotions and eventually phased out because their students' grades aren't good enough.

There is no one spot in this system where a simple fix could make the problems go away.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:44 PM on November 14, 2017 [24 favorites]


It's the market economy doing what it does best: helping those who began with more ease their way past those with less, all under the guise of working oh so meritocratically hard.
posted by conscious matter at 1:54 PM on November 14, 2017 [65 favorites]


oh, we know it exists.

Yeah, the idea that you're pulling one over on the naive instructors is itself a bit... naive. We know it's happening, but enforcement is difficult for a lot of reasons. A big reason is time.

You can design classes that make this kind of plagiarism impossible (or at least more difficult). But that takes time. You can carefully track the students' writing, looking for stylistic give-aways. But that takes time. Etc.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:55 PM on November 14, 2017 [15 favorites]


it goes beyond that, to be honest, and it's not only rich kids. i've had international students who had been misled by the institution, who were admitted with insufficient skills in the language of instruction, who were given terrible advising suggestions (here just take these advanced-level lit courses, it doesn't matter what you take, just get your proficiency up before you take your major courses!), who were stranded at a school offering them nothing in the way of language courses or tutoring...

in at least one miserable case i know, i'm pretty sure the student wasn't really even able to read the plagiarism policy in the syllabus, let alone read the texts of the course and write a paper on them. what choice does a student in this position have? buy a paper, ask a friend to write a paper, copy/paste from wikipedia, or fail. fail, and they might kick you out, and you might lose your good academic standing, and then lose your visa, and go home in disgrace. and educators care about their students. we want them to learn and respect learning, but we don't want to ruin their lives. there's no doing right by anyone in this situation. and the college administration feeds this industry themselves.

(and now i'm actually considering responding to a few of these upwork ads, so know this: we, the professors, do this too.)
posted by halation at 1:56 PM on November 14, 2017 [39 favorites]


I read the first article back when it came out, and this bit has stuck in my head:
From my experience, three demographic groups seek out my services: the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid.

For the last, colleges are a perfect launching ground—they are built to reward the rich and to forgive them their laziness. Let's be honest: The successful among us are not always the best and the brightest, and certainly not the most ethical. My favorite customers are those with an unlimited supply of money and no shortage of instructions on how they would like to see their work executed. While the deficient student will generally not know how to ask for what he wants until he doesn't get it, the lazy rich student will know exactly what he wants. He is poised for a life of paying others and telling them what to do. Indeed, he is acquiring all the skills he needs to stay on top.
posted by clawsoon at 1:59 PM on November 14, 2017 [48 favorites]


I was a little nonplussed by the sentiment in the other thread that this is somehow a shocking corruption of the academy's meritocratic purity. To my outsider's eye, this is entirely consistent with the guiding pay-to-play principle of US universities, where tuition can easily exceed the average worker's entire gross income. Of course people with money can buy preferential treatment—it's a natural extension of the preferential treatment they bought when they paid tuition and beat out all of the people who can't afford it. To me it seems an odd line to draw, that we're fine auctioning off admission to these institutions to the highest bidder, but recoil at the idea of selling plaudits and credentials among those already safely ensconced within their walls. A cynic might suggest that the (I'd guess almost entirely college-educated) audiences for this kind of particular brand of outrage porn are fine buying opportunities unavailable to the lower classes right up until the point that they are the ones priced out of the market.
posted by enn at 2:15 PM on November 14, 2017 [31 favorites]


My second-language student and my dyslexic student this term write papers that have consistent but idiosyncratic errors, and so do the students who don't have language issues of any sort. That's one giveaway (it requires being familiar with your students, and I only have one section). But then I don't assign general-research papers. I ask them to write about their own experience.

Here's the funny thing: I give them "pop quizzes" during class, and they can't bring themselves to cheat even though I tell them to talk to one another, look up the answers in their notes, and ask me (they are not actually "quizzes" but a way of teaching them things). Students are invested in the whole zero-sum, competitive, rigidly and formulaicly ethical, merit-based myth when it comes to how things look in class.

Meanwhile, one reason students can get away with cheat papers is that their TAs are paid next to nothing and don't know anything about teaching, their main-class professors are handling too many students to get to know, and people like me are not even paid poverty level wages for at-will temporary part time employment. I'm a retiree who picked up a class as a way of making a difference and socking away some money for taxes, so I can afford it.
posted by Peach at 2:20 PM on November 14, 2017 [18 favorites]


ORAL EXAMS.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:23 PM on November 14, 2017 [17 favorites]


I'd be more outraged if I hadn't seen how many jobs want a degree, even though there is nothing in higher education that relates to the job itself. Sales jobs. Tech support jobs that involve reading scripted answers. Receptionist jobs. Accounts payable jobs. Management jobs. A degree could enhance any of those, but skill at them won't be shown in school grades.

I despise that rich white dudes can buy themselves into a management job by purchasing term papers, but the problem often isn't "they bought a degree" but "companies demand a degree for a job that requires no academic skills."

If I had infinite power and a congressional mandate to overhaul academia to root out fraud, I wouldn't start with desperate students and the people who make a living off them.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:25 PM on November 14, 2017 [54 favorites]


Ages and ages ago, a friend of a friend connected me with someone who needed one take-home test on one computing class to graduate [state technical college], said student came to me and though my initial intent was tutoring, it quickly came down to "take the test for her".

I did it, because, really, why does a nursing student need to know the details of how whatever version of dBase worked? But I was also nervous about taking the test for her because so much of the material wasn't "what's the correct answer?", but "what's the answer the teacher said in class and wants regurgitated?"

In my long disillusionment with academia, it was yet another example of "we're playing irrelevant games to get a sheepskin" rather than "we're pursuing learning".

So I look at this, and think back on that poor nursing student with a test that contained ridiculously version specific computer application questions which were largely "make sure you paid attention during lecture" bullshit rather than things which were actively going to help her in her field, and shrug.

Edit: What ErisLordFreedom said directly above this.
posted by straw at 2:26 PM on November 14, 2017 [18 favorites]


I wrote/edited/proofread other dorm-mates' papers for free weed in my sophomore and junior undergraduate years. Mostly edited and proofread – but the one time I wrote a paper for a friend, I got a whole LOT of weed, and then a whole lot more when they got an A-.
posted by not_on_display at 2:28 PM on November 14, 2017 [11 favorites]


ORAL EXAMS held electronically before anonymous professors from another Non-affiliated university, whose decision is final. Pass/Fail. If we can spend countless hours and resources to maintain the relative purity of proctored exams like the SAT/GRE/GMAT, we can certainly do so for degree granting oral exams.
posted by Chrischris at 2:29 PM on November 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


Given how poorly college prepared me for the working world, if someone had offered me a job like this--and paying the 1987 equivalent of $66K--thirty years ago, I would have jumped on it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:41 PM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


The real kicker would be if this was written by one shadow scholar for another (who was too busy to write it himself).
posted by sour cream at 2:46 PM on November 14, 2017 [18 favorites]


This follows through into the work world. I can't tell you how many people I have invited in for an interview based on excellently-written cover letters/resumes boasting North American credentials who suddenly cannot write or speak English during the interview. Doubly frustrating because I specifically seek out the many skills of New Canadians, but I know other hiring managers at other organizations are now pretty burned out on inviting New Canadians in for interviews for this reason. I am now doing a LOT more phone pre-screening to try and cut down on wasting everyone's time.
posted by saucysault at 2:49 PM on November 14, 2017 [8 favorites]


Having both taken and given oral exams several times, they are a terrible solution to this problem. The skills required to write a term paper are totally different from those required to pass an oral exam.

More importantly, oral exams are rife with all of the bias humans are prone to. There’s no record of the exam, so no way to look back and see that Sexist Prof grades women more harshly, or that attractive people of both genders get higher scores, or that speakers with a slight accent are unfairly dinged. Or even other biases such as “the research students of Prof Y should be questioned harder”.
All of that shit and likely much worse happens in oral exams. They’re a terrible way to examine students, even if it were at all practical to do so time wise.
posted by nat at 2:54 PM on November 14, 2017 [83 favorites]


Long papers cobbled together outside of class don't show a lot about a student.

Have students write everything in class. Allow them a pen and paper, a single-page summary of the week's lectures and reading to use as a framework and memory aid, and some blank paper. Give them one question to answer before the end of class. Do that every week.

Bad students would quickly flunk out. Students who showed up every day, did the reading, and could think and produce under time pressure would pass, and they'd probably make good employees in the knowledge industries, regardless of whether the class subject directly applied to their future jobs.
posted by pracowity at 2:57 PM on November 14, 2017 [16 favorites]


My school's first year writing course is place based; every assignment is about a building or institution or artwork on the college campus. It doesn't make it impossible to cheat - you can write a decent paper based on the college's web site, so you can get it done remotely if you can't find someone on campus to write it for you - but it helps.

I agree with many of those who have said that we could maybe... stop incentivizing people who are undermotivated and underprepared to go to college to get jobs that you don't really need a college education for. Stop telling people to go to college just because it's the thing you do after high school, start hiring high school grads for things you can learn how to do in a couple of weeks, stop using a college degree as a marker of social class and the ability to manage your time adequately.

I don't know how to get there, but it would be a start.
posted by Jeanne at 3:00 PM on November 14, 2017 [15 favorites]


ORAL EXAMS held electronically before anonymous professors from another Non-affiliated university, whose decision is final. Pass/Fail. If we can spend countless hours and resources to maintain the relative purity of proctored exams like the SAT/GRE/GMAT, we can certainly do so for degree granting oral exams.
HOLY SHIT FUCK NO! Setting aside the enormous logistical problem of paying someone from another institution to do your work for you, there's the lack of standardisation in tertiary education assessment practices - even with strong regulatory frameworks (say UK higher ed, or Australia) there's often very little commonality in course content and goals. So there's time required to bring the 'anonymous professor' up to speed on what the hell the criteria are, which takes time away from the assessment and teaching requirements of the professor's home institution. Not to mention admin and research (less than 50% of an academic role is in the classroom). Then, there's the fact that this assessment role will be passed down to junior academics and adjuncts, just like every other drudge task.

Then there's the huge workload involved - even in a small cohort, say 30 students, each presenting a 20 minute paper, with 10 minutes for questions and assessment, that's 15 hours devoted entirely to one assessment task. Call it two working days, with toilet breaks, delays and the general fuck-uppery of students, minimum. Another 2 days to train people up in the requirements, probably a week of emailing, scheduling, dealing with panicked students who are unprepared, overprepared, or just losing their shit because they are scared.

Oral exams also test rote learning, not thought and analysis. How are you going to make it work for fine art? For social work? For any number of topics that aren't just 'facts'.

The issue is not the kind of assessment, it's the business of higher education itself: get students in, get their money, get them out, get their money. As TFA says, "evaluation, not education". Universities and colleges are recruiting students who can't do the work, to overfill courses that educators struggle to teach: for every brilliant (or even good) student, there's two who can't communicate their ideas, another two who are just marking time between weeknight benders, one who's in fundamental personal crisis, and at least one who's an entitled shithead.

Low and mid-level administrative roles have been slashed globally, landing day-to-day admin on academic staff (mainly adjuncts), while department heads are expected to commit entirely to outreach, development, and recruitment as well as course co-ordination and 'significant' research outputs. Here in Australia, this particularly affects postgraduate teaching - universities focus on undergraduate recruitment because the money is guaranteed year-on-year, rather than on completion, and postgraduate cohorts are smaller, so the pool of money is smaller. It leads to situations where manifestly unsuitable students are pushed through just to keep departments alive. No amount of tinkering with assessment formats is going to fix that.
posted by prismatic7 at 3:19 PM on November 14, 2017 [31 favorites]


Whenever I read something like this, I think of Dying Inside.
posted by ovvl at 3:36 PM on November 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


Twenty years ago, I once knew someone (Vietnamese Australian) who studied marketing with a lot of overseas Chinese students. She told me that some paid her to sit their exam for them. I said, well, how does that work, when they check your photo id as you go in? She laughed and told me that Australians are so racist, they even tell you that all Asians look the same and as long as they see 'slanty eyes' on the photo, they can't tell the difference and assume it's them. This girl was Vietnamese, she wasn't even from the same country and didn't even look remotely Chinese!

I know I should have been outraged at someone cheating the system, but you know what, I actually admired these people for taking my country's well known prejudice (at the time) and finding a way to work it to their advantage.
posted by Jubey at 3:38 PM on November 14, 2017 [11 favorites]


Isn't this just how groupwork is, but with the person who ends up doing the whole assignment being financially rewarded?
joking. mostly. well, yes, I am bitter. Thank you.
posted by b33j at 3:39 PM on November 14, 2017 [22 favorites]


The skills required to write a term paper are totally different from those required to pass an oral exam.

And I have had students who really struggled with in-class speaking but showed their mastery of the material via writing. I've also had students who were indifferent writers, but communicated their ideas well in presentations. I try to mix my assessments to let both groups have a chance to shine.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:50 PM on November 14, 2017 [9 favorites]


I'm a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can't detect, that you can't defend against, that you may not even know exists.

Not unless you speak Spanish, they don't. My students' cheating method of preference is good old Google Translate.

That's easy enough to detect with the following conversation:

Professor O'Freedom: This. This verb form. *circles* What is it, why did you use it?
Student: *blank stare*
Prof. O'Freedom: Ok, I'll help you. It's the pluscuamperfecto. Where did you get this from, seeing we haven't gone over it in class yet?
Student: *blanker stare*
Prof. O'Freedom: Can you conjugate a different verb in this tense? Come on, give me "salir" in the pluscuamperfecto.
Student: Ok, give me the F.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:05 PM on November 14, 2017 [37 favorites]


O prof. O’Freedom, can’t you at least give your students a way out?
posted by chavenet at 4:12 PM on November 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


My SO knows someone who writes college papers and admission essays for a living. By her account, he's incredibly smart and well-educated, and had ambitions and career plans. At some point he became a hardcore alcoholic, however, and now he just sorta fell into this to survive and buy booze.
posted by naju at 4:13 PM on November 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


Nick Mamatas wrote about his time doing this (I don't think this is a duplicate of any of the links posted - apologies if I'm wrong.)
posted by rmd1023 at 4:23 PM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


A "hardcore" teacher who actually confirms that the students are doing the assignments, may wind up passed over for promotions and eventually phased out because their students' grades aren't good enough

This is exactly what happened to me. I realized I could very easily use the “readability” score in MS Word to detect plagiarized papers and when confronted students almost always confess. After a few semesters I started getting offered 0 classes. I went on to pursue web development and the rest is history.
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:29 PM on November 14, 2017 [24 favorites]


ErisLordFreedom: I'd be more outraged if I hadn't seen how many jobs want a degree, even though there is nothing in higher education that relates to the job itself. Sales jobs. Tech support jobs that involve reading scripted answers. Receptionist jobs. Accounts payable jobs. Management jobs.

This jumped out at me when I watched a documentary (Between Heaven and Hell) about the guys who haul sulfur down from a volcano. Even the most intelligent and outgoing of them couldn't get a job in the city, because they didn't have a high school diploma. It was clear that the high school diploma was a filter to keep jobs in the hands of the middle class.

Then I looked back at my own culture, and had the belated realization that we do exactly the same thing using college degrees.
posted by clawsoon at 4:35 PM on November 14, 2017 [7 favorites]


Oral exams also test rote learning, not thought and analysis.

Surely it depends what you ask? I disagree with the idea that you can't ask for analysis in an oral exam, but I would say that oral exams disadvantage students who do better with little doodles to help them outline their arguments and time to think and so on (or, heaven forbid, have a heavy accent or a stutter or a very quiet voice).
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:48 PM on November 14, 2017 [6 favorites]


I do a lot more in class writing activities nowadays. The students self select out of my classes.

These links don't even get into the practice of having indentured servants working with richer students. They hate it when they're split up by me.
posted by k8t at 4:56 PM on November 14, 2017 [6 favorites]


"I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and I'll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages what most normal people could say in a paragraph."

That's just awful. I've spent my entire writing career doing the exact opposite.
posted by mikeand1 at 4:58 PM on November 14, 2017 [17 favorites]


If we can spend countless hours and resources to maintain the relative purity of proctored exams like the SAT/GRE/GMAT...

A few years ago, someone who was preparing to take the GMAT told me that the batches of questions are changed on a schedule -- say every 30 days. His/her plan was: sign-up for a test date, starting 30 days before the test date watch certain websites for the new batch to be posted online, and then memorize the questions and answers.

Apparently this was a common technique at the time.
posted by duoshao at 4:58 PM on November 14, 2017


Here's an amusing thing: If you put "Desprit to pass spring projict" into Google Translate with language auto-detection, it translates it correctly from English to English.
posted by clawsoon at 5:06 PM on November 14, 2017 [6 favorites]


She told me that some paid her to sit their exam for them. I said, well, how does that work, when they check your photo id as you go in? She laughed and told me that Australians are so racist, they even tell you that all Asians look the same and as long as they see 'slanty eyes' on the photo, they can't tell the difference and assume it's them.

There was a (very minor) scandal some years back about people doing this exact thing for the SAT (a pre-college exam) in the US, and getting away with it for the same reason.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:15 PM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


I am now doing a LOT more phone pre-screening to try and cut down on wasting everyone's time.

My former employer moved to Skype interviews, because they had problems with the person on the phone not being the same person that showed up for the in-person interview.
posted by Hatashran at 5:17 PM on November 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


That's just awful. I've spent my entire writing career doing the exact opposite.

Can you expand on that?
posted by Construction Concern at 5:37 PM on November 14, 2017 [40 favorites]


"I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and I'll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages what most normal people could say in a paragraph."

That's just awful. I've spent my entire writing career doing the exact opposite.
posted by mikeand1 at 4:58 PM on November 14 [2 favorites −] [!]


Amen to that.

All that time and effort polishing the skill of writing bloated crap quickly for not much money. It's kind of sad to me. But he seems proud of it.
posted by cron at 5:43 PM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


Neat that this got posted after I brought it up in a the confidence/competence thread.

I think I might have been misinterpreted by a handful, because I don't think this maligns the educational institution as much as it shows what having an education system only accessible by having sufficient capital does, long term, to students. I mean, I'm sure this isn't actually a new thing in American academia at all, but rather just one that happened to explode in popularity and ease of access with the advent of the internet.

If anything, its an argument for fully socialized higher education, but to even address that, we'd have to start by fixing our primary education system, which has yet to been really overhauled since the industrial revolution, and is honestly in shambles no matter how hard our teachers try to do right by our students.

Fully accessible higher education wouldn't solve every problem, but it would certainly reduce the ability of jobs to discriminate based on education credentials, which as others have pointed out, is a huge problem.

I honestly think there is more broken in this country than can be fixed without literally tearing every aspect of the country down and starting over, from education and transportation and food production and distribution and to separation of governmental powers, real regulation of basically every industry, workplace rights, and so on and so forth.

I mean, it's all tied together. Lack of environmental accountability from big business, men with power and money abusing women and men without power and money, whether by zoning industrial waste next to poor neighborhoods or by literally sexually assaulting them individually, the lack of democracy in the workplace, decisions made by the most confident and those with the most means and wealth, it just goes on and on, and it feels like you can't stop any of it without dismantling the whole shebang.

Sometimes the iceberg of bureaucracy feels like it will never move fast enough to address the problems that are quickly making our planet uninhabitable, let alone problems like this, and that's the scariest part of all of this.

It makes me think of the story of Nero playing his lyre while Rome burned.

Except this time it's the whole planet burning.
posted by deadaluspark at 6:26 PM on November 14, 2017 [7 favorites]


Have students write everything in class. Allow them a pen and paper, a single-page summary of the week's lectures and reading to use as a framework and memory aid, and some blank paper. Give them one question to answer before the end of class. Do that every week.

When I was teaching writing to college freshmen, we always did this. These days, they don't even need to do pen and paper--the college had things they called COWs, or Computers on Wheels, that were carts that each held 20+ laptops and a printer; in my later years teaching (I left the profession 10 years ago), students submitted papers electronically so the printer wasn't even needed. You just had to get in touch with the tech people and request a COW for the class session where you wanted the students to write the essays.
posted by Orlop at 7:04 PM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


but many of us are paid far less to teach these classes than the ghostwriters get paid to ghostwrite

I think it would be kind of wonderful if an adjunct here and there got a side gig writing papers for students in their own classes. imagine the peace of knowing whatever grade you assigned and whatever criticism you gave was absolutely fair.

I have pretty much equal disregard for the idea that this is somehow excusable and the idea that this is a big deal. people who pay money for an education and then pay even more money to avoid getting one, they are making bad choices and spending money that would be more fruitfully spent on a fake diploma and fake references, but they are doing no particular harm to their instructors or peers. they think they got away with something, but all they did was throw something away. but if they're happy, they're happy, and I don't care unless the job they want their fake degree for is in journalism.

but it kills me to see those sleazy ads for paper mill writers and know there's no such job as waiting up at night for someone to send you a frantic request for 25 pages on the causes of the French Revolution or imagery in such-and-such a poet because they want to know. if there were such a thing as an ethical job writing freshman-level term papers I would do it, for minimum wage, forever.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:04 PM on November 14, 2017 [6 favorites]


Once a student tried to get me (the TA) high on acid during an exam to get a better grade. I feel like this method is preferable.
posted by miyabo at 7:12 PM on November 14, 2017 [16 favorites]


Once a student tried to get me (the TA) high on acid during an exam to get a better grade. I feel like this method is preferable.

When I was a TA no one ever offered me anything. Lots of complaining about unfairly low grades, including sometimes by parents, but never any bribing or doping. Now I feel kind of left out.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:33 PM on November 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


Yeah, another student slipped a $40 Starbucks gift card into an assignment. (I reported it and gave it to some hungry undergrads.)

Honestly most of the cheating students weren't dumb or lazy, they were desperate to get good enough grades to get a job and an OPT visa to come to the US. If you really believe that your entire future depends on getting that A, you'll do anything I guess. I was recently talking to an undergrad (not mine, I gave up academia long ago) whose entire family was killed in her home country. She would have walked over hot coals to get an A.
posted by miyabo at 7:43 PM on November 14, 2017 [14 favorites]


I feel like there’s an alternative market out there for people like me who can’t commit to a course but do want to learn more about a topic and for whom web resources don’t really cut it. Like a sort of tutoring à la carte? I don’t know if that industry exists, or if it would be lucrative if it did.
posted by um at 8:17 PM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


As an adjunct, I think long and hard about doing this work every time the subject comes up. I need dental work done that I just can't afford, for example. I drive a truck that's older than some of my students. I doubt my teeth would care where the money came from.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:20 PM on November 14, 2017 [15 favorites]


Have students write everything in class. Allow them a pen and paper, a single-page summary of the week's lectures and reading to use as a framework and memory aid, and some blank paper. Give them one question to answer before the end of class. Do that every week.

To play devil's advocate, this seems like a good way to reward students for being clever procrastinators. When I entered college I was a great test-taker who could churn out an excellent essay on the spot. But I had no ability to set deadlines and manage longterm projects, an infinitely more useful skill which I needed out-of-class work to develop.
posted by Emily's Fist at 8:23 PM on November 14, 2017 [9 favorites]


So, when was a student, I took Japanese. For fairness in oral exams, my professor recorded a PowerPoint with timed breaks for responses .

She'd sit you in front of it, hit play and stared at you with her notebook as you spoke to the computer. All she would say was start, finish and your name. There were no clarification questions, everyone got the same amount if time and it was the most intense thing I ever have done in school.

Masters capstone review, piece of cake.

I still have nightmares.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:28 PM on November 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


In my college real analysis class we had a take home final. The teacher gave us 3 days to work on it and allowed us to consult our notes/textbook, but we were forbidden from discussing the material with anyone else.

On day 2 I went to the library and saw a handful of my classmates (1/3 of the class) doing the final together in a room. One of them later let slip that they sent the final to some online service and got all the answers. That student went on to the PhD program at Stanford Business School.

I've never been prouder of a (honestly earned) B.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 9:09 PM on November 14, 2017 [6 favorites]


From "Ed Dante": But pointing the finger at me is too easy.

I think there's probably the right amount of ease involved in pointing fingers at him.
posted by mark k at 10:07 PM on November 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


People still go to college for an education?
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 10:29 PM on November 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


Well, this is the perfect example of American Privilege. "I don't need to know this shit, I can pay someone to learn it for me." And the people here celebrate the cheaters and the people who help them cheat. Then people turn around and complain about politicians, managers, pundits that are not only ignorant,but proud of being so. I mean hell, I knew an architect who cheated his way to a degree. Do you want to live in one of the buildings he designed?


I have a feeling we're going to end up like Dubai- a bunch of wealthy 1 per-centers paying foreigners for all their technical needs, and a mass of starving, unemployed peasants too ignorant to even think of doing something about it. And all around them, the technological infrastructure just slowly grinds to a halt.
posted by happyroach at 10:38 PM on November 14, 2017 [9 favorites]


I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words.

How to Say Nothing in 500 Words - an essay written in the 50s which, aside from a couple of slightly-dated references, works frighteningly well today.
WHY COLLEGE FOOTBALL SHOULD BE ABOLISHED
College football should be abolished because it's bad for the school and also for the players. The players are so busy practicing that they don't have any time for their studies.

This, you feel, is a mighty good start. The only trouble is that it's only thirty­-two words.
It goes on to pad that into:
In my opinion, it seems to me that college football should be abolished. The reason why I think this to be true is because I feel that football is bad for the colleges in nearly every respect. As Robert Hutchins says in his article in our anthology in which he discusses college football, it would be better if the colleges had race horses and had races with one another, because then the horses would not have to attend classes. I firmly agree with Mr. Hutchins on this point, and I am sure that many other students would agree too.
And this is how a writer can do a 10-page report on Classic Greek Tragedy Elements in Modern Movies over a weekend. Way too much opinion, constant restatements, mention of any reference material brought up in class (harder for a remote author to do, but sometimes that's included on the assignment notes), and a whole lot of unnecessary phrasing. The essay says this will get you a "D" grade... I'm not so sure about that, these days. It won't get an A, but it's likely to get a C, and might even get a B.

Twitch.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:39 PM on November 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


People still go to college for an education?

Well, no. I mean, some do, but mostly, people go to college for a degree, without which you can't get a job that can pay more than twice minimum wage and doesn't involve exposure to deadly situations.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:41 PM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


As an undergrad, I had a 300-level E&M class taught by a brand-new (to the school, not to the field) professor, who'd recently moved to the US from China. Every day, she'd assign problem sets, and then collect them during the next class. They were graded and constituted like 60% of the class grade, with the remainder being traditional exams. The problem sets themselves were brutal, each one easily four or five problems, probably an hour a problem for an average physics student like me. And we had this class three times a week, so you're talking something like 15 to 20 hours of work a week outside of class. And in class, once you'd turned the written answers in, the professor would randomly call students up to the board and have them work one of the problems. If you couldn't do it, you'd get the barest clues, but mostly just had to work it out, painstakingly, in real-time in front of the whole class. It was excruciating if you didn't know what you were doing.

Eventually, most of the students (myself included) admitted defeat in the face of her refusal to lower the workload, and formed a sort of ad hoc study group in one of the library lounges. We'd break the problem set up, and everyone who showed up would get a problem to work out. After an hour or so, everyone would get back together and talk through their problem so everyone else could write it down themselves, and have a chance in hell at understanding it if they were the poor sod who got called on.

This went on for the whole semester. Everyone knew it was technically in violation of the academic policy, and some people clearly didn't like it, but it was a required course to graduate and was only offered once a year—drop it, and you're looking at two extra semesters to graduate, and for all you know, the same prof is going to be teaching it next year! By midterms the whole class, those who hadn't dropped and changed majors anyway, were in on it.

Anyway, we all survived, and the prof didn't seem suspicious when our grades on the problem sets all jumped, as a class, from the mid-50%s to the 90%s, just by virtue of being able to complete the damn things. Or that people were clearly standing in the hallway before class, explaining the solutions to each other so they wouldn't tank if they got called on.

During the last class, the professor asked us what we'd thought of the class and her teaching. Crickets. Finally, someone mentioned that the problem sets were still ridiculous. The professor said that she heard that complaint, but everyone seemed to be doing okay at them after a few weeks, so what was the problem? One guy finally loses it and tells the professor well, yeah, that's when everyone started meeting after class to break up the problem sets, and the whole class only passed because we've all been cheating. (I've never wanted to death-choke someone with my mind as much as at that moment. Fucker was snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.)

The professor laughs—the only time I'd seen her do that in the entire semester, and said something to the extent of: "of course you did! I knew some of you were going to do that anyway, so I just made sure you all cheated equally. That way you all learned it, and I don't have to fail any of you."

In retrospect it wasn't exactly a cutting-edge educational strategy, but it felt like a Jedi mind trick. We'd been punked.

And I don't know if I remember the material more than any other class, but it was without question the most functional group project I ever worked on in college.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:14 PM on November 14, 2017 [57 favorites]


mention of any reference material brought up in class (harder for a remote author to do, but sometimes that's included on the assignment notes)

Yeah, the last few classes I've taught I've included a line on the rubric (we have to use rubrics) about whether the student has connected the topic of their essay to relevant material from the assigned readings, the lectures, and tutorials. And I've weighted that part of the rubric to at least 25% of the essay grade.

This was an attempt to thwart the purchased essay thing, but it doesn't entirely work because I guess some students send the essay writer a list of references too, and it's a subject where most things are published online and open access, so the writer could throw in a few sources here and there and still get an okay grade on that part of the criteria.

But anyway, it does let me mark down quite a few essays that I suspect are bought - the ones by students who hardly ever showed up to class, and never logged into the class website, and in person are pretty inarticulate, but produce a very coherent essay that is only vaguely related to the in-class discussions or assigned materials. And once they lose the 25% for this, they are unlikely to pass overall unless the essay is otherwise amazing, which is rare.

Of course, besides weeding out some of the bought essays, it also ensures that the assessment actually demonstrates learning rather than pre-existing knowledge, or general intelligence, or something. Alignment of assessment to teaching is supposedly a good thing.

But anyway, the first time I included this criterion, I got the worst student evaluations of my life. And a lot of them had comments that were variations on this: "she made us write about things from class for absolutely NO REASON."
posted by lollusc at 11:31 PM on November 14, 2017 [11 favorites]


the first time I included this criterion, I got the worst student evaluations of my life.

That's got to be one of the reasons teachers don't bother to identify and penalize the purchased essays/reports: it results in bad evaluations, and if the school listens to those, it can tank a career. With some students, I expect it could get parent complaints, too.

It doesn't matter how dedicated a teacher is to good education; if she becomes "the one who fails half her students," the school is going to get rid of her.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:41 PM on November 14, 2017 [8 favorites]


All of this happens here in socialized education paradise as well, sadly. Again, because you need a college degree for even the most menial jobs these days. And there are international students who come because the tuition is really low compared with the US or UK.
Anyway, I've developed a fool-proof way of dealing with this: in each of my courses, one of the semester's assignments will always be a hand-written notebook, with notes from each class and from the relevant home studies. If I am fully in charge of the course, I'll assign 25% of the final grade to the notebook. When I share classes with colleagues, they are always worried about this the first time — how can we evaluate them? 25% is too much. After they've tried it, they always begin using it in their own classes. The thing is, you don't need to read through the whole thing to see if it has actually been used, you can see it in a glance. You look at the handwriting, at the amount of notes taken pr class, at the progression over the semester. If a student has been listening, core concepts will be circled or underlined. If they have been studying at home, there will be references, and again, emphasis on important elements of whatever they are reading.
To the students, I sell it as a way I can evaluate individual achievements within groups, and they mostly like that. I let them glue in elements that are naturally digital, if they hand annotate them.
It's easy to find cheaters: If a notebook has been copied from a classmate or a previous student, you can see it right away, not because you remember the other notes, but because the writing style is different when you are copying 50 pages in one go from when you are taking notes over a semester.
I started this in 2004, so I've seen hundreds of notebooks and students, and there is a 1:1 ratio of good notebooks and succesful students. It even turns out there is some evidence for this. Try it, fellow professors! Hej, students out there, try it on your own! Learning is fun!
posted by mumimor at 12:13 AM on November 15, 2017 [47 favorites]


I love that idea, mumimor!

I don't think we are allowed to require handwritten work for accessibility reasons, unfortunately, but even requiring a digital portfolio of notes taken in class all semester might be worth trying.
posted by lollusc at 1:03 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Well, this is the perfect example of American Privilege.

Not really, its an international market, both on the supply and demand side.
posted by biffa at 1:47 AM on November 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


Kadin2048, as a mature student back in school and struggling through four computer science classes per term with some of the most ridiculous assignment schedules I’ve ever encountered, that story made me LOL and then want to cry.
posted by Phire at 3:05 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


To me it seems an odd line to draw, that we're fine auctioning off admission to these institutions to the highest bidder, but recoil at the idea of selling plaudits and credentials among those already safely ensconced within their walls.

I don’t like either of these. I’m the old-fashioned sort of commie who thinks college should be cheap and degrees should be proof of learning.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:06 AM on November 15, 2017 [18 favorites]


This is unfortunately an obvious endpoint when there is a banking model of education. The real way around this is "active learning" and lots of group work and mixing it up during classroom time, respecting students' thoughts and experiences as an essential part of the learning process, and focusing the "course objectives" on higher order critical thinking and knowledge production. When education is "I put money in for access to a sheet of paper in the future," this is what happens.

I'm a college professor at a large university and believe you me, this is all easier said than done. I spend a lot of time making every class session as active as possible. But I still assign papers, and I still give lectures, and the students still sit in rows and raise their hands to speak. It's incredibly difficult to break out of the banking model when you're smack dab in the middle of it. Especially since the actual teaching is just plain not valued at the administrative level when you go up for tenure. We are all trapped. Thanks, late stage capitalism!
posted by sockermom at 4:06 AM on November 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


oral exams are rife with all of the bias humans are prone to. There’s no record of the exam, so no way to look back and see that Sexist Prof grades women more harshly

This. This is why Mileva Maric failed to get her PhD. If you haven't heard of her, she co-invented special relativity with her husband. Her name wasn't on the paper.
posted by heatherlogan at 4:36 AM on November 15, 2017 [18 favorites]


Sockermom, one thing I've experienced when I gave more space to the students' work in class including group projects is that I got complaints because the students and some colleagues couldn't recognize it as teaching when I didn't lecture or focus on individual written assignments. Mostly it's been OK, as my bosses and most colleagues have had my back and unfailingly after a year, the students realized they were learning much more than in other classes. (I even had a group of guys come back after another year and apologize for their offensive behaviour). Then when my boss wanted to get rid of me, it became one of the arguments against me, even as the students and colleagues backed me. So it is actually dangerous to move off the beaten path. Bring paying parents into the equation, and I'm not sure I would run the risk.
posted by mumimor at 4:38 AM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


This is a big part of why I left academia. I loved teaching and I even loved teaching writing (anathema to many in my field), but the university experience now is about rubber stamping— both for the students themselves, but also their instructors and professors whose careers depend on course evals and graduation rates.

I knew that I should have been failing more students. But when you know that doing so might put a person in a lifetime of debt, and that it might even result in them facing that debt without a degree in an absurd economy where no one wants to hire anyone, the calculus of “what is best for the student” becomes awfully complicated.

I believed in the value of education for education’s sake, regardless of grades. But at a certain point, it became clear that no one else did, not even the universities. Teachers who caught plagiarists were treated like malcontents who made life difficult by the administration. Teachers who gave the grades that students deserved were “spoken to” about the impacts of those choices.

When I read a paper that had clearly been purchased from a paper mill but had zero plagiarism, I wasn’t fooled, but I was usually shamefully relieved. There was nothing I could do about it, so. . . there was nothing I could do. What a relief. Another person’s academic dishonesty was plausible enough that I wouldn’t have to spend six weeks documenting it and sitting in meetings about it and sitting while a student screamed in my face about it.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:35 AM on November 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


I have to work with several people who are rock stupid despite having PhDs. It never occurred to me that they might have just defrauded their way to their degrees, but now I wonder.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 6:51 AM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


My manager can't write. He churns out five-page proposals filled with gibberish that are, at best, a cargo-cult simulacrum of what actual technical proposals look like. I spend hours proofreading and correcting them, all the while feeling like I'm having a stroke because words just stop making sense.

I'd love it if he discovered ghostwriting services.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:21 AM on November 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


"Anyway, I've developed a fool-proof way of dealing with this: in each of my courses, one of the semester's assignments will always be a hand-written notebook, with notes from each class and from the relevant home studies."

- mumimor

I like the idea, (both because it fosters learning and because it makes it easier to catch cheaters.

I work in disability advocacy for higher-ed. students, so I look at course materials, courseware and teaching styles through the lens of accessibility. What's been the workaround for students who can't physically write by hand, or who can't use their eyes to read?
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 8:16 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


"These links don't even get into the practice of having indentured servants working with richer students. They hate it when they're split up by me."

I'm super-curious to hear more about this, especially as I am suddenly realizing what a very weird law school relationship I saw might have actually been.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:31 AM on November 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


What's been the workaround for students who can't physically write by hand, or who can't use their eyes to read?

I suspect it's "use whatever tech device works to take notes," with a potential rare "is exempt from the whole notebook thing because a disability makes that impossible for them."

Inability to write by hand is rare in colleges, enough so that there probably hasn't been a need to develop a specific policy; I'd expect the workaround to be adapted to the student's needs. Maybe they can record audio notes. Maybe they can type. (Other students will grumble, of course, about special exemptions. They can be told, if you physically cannot write with a pen on paper, we'll find something else. This includes both permanent disabilities and anyone with two broken arms or similar constraints.) Maybe they can have weekly short one-to-one meetings with the teacher to review what they've learned.

Anyone who's getting an exemption from the standard process is going to get extra scrutiny anyway, if only because the teacher has to change procedures to grade them.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:24 AM on November 15, 2017


I have a friend who wrote papers for pay for many years, all levels, all subjects.
She doesn't let any doctor under fifty years old treat her, I can tell you that.
posted by Adridne at 9:33 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I work in disability advocacy for higher-ed. students, so I look at course materials, courseware and teaching styles through the lens of accessibility. What's been the workaround for students who can't physically write by hand, or who can't use their eyes to read?

Oh, they get waivers and work-arounds according to their needs, no problem. I've never really understood why we should organize the whole curriculum based on students who have very individual needs. What is good for my student with severe dyslexia is not what supports my other student with cerebral palsy, or the one who has a psychiatric diagnosis. It's much better from an educational point of view to have individual solutions, and as I see it, also more efficient. One of the things I really like about my new workplace (where I worked before as well), is that it is a great place to study for a person with disabilities. It's worked into their basic philosophy, and IMO, the other students learn to respect and care for people different from themselves because of it.

Ten years ago, in my former workplace, I was approached by a spokesperson from an organisation in a similar position to yours, and she was quite aggressive about the lack of clear strategies for disabilities in our online material at the time. I asked her to join the program for a while, and after just a week she was planning to use our approach as a national guideline. I get why advocacy groups and university administrations shy away from individual solutions, because it seems they must be less comprehensive and more expensive and complicated. But in practice, they are not hard to provide and specially as I get older and more experienced, I feel they improve the quality of education for everyone. Being able to handle the student with a severe permanent disability individually prepares the institution for dealing with the student who breaks her arm two weeks before the exam. (Disclaimer: I am in a country where there are national rights and resources for people with disabilities, and our institutional challenges are mostly about finding those ressources, rather than creating a legally blameless framework for the students).

If you are open and clear about it, other students accept the differentiation, and if they don't, they need schooling. Which I will provide.
posted by mumimor at 9:45 AM on November 15, 2017 [14 favorites]


Let me just put in my two cents against hand-written exams and notebooks. If I hand write more than a few sentences my hand cramps up painfully and I have trouble focusing. I end up trying to express every idea as concisely as possible and this is inevitably poorly received. I get excellent grades when I have a keyboard, but I have never done well on a written exam. I type 90 words per minute. It drives me insane every time there's a situation where I'm expected to write paragraph after paragraph in agonizing longhand.
posted by zeusianfog at 10:23 AM on November 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


If I hand write more than a few sentences my hand cramps up painfully and I have trouble focusing.

That sounds like the kind of disability that would need an alternative option.

Real accessibility doesn't mean "here's our list of disabilities and how we provide service for them," nor does it mean "we only make exceptions for students who are getting federal disability payments." It means the school (or whatever organization) adapts their policies to the needs of the people involved.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:30 AM on November 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


So, my takeaway from this thread is:
1. Academic dishonesty, as long as its bespoke (and not just some shitty homemade plagiarism, ugh!) dishonesty, is perfectly acceptable for a fair majority of the Academics hereabouts.

2. The notion that a degree--from ANY domain of higher learning regardless of rank, status or exclusivity--is basically only worth its weight in social signalling (this here graduate can, probably, be relied upon to sit still, shut up, follow orders, and not rock the boat too much) to potential employers and grad school admissions people.

3. The system is irredeemably corrupt, to the point where, ANY sort of student assessment is suspect at best and completely meaningless in the median. If good grades are not handed out to pretty much anyone who signs up for class, then student assessments will be negative and parents and potential donors will get mad and then we can't have the brand new weightroom and several professors will be fired, etc., etc.

My high school sophomore is pretty bright and looking at maybe having a career in science. I'm thinking of telling him to not bother with American university. We'll just buy him a degree from a diploma mill and let him go crazy with the wikipedia and self study. After all, when professors themselves admit how worthless higher education is, its pretty obvious that is the most ethical and financially prudent course we could take. At least he will come by whatever knowledge he can scrape together honestly, and won't be saddled with a lifetime of debt to pay people and institutions that literally have no interest whatsoever in providing him with a decent education in return.
posted by Chrischris at 10:37 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


Hmm. I am not excusing cheating, but I think your comment only makes sense if you think that the point of higher ed is to earn grades, Chrischris. I think that the point is to learn stuff, and students who cheat are robbing themselves of the opportunity to learn the things that they are there to learn.

(There are additional questions about whether we're asking unrealistic things of students, particularly of international students whose language skills aren't initially strong enough to allow them to complete some of the classes they're encouraged to take. I'm still not willing to excuse cheating, but I think that's an issue that some institutions could really stand to address.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:08 AM on November 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


I don't think that's an accurate summary of the thread that I read.

The students who are effectively buying a diploma from universities who are selling them one damage the value of a diploma in the job market, but that happened a long time ago, largely by companies who started requiring one when it's not relevant and creating artificial pressure to acquire one. They don't prevent a student who has an honest interest in learning and in the subject matter from making it clear that they're in class to learn, and professors in my experience are pretty damn receptive when they find enthusiastic students.

The best way to view the diploma-buyers is as a poorly-designed scheme for subsidizing the actual educations of the people who want to be there. Ignore them and move on. Just don't think that the diploma matters, is all. Any idiot with money and time to burn can get a diploma. If what you want to get is an education, that requires more work. (And if you're hiring people and you want to hire people with an education, and not just a diploma, that too requires more work. C'est la vie.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:11 AM on November 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


Academic dishonesty, as long as its bespoke (and not just some shitty homemade plagiarism, ugh!) dishonesty, is perfectly acceptable.

I don't believe anyone has argued that it is 'acceptable.' However, the reality of the American university system is, largely, as you describe. Here is what it is like:

Your student will likely be taught, mostly, by undertrained TAs and overworked adjuncts. (I myself, when I began, was teaching standalone courses to 35-student classrooms with zero oversight and nothing more than a BA to my name.) Some of these instructors will be working at three other institutions, driving many miles or taking multiple buses to commute between them, and will not have office space for student meetings at any of those campuses, or even time in their schedules to meet. (Many of them have no time to eat lunch.) Some will be struggling with food insecurity or lack of access to healthcare, or working retail jobs or tending bar on the side (or in some cases ghostwriting for students) in order to pay their rent. They will, consequently be unable to give your student, or any student, much in the way of attention. Most of them will still try their best.

If your student, or any student, decides to plagiarise an assignment, the process of resolving that poor life choice requires a great deal of effort on the part of the instructor, and no small amount of risk. You may be paying $50K/yr or more, for tuition, but your student's instructors are likely making $5K per class, per semester, or less. (Often half that. Sometimes less than half.) They are not getting benefits, and they have no job security. If their student evaluations are not glowing, they may not be hired back next semester -- and students tend to base their evaluations on the grades given. If they make any extra amount of work for the deans or administrators by sending a student to the academic judiciary, they may not be asked back, because the deans and administrators don't want to get yelled at by angry parents. Hiring decisions are often made just weeks (sometimes days) before a semester starts. If you find out last-minute that you have fewer courses to teach, you still need to eat and pay rent, but most other institutions will likely have assigned courses already. So you're left scrambling for a job, and you may not find one.

Are you trying to shame us into doing better? Many of us are doing all we can. We are given very limited powers of enforcement when it comes to plagiarism specifically and student performance generally.

If you are asking for sincere advice: seek out schools which have lower numbers of adjunct/non-tenure-track faculty and smaller class sizes, if your student wishes to pursue higher education. If your student does wish to enter the sciences, much of your student's training will be practical -- a lot of STEM degrees in the US are really more like technical/professional training than the traditional trivium/quadrivium situation of olde. Your student will probably need to physically attend an institution of higher learning and do the labwork for the sciences.

For non-science degrees, sure, buy one, if you want.
posted by halation at 11:15 AM on November 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


when professors themselves admit how worthless higher education is,

They don't. They admit how useless a degree is, and how it doesn't indicate an education. They also admit that the institutions themselves are deeply flawed, and the corruption can't be fixed by simple student-facing adjustments.

The value of the education varies by school, but it is available for students willing to work for it. It just doesn't show up in the paper trail.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:16 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I don't think that's an accurate summary of the thread that I read.

And yet, this thread is absolutely rife with academics admitting that they 1. know students are paying others to write their papers for them 2. feel like they absolutely cannot do what they admit needs to be done in those cases, for fear of losing their jobs, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. 3. Are happy to lay the blame elsewhere (Administration! Late Stage Capitalism! Student Assessments and Tenure Denial Fear!) 4. Are all to happy to explain how horrifically miserable the life as an adjunct is, how financially exhausting and precarious a situation it is for so many, but--surprisingly--seems to be worth it somehow, as there are apparently no shortage of volunteers for these jobs at these horrible meager wages.

I'm not trying to shame anyone into anything here. However, I am unwilling to excuse the fact that by letting academic dishonesty consistently slide, regardless of the complicating factors everyone is quick to throw around, fundamentally undermines and corrupts the very educational system that academicians have ostensibly devoted their lives to supporting and sustaining.
posted by Chrischris at 11:30 AM on November 15, 2017


Chrischris, I'm a parent, too, and I struggle with those choices.
First of all: if your kid seriously wants to study science, they will be met by professors who are eager to help them because professors are always looking for new talent. Even in the craziest, most overstuffed auditoriums I have taught, if someone made an effort, asked relevant questions and handed in interesting work, I would spend time supporting them on their further quest. See it as a strategy to avoid boredom and self-hatred on my side, and also looking for future assistents. They might not meet a research professor in every class, but I think most universities are obligated to provide research-based education at all levels.
Second: if your kid doesn't really know where they are heading, but do know they want to study, spend time looking for the best school you can afford. It might be in another country.
Third: If that is not an option, look for international programs. My eldest didn't want to take a degree abroad because she's a homebody, but she did go to a much better university abroad for a semester, and the experience raised her appetite for learning and helped her navigate the university she's in much better. If you know what you are doing, even a lower rate university can provide an excellent education.
When I was teaching in a less than perfect program some years ago, I encouraged my students to do the same. Those who followed the advice had immense benefit from it and are doing very well now.
posted by mumimor at 11:34 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Hmm. I am not excusing cheating, but I think your comment only makes sense if you think that the point of higher ed is to earn grades, Chrischris. I think that the point is to learn stuff, and students who cheat are robbing themselves of the opportunity to learn the things that they are there to learn.

Then why have grades? Why have assessments or assignments or metrics of any sort in higher education? If the entire point is to gain knowledge and wisdom like a bunch of toga'd greeks in a demure lyceum, why bother perpetuating the grade system at all? Just think about how awesome your student assessment would be if, on the the first day of class, you said: "Everybody in here will automatically get an A. Come to class to learn things if you feel like it. Otherwise, don't worry about it--we're here to support learning not ranking!"
posted by Chrischris at 11:48 AM on November 15, 2017


Tenure Denial Fear!

Tenure... denial? lol. The tenure model is dead. Back in 2009, only 27% of all instructors were tenured or tenure-track. Those figures have not improved. Once someone is on the adjunct track, the rare tenure-track jobs that do open up won't look at them. Adjuncts are teaching because they like teaching and because they don't want to give up that dream of teaching.

Are all to happy to explain how horrifically miserable the life as an adjunct is, how financially exhausting and precarious a situation it is for so many, but--surprisingly--seems to be worth it somehow, as there are apparently no shortage of volunteers for these jobs at these horrible meager wages.

I provided the explanation because you seem not to understand: people put themselves into this precarious position because they do, in fact, care. Teaching is a calling. Teaching is a passion. If some students themselves decide not to invest in that opportunity, or lack the ability to do so, and choose instead to buy papers, we have very limited means of dealing with that choice.

In most cases, we are not able to unilaterally fail a student. There is literally no mechanism for us to do so. We are strongly discouraged from meeting privately with the student and asking them whether the paper was plagiarised or bought; at some schools, I've been told that a student could sue me for doing so and that I would receive no legal assistance from said school. (Whether this is likely or even true, I do not know; I do not teach law.) Regardless, we can only go through the official channels provided by the school. When instructors do that, they risk losing their jobs -- and their vocations. Beyond the economic considerations, does it not occur to you that "academicians" might make the choice to accept grades and even degrees are largely meaningless in this current system with, as a tradeoff, the hope of continuing to help students learn? Because the grades never do matter. They never did. Students who care about the material and the process will learn, with good teachers, even if one or two kids in their class aren't kicked out of class for cheating when arguably they 'should' be.
posted by halation at 11:52 AM on November 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


"Come to class to learn things if you feel like it. Otherwise, don't worry about it--we're here to support learning not ranking!"

this is actually what my ideal teaching situation would look like, yes. swap out 'come to class' with 'come to college,' and provide non-college alternatives for students whose desired life paths / careers don't require a four-year degree, and we'd really be getting somewhere!
posted by halation at 11:54 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think you're greatly underestimating the number of students who don't cheat but do rely on external structures like deadlines and grades to hold them accountable and force them to do the work.
posted by mosst at 12:00 PM on November 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


i'm using hyperbole, to a certain extent, in response to a person's decision to behave rather uncharitably in this thread. i do believe that the current system's emphasis on grades and outcomes is problematic and ultimately detrimental to learning; that doesn't mean 'no deadlines ever whee!' is the only alternative, but we could stand to swing a bit in that direction imo.
posted by halation at 12:05 PM on November 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


The crisis of higher education and research is very real, and lots of people are trying to figure out what to do.
When I started secondary school (high school in the US), a minority (30%) of the population went to secondary school and a minority of that minority continued into college education. The admission process for university was very simple, since you were already part of the elite by having somehow survived secondary school. The whole educational system is to some extent still based on those numbers, because a lot of people still in power within the system refuse to adapt to changes. But teaching 10-15% of the population is very different from teaching 30-50%, not even thinking about international students. BTW, at my uni back then, we only had fail or pass at exams, and it was the students who demanded grades, certainly not the elitist professors who tended to avoid extra work, and grading is boring and (from the perspective of a tenured professor) redundant work.
At the other end of the system, research is increasingly being politicized, meaning that tenure track positions and big grants are almost always feared as much as they are needed by university administrations. When I was a student during the -80's, adjuncts were scarce and they were adored by students, since they brought fresh air and passion to class. They were inevitably awarded for their energy with grants so they could pursue doctorates and tenure. Now they are just underpaid and often disregarded by students and permanent staff alike.
There are tons of things we could do about this situation, but there is no political understanding or will to do it, because the necessary interventions run against political intuition.
Politicians can regulate private as well as public institutions, and they do, but when they do, they strengthen what some scholars have called "perverse incentives", because their political interests run counter to the academic interests of the institutions.
posted by mumimor at 12:08 PM on November 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


people put themselves into this precarious position because they do, in fact, care. Teaching is a calling. Teaching is a passion. If some students themselves decide not to invest in that opportunity, or lack the ability to do so, and choose instead to buy papers, we have very limited means of dealing with that choice.

Two words: Youtube channel. You can all teach to your hearts content, and those that want to will learn to their hearts content. Also, you will have the potential to reach millions! I will happily give you a thumbs up to show my appreciation--and really, isn't that what its all about, the love of educating, etc.

But the truth is this: you all want to teach in the system as it currently stands, because the love of teaching is secondary to the love of eating and paying one's rent. So, you let the rich kid and the unprepared foreign language student and whoever else has enough money to shove into the system have a free pass. Cool. Ok. Just know that by doing so, you are helping to rob my kid and every kid like him (poor, honest, willing to go into debt and do the difficult labor to get an education) of the thing that he needs more than any rich kid will ever need and which you as members of the education industry are able to bequeath, which is a certification indicating he had the knowledge and drive to get that education honestly. That he worked to learn. That he learned.
posted by Chrischris at 12:14 PM on November 15, 2017


I'm sure philosophers and ethicists would have better language than I do for this, but I think it's fair to recognize that cultural differences (within and across different nationalities and other groupings) do correspond with differences in fundamental ethical feelings about plagiarism and other forms of cheating. Collectivist cultures vs. individualist cultures seems to be the language used a lot in the literature as I google around. Here is one paper on differences between Russian students and American students, here is another on differences between Indian and American students (as well as men and women in both places), and here is an article talking about, among other things, how contextual factors influence cheating. Being that universities care a lot about this behavior, there's actually a ton of research on how and why students cheat.

What I think is interesting about that is that, depending on these factors and others, cheating can carry different intentions. Is it because one doesn't see that particular form of cheating as morally wrong and their personal ethical code contradicts the school rules? Is it because one does see it as wrong but overrides that because of fear? Is it because of feelings about the purpose of school itself? I think the answer to all of those could be yes under different circumstances.
posted by mosst at 12:15 PM on November 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


feel like they absolutely cannot do what they admit needs to be done in those cases, for fear of losing their jobs, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

There's a big difference between "I can't fix this problem" and "shrug-lazy-grin."

The solution to "lots of students are buying papers online" is not "teachers should be willing to lose their jobs and flunk all those students out of college." Neither of those addresses the reasons this happens nor the infrastructure that supports it.

Nobody here is saying, "this shouldn't be fixed." We may disagree on how big a problem it is, and what priority it should have, but as far as I can tell, we all agree that students should be doing their own work for their classes.

Instead of demanding teachers to address what they can see, why not ask why the University doesn't have a policy of expulsion for cheating? Usually, it's listed among the various "you could face consequences for these things" violations of the conduct code; they tend to also include theft, drug use, and various types of "creating a disturbance." None of them tend to be instant-expel offenses - on the compassionate side, colleges don't want to ruin the education and career of some kid who genuinely had a lapse in judgment (or a personal tragedy leading to that); on the cynical side, a history of expulsions for "sowing wild oats" kids would lose both those families' support and alumni income from families that know them.

A potential solution (hah) would be gov't funded schools: if all the payments come from the gov't, there's no need to appease wealthy community members. That'd also bring a strong incentive to kick out anyone not doing the work, because they'd be a drain on taxpayers.

But that's well beyond the scope of teachers to fix.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:20 PM on November 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


I heard about one student whose degree was rescinded for plagiarism. In uh, something high level. And yet, he was encouraged to come back to school and finish! And they allowed that! And he did! And I was all, what the hell? This is okay now?! Why on earth isn't plagiarism enough to get you kicked out of a program for good? This is someone you want as an illustrious alumni? This is someone you can trust to work in the field?

Degrees are a requirement to get most jobs. People will go to the ends of the earth to harass you into giving them a degree. I can't really speak for plagiarism and whatnot beyond that awful story above, but there's all kinds of shenanigans that I've heard go on that make you think that "academic integrity" is a joke. If you are spending thousands per term in order to check off "has degree" on your life list, you'd better get what you paid for, and angry students and/or their parents will make college employees' lives hell until they get what they want. I don't blame adjuncts for realizing that their own livelihoods are at severe risk for trying to maintain "academic integrity" in a system that doesn't really care any more about it. Is it worth your life to blow that whistle, especially when most of the time the person ends up getting what they wanted because they threw enough shit fits at a high level?
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:21 PM on November 15, 2017


Chrischris, are you operating under the assumption that there are a fixed number of diplomas available for each graduating class? I can assure you that if your student does his homework he will get an education and obtain his degree even if a small handful of students behave dishonestly.

I can assure you that very few adjuncts "want to teach in the system as it currently stands." We don't want this for our students! We don't want it for ourselves! But your grandstanding here is akin to an angry customer yelling at a big-box retail employee about corporate tax reform.
posted by halation at 12:25 PM on November 15, 2017 [11 favorites]


you are helping to rob my kid and every kid like him (poor, honest, willing to go into debt and do the difficult labor to get an education) of the thing that he needs more than any rich kid will ever need

Should they call attention to the problem until they get themselves fired, so that your kid will be taught by less scrupulous teachers who really don't care if any of their students actually learn the material?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:28 PM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


Then why have grades? Why have assessments or assignments or metrics of any sort in higher education?
Ideally? So you'd have feedback on how you're doing. So you'd know whether you were ready to move on to more-advanced classes. So the more-advanced classes could screen for students who had the requisite preparation.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:35 PM on November 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


You know, I thank you all for your responses here. Truthfully, this thread has been pretty shocking for me. I had not realized the depth of corruption that American colleges has sunk to. Its been over 20 years since I was in college and I have not kept up with developments.

I'm not trying to grandstand; Me and mine are fairly poor, and so the main reasonable hope I have for my children to have a better financial life than I've had is through education and the ability to leverage that into a more secure position. What that means is that I look not for perfect fairness, but for at least a level-enough playing field so that they have a chance to do so, regardless of their background. Certification and the honesty of that certification is important to people like us--we don't have the luxury of education for education's sake. So to hear that maintaining the integrity of the process is already considered a joke, is like a little stab in the heart,


Should they call attention to the problem until they get themselves fired, so that your kid will be taught by less scrupulous teachers who really don't care if any of their students actually learn the material?


To paraphrase Churchill: "We've already established what you are. We are now simply discussing prices degrees.
posted by Chrischris at 12:47 PM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


you all want to teach in the system as it currently stands, because the love of teaching is secondary to the love of eating and paying one's rent.

As you yourself admit that rent and food are somewhat more urgently necessary than fulfilling a calling, it seems churlish to say that the academics in this thread WANT to teach in the status quo so much as the status quo is the best available option. How would you propose the problem of degree inflation and marketization of higher education be solved by academics? A mass boycott of every professor in the country?

I went back to school literally because I need a specific degree to achieve my next career goal. If there had been an easy way for me to not take two years of my life and move across the country to do so, I probably would’ve done it. I have industry experience, I could literally get Cs on everything and just get the piece of paper and get back to my career if I wanted to. But now that I’m here I’m taking an overload of courses and working my butt off and hardly sleeping to get the most value I can, and I’m getting that value because academics still care. Are there students who cheat? Of course. It’s computer science, it’s probably even easier to cheat here than in essay writing. But the plurality, maybe even majority of my fellow students ask questions that are relevant, engage with the material, and care if they understand things.

It maybe stings a little that my hard-earned degree that I painstakingly saved up money for will be worth the same in this garbage capitalist system as some rich kid who paid his way through by cheating a system that doesn’t provide enforcement mechanisms contrary to all lip service otherwise. But we paid the same tuition, I didn’t have to pay ghostwriters, and I learned a hell of a lot more than they did. That translates into value both in terms of how I understand the world and what skills I bring to whatever my next venture is. That part doesn’t change, and it’s thanks to the professors who care against all odds.
posted by Phire at 12:51 PM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Me and mine are fairly poor

i have over $40K in non-dischargeable student loan debt. i acquired that debt in order to get a job where i currently make less than $20K a year, teaching students like your son. i am sorry that adjunct instructors' inability to singlehandedly fix a broken system -- and my dark humour about my own frustration -- is hurtful to you. i do not think it is fair for you to label my/our inability to Fix Everything as an unwillingness to do so, and i would appreciate it if you would refrain from attempting to slur teaching professionals by comparing them to sex workers -- particularly since it's really shitty to use sex workers as a form of slur. thanks. i'm out.
posted by halation at 1:14 PM on November 15, 2017 [29 favorites]


Chrischris, the good news is, part of why it doesn't get more direct attention and action is that it isn't the majority of students. Most students do their own work, and pass or fail on their own merits.

Of the ones who buy essays, some are competent learners who aren't fluent in the language and are getting the best education they can with the system available to them; they'll go on to fill in the language gaps later, and it really isn't going to matter if they actually learned the details in many of their classes. They will have learned what they could from the lessons; they just didn't have the ability to synthesize that into a gradable form.

Some are hard-working students who are pushed to the limit for time - working a full-time job along with college, and buying their way past one or two classes rather than retaking a whole semester. They shouldn't be overstretching themselves like that - but a more equitable society would recognize that they shouldn't have to.

Some are rich assholes who think money should buy them a degree. And yes, your child's degree is watered down by comparison. However, we all know that "rich assholes" are going to be last in line for any penalty systems that get put into place. Your kid's college attendance is more likely on the chopping block for being tardy when the bus went off schedule, than the rich kids are likely to be kicked out for breaking the conduct code.

These aren't the majority of students. They're not even a quarter of students. (Well, maybe there are schools where "rich assholes" are enough of the majority that "rich assholes who buy grades" are a substantial portion thereof.) The good teachers - the ones who know and love their subjects - aren't tolerating an 80% scam rate; they're tolerating a maybe 5% scam rate in order to reach the handful of students who really care, and to shove facts into the heads of the 80% who don't but are willing to learn something.

The teachers who know it's going on and have come to some kind of tolerance for it, are not the ones causing the problem. There are more teachers who don't know it's going on, because they refuse to believe it's that easy to do, or they think the anti-plagiarism programs actually work. And there are teachers who actively support the scams, by giving assignments that are easy to game, to reduce the amount of work they have to do themselves.

The ones calling out the problem but not throwing their careers away in futile attempts to fix it are not your enemy.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:16 PM on November 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


[A couple comments deleted. Not everybody gets irony, please don't use it in one-liners in a heated thread, because it generates confusion. Chrischris, you need to turn down your indignation by a few degrees, or leave this thread if you can't do that.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:26 PM on November 15, 2017


you all want to teach in the system as it currently stands, because the love of teaching is secondary to the love of eating and paying one's rent

I know you mean this as an insult, but you know how Maslow’s hierarchy works, right? You are heaping scorn on people for wanting to have food to eat and a place to live. Do you do the same for people who work in other industries you find distasteful?

Also, you’re operating with a fundamental misunderstanding: most teachers who decide to let the paper-buyers slide do so for the sake of the students who care. Every minute I ever spent documenting plagiarism for a student who was going to fail my class for absenteeism ANYWAY was a minute I couldn’t spend with a student who wanted to do the work, to talk about how to craft a thesis, who wanted to discuss researching secondary sources. Students who cheat can take up a professor’s whole life, with nothing left for the ones who are trying to learn. I ended up feeling like it was a better use of my time to help the students who cared than to pursue slaps on the wrist for ne’er-do-wells.

If you see goofy-shrug rather than deep sadness and frustration in any of the comments here, then I think you need to try a re-read.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:27 PM on November 15, 2017 [20 favorites]


the main reasonable hope I have for my children to have a better financial life than I've had is through education and the ability to leverage that into a more secure position

Well, the good news is that this is not an unreasonable hope. Education is still a pretty good investment if you spend the money wisely.

But it's not about the diploma. To be honest, a diploma is a box-checking exercise. It's akin to what graduating from highschool was in a previous generation. Having a college degree doesn't, by itself, even guarantee literacy.

However, this isn't exactly new (that "literacy" article is from 2005), and most people who do hiring for professional jobs—presumably the crux of the issue, if you are looking for education-as-positive-ROI-investment—know this very well. It's not exactly a big scandal or something at this point.* No company I've done hiring for even bothered to call universities to verify that degrees listed on a resume were valid—it wasn't viewed as a useful exercise.

You may need a degree to make it through the first-level resume screen for a particular job, and there's certainly a cachet attached to degrees from certain places (in ways that seem eerily driven by their admission standards, not the difficulty of the curriculum), but for most jobs that piece of paper is perhaps a necessary condition but certainly not a sufficient one. Everything else is on the candidate, and their education; their education is up to them.

As someone who does hiring, I guess it would be nice if a degree were an unimpeachable imprimatur of competence in a particular field, but that's just not what it is. I don't think it's what it's ever meant. And in fields where that's really a necessity due to the way the job market works, there are actual professional qualifications and standardization bodies which take on that function, and do so with more rigor and specificity than I think the general higher ed system probably ought to aim for. (E.g. PE tests for engineers, AWS welding certifications, medical licensure standards, etc.)

* At least in the US. Overseas, especially in Asia, it does seem to more frequently be a source of scandal, because there seems to be a lot more cachet attached to just having a degree. I have heard this is changing rapidly, though, and I suspect attitudes will catch up within a generation or so.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:50 PM on November 15, 2017


You are heaping scorn on people for wanting to have food to eat and a place to live. Do you do the same for people who work in other industries you find distasteful?

Why not just get a job writing papers for students? It pays well, and has less work requirements.

See the thing is, without saying as much, you've stated that the results of your classes can't be trusted, and the degrees from your university can't be trusted either. Can an engineer from your university be trusted to build a bridge that won't collapse? LoL, who knows ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I'm assuming this works both ways? If I got hired on to your department based on my great coursework, and then admitted privately to you that my degrees and certificates are BS, and I have no idea about the subject I'm supposed to teach, well you'd be fine, right? You'd be willing to cover for me, do extra work helping the classes I'm not competent to teach in, right?

After all, if you're willing to have those outside academia work to compensate for the incompetents you help graduate, it should work the other way as well, right?
posted by happyroach at 9:31 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


look, anyone who is so bougie that they're on the internet arguing right now instead of personally destroying capitalism can maybe stop the self righteous attacks on other members and go, I dunno, angrily donate some money to a teacher on Donors Choose? Volunteer at a local school? Or if you don't have the time or money to do that, spend some time not being a dick on the internet.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:58 PM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Why not just get a job writing papers for students? It pays well, and has less work requirements.

Interesting choice, to aim this attack at someone whose first comment in this thread was an admission that I found the system too poisonous, and therefore left academia.

But keep arguing with the person you made up, you've got her on the ropes.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 5:59 AM on November 16, 2017 [7 favorites]


I have a story similar to the one shared by Kadin2048, but it doesn't end as well.

I went to a small school that had course cross-registration between it and several other nearby small schools, plus one very large state school. This was a science class being taught at the very large school, with students from all of schools in this system.

We were assigned a timed take home exam. There was one other student from my school in that class, and we worked on it together, which was allowed. You were supposed to solve the problems, and write at the front of the booklet how long you took, with a maximum of something around three hours.

It became clear early on that there wasn't nearly enough time allotted. We were less than half done when we hit the maximum time. Because that was so dramatic, it seemed like an error in how the test was put together, so we decided that rather than stop there, we would finish the test and write down the truth of how long it took to finish.

On the day the exam was due, we were all waiting for the professor to arrive and class to begin. In discussion among ourselves, it became clear that the students from the other small schools had made the same decision we did. The finished the exam, which took much longer than the allotted time, and wrote how long it really took. The students from the very large school, however, had all finished the exam and lied about how long it took.

The professor decided that since weren't students of that particular school, we must have misunderstood the honor policy. (Put aside that all of our colleges had their own honor policies.) I think he kind of wanted to give us failing grades for that exam, but decided to take some time to figure out what to do about it, since it was a significant part of our grades. In the end, he let the very large school students drop their worst exam grade from consideration, while those of us who were actually honest had that one dropped for us.

I am still a little bitter about that experience years later; it was the most bullshit thing I experienced in my time in college. At least the punishment for honesty wasn't too harsh, and I have the personal satisfaction of having done the correct thing. I hope the professor eventually figured out his test exam was unreasonable.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:34 AM on November 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


you've stated that the results of your classes can't be trusted, and the degrees from your university can't be trusted either. Can an engineer from your university be trusted to build a bridge that won't collapse? LoL, who knows ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

There is, again, a difference between "the system allows cheating, and some of the cheating is breathtaking" and "all results from this system are useless."

Most of the practical professions, whether that's engineering or law or medicine, have plenty of tests that require actually using the skills the degree is supposed to confirm. A whole lot of the cheating happens in "elective" classes - English Literature; History of various sorts; Philosophy; Art of various types; etc. Whoooole lot of English papers. Physics and medicine, not so much.

If your would-be bridge designer doesn't know difference between Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson, is that actually going to make a difference in his bridges?

I am not saying, "colleges should make career-focused degrees not bother with these electives." The students who do learn from them, are better at their careers. But that doesn't mean the students who slid past them are terrible at their careers.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:21 PM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


Ok, but what about psychology, sociology, business, education or really, any of the other "soft sciences" that are amalgamations of differing degrees of hard facts and more interpretive skills?
Are you comfortable having your kids taught by school teachers, for instance, who have paid someone else to write their papers and/or do their fieldwork, etc? What about seeing a psychologist who cheated his way to a degree? What about a financial advisor in charge of your life savings? Where is the line drawn?
posted by Chrischris at 1:44 PM on November 16, 2017


That's a gross exaggeration. What do you imagine goes on in classrooms? People just turn on reading rainbow and walk away? Just because some parts of the system are broken doesn't mean you can't learn about a topic (or that most students don't learn about a topic) from a class and a degree program. Even among students who cheat, it's highly unlikely that they've cheated on all their assignments. And I have had incredible professors at both well-funded private and state flagship schools in the last few years - not all of 'em, but probably most.

Also, all of the professions you have cited have licensing exams for a reason. Can you cheat on those? Conceivable, but I have yet to see evidence that the security measures they have in place are insufficient.
posted by mosst at 2:19 PM on November 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


Ok, but what about psychology, sociology, business, education or really, any of the other "soft sciences" that are amalgamations of differing degrees of hard facts and more interpretive skills?
Calling these "soft sciences" and "amalgamations" is problematic. They are the social sciences (although I would vehemently argue that "business" is very much not a science at all, but a different beast entirely that slithered its way into the education system and is actually part of the core of the very problem we're discussing here).

I am a professor (in the social sciences, in fact) not because it is a calling but because I truly believe that my skill set is best put to use by cracking open minds, or helping kids crack open their minds, so that they can become critical thinkers. On the first day of class I tell my students that we are here to learn, that grades are a thing we have to do but not a thing anyone likes, and that paying attention to grades is not as useful as making sure we all learn together. On the last day of one of my undergraduate classes last semester, I had a student come up to me and say something really fascinating that I often turn around in my brain when I am walking into class:
Professor, on the first day of class, you told us that you were going to teach us how to think. And I really didn't like that, because I thought you were going to brainwash me. But actually you did the opposite. I learned more about how to ask questions and how to evaluate things people try to tell me than I did about (our actual course topic). Is that what you meant by teaching me how to think?
That is precisely what I meant by teaching him how to think. In this same exact class, I had students that cheated. I had students that did not pay attention. I had students that came in on the first day as good writers, so they did better on assessments because they were good at constructing arguments and were good at constructing their assignments. And I definitely had students that purchased their papers.

If I teach one student to think, I have done my job. Teaching someone how to think critically is really not easy, especially not in today's environment. I can't reach them all, but I can do my best. That is not because this is a calling; that is because this is what I have been trained to do, and it matters. And teaching someone to think critically is not always possible: literacy is a socially constructed process, it is a mix of conditions. That student that I quoted above was ready to learn to think critically, even if he didn't think he wanted to do that on the first day. He was ready, and that is what happened.

I don't know, man. We can't do everything. A broken system is a broken system, but I am not a professor because I want to eat, or put food on my table. If I wanted to put food on my table, damn, man, I could make a lot more money with my skills and with my degrees in a big company. Lots of people who have degrees in my field make a lot of money working for corporations. They don't teach anyone anything at all. Education is vital and it is not just for its own sake: education is the thing that makes people in companies go "Now, wait a second, are we hurting people? Are we acting ethically and morally? Are we doing the right thing? What even are we doing? Why do we exist?" If an example would help, I have been thinking a bit lately about drug development. If we do not have critical thinkers working in pharmaceutical companies, stuff like this happens. And patients get hurt! Real people are hurt by this, are dehumanized and demoralized and put into states of fear, because no one stopped to say "now wait a second...". There were clearly no critical thinkers involved in any part of the process of the development of that drug. This is a problem. This is a crisis.

Reaching the students that can be reached has to be enough. Learning is not about sitting around and shooting the shit. It's about saying "what is happening here?" and having the skills to actually answer that question. We cannot reach everyone. We just can't. The arguments that some students buy papers, and that professors are somehow to blame, are similar to the arguments that we shouldn't have welfare because some people cheat the system. All systems are gamed. That is literally how systems work. You cannot blame the gamers on the system.

And also, to act like I am just putting up my hands and sighing and saying "oh well! I have to eat! I need tenure!" is so false. This kind of thing keeps me awake at night. I worry on it a lot, and I work hard to make my classes better so that these kinds of games are harder to play in my classes. Every faculty member, every adjunct that I know, worries about this. But even then, even with all our worry and work, students will slip through. We can all only do our best.
posted by sockermom at 7:02 PM on November 16, 2017 [20 favorites]


Lord almighty, the indignation in this thread. I especially love the indignant contention that people who love teaching should fucking do Youtube videos--yes, as if lecturing is what I enjoy about teaching, not interacting with students and watching them actually grow and comprehend and become enthusiastic about the material! And of course, those videos should be offered for free, right? Because teaching is such a vocation that we ought to be willing to be paid in love instead of bread and housing?

I was chatting with one of my best students today. He's a bright kid, loves the labwork and the conceptual challenges I'm bringing him through. To my mind, even better, he's an incredibly promising teacher and mentor--he's constantly encouraging his groupmates and cheering them on and making himself as unintimidating as possible, pointing out where he simply has more experience with a few techniques than they might or where things are just luck. He wants to go to graduate school, and he's absolutely the kind of kid who would do well... and, well, at the same time: he and I were talking about the new tax bill going through Congress, and how terrifying I find it, and I find myself thinking: I should discourage this kid from this career track.

I don't know where to send him, but academia and academics are getting squeezed tighter and tighter and it doesn't matter if you're in STEM or not. To be in academia is to be precariously perched on a tightrope, trying to convince an increasingly uninterested public that your work and your expertise are worth investing in and scraping by until you can't do it any longer. The country doesn't give enough of a shit about education to pay for it or actually truly value it, and then what, they complain when students who don't have any reason to value education either treat it like a series of meaningless hoops instead of a valuable endeavor?

Later in the evening I had a chat with the new adjunct I'm working with about how to handle plagiarism in one of our students. She's fresh out of grad school and only TAed for a semester in her PhD while this is my eleventh consecutive long semester TAing for my pay, so I've got a lot more direct experience with teaching than she does... and three students plagiarized on a writing assignment in a way she told them very clearly not to do, and she was wincing at the thought of taking 50% off their assignments and tanking their grades fairly significantly as her syllabus warns she's going to. So I pointed out that the syllabus is there as a reminder to us, the teachers, what the rules are, and what is fair, and how students should work to meet the course goals--and that relaxing those rules. We had a long talk about how to manage student conflicts and the one student in the class who is actively scaring her and what she can do about that, and how we can better support the students who are flailing and anxious and maybe need a little bit of nudging to make sure they're doing okay. She's lovely.

I can't do her job, because I can't afford to. Do you understand me? She can afford to become an adjunct, to dedicate her life to this, because her husband has a high-paying job and can subsidize her career. That's what we think of teaching in this country: it's the sort of thing you do if you have a vocation and someone to put the bread on the table, not a valuable skill worth compensating in its own right. Hell, I might not even be able to afford staying in the academy.

If you want to minimize cheating, you have to treat education as valuable, and that means treating the people who produce it as valuable workers worth supporting and paying for. That is not my experience, at least not in the US. If you want us to catch all the cheaters and make it impossible for them to skate by, you have to fucking give us the support and the time to focus on doing that without also wondering if we should start tutoring on the side again or pick up a side gig writing or getting another roommate to make ends meet. This stuff takes time and energy and effort, and if we don't have basic income and job security we don't have the focus to do that stuff well.

So yeah, if this stuff is valuable to you, those of you sitting here and clutching your pearls?

Fucking well pay for it.
posted by sciatrix at 9:37 PM on November 16, 2017 [19 favorites]


If you want to minimize cheating, you have to treat education as valuable, and that means treating the people who produce it as valuable workers worth supporting and paying for. That is not my experience, at least not in the US. If you want us to catch all the cheaters and make it impossible for them to skate by, you have to fucking give us the support and the time to focus on doing that without also wondering if we should start tutoring on the side again or pick up a side gig writing or getting another roommate to make ends meet. This stuff takes time and energy and effort, and if we don't have basic income and job security we don't have the focus to do that stuff well.

So yeah, if this stuff is valuable to you, those of you sitting here and clutching your pearls?

Fucking well pay for it.


Oh, 100,000+ fucking dollars for a degree isn't quite enough then?

Reform your own damned organization--after all, apparently you all are an irreplaceable part of it. Organize a fucking union if you're so pissed upon. Public school teachers have. Proud members of the NEA, who go on strike when they have to. Who stick together to protect their own, regardless of the bullshit slung at them collectively.
posted by Chrischris at 5:25 AM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


That's exactly the point. Students are paying a lot for their degrees, but faculty--especially adjuncts--are not compensated. You know that most faculty have crushing student debt too, right? How do you think they became professors? They went to school and got degrees and went into debt for many of them. Suggesting that we make YouTube videos really makes it clear that you do not understand what the problem is here, nor do you understand what education actually is. It would do well to listen to the people in this thread who actually do this for a living; we understand it a lot better than somebody who has anger at the system without having examined it from every angle possible.

You're angry at the wrong people. This is not the fault of faculty. The tenured faculty can potentially do something like you suggested (organize! join a union!), but if you're not tenured or if you're a doctoral student or an adjunct? They cannot. And it's not because they don't want to. It's because unions are being gutted in this country, and because there are literally thousands of people waiting in the wings ready to take your adjunct position or definitely your tenure-track position if the administration decides that you are making too much noise for them to keep you on. It is not safe to make noise. My own union (of which I am a proud and active member, thanks) has warned junior faculty members several times not to get involved in various issues because they tell us they can't protect us. What does that tell you?

This is not the fault of the faculty. This rot lies with the administration. It goes all the way to the top.
posted by sockermom at 5:38 AM on November 17, 2017 [10 favorites]


Oh, 100,000+ fucking dollars for a degree isn't quite enough then?

Do you know where that money goes? It does not go to the people you keep yelling at. Here is what the administrators are paid. They are also the people who set tuition, who make decisions about curriculum, course offerings, admissions and student discipline guidelines, and who decide how much to pay / how to treat faculty (including adjuncts).

There, I've done your homework for you, even though you didn't pay me (and indeed evidently would like to see me starve for... making your child potentially somehow feel less motivated, theoretically, I guess?). These are the people who can solve the problems you are angry about. Take it up with them.
posted by halation at 5:42 AM on November 17, 2017 [12 favorites]


So, to make the point even stronger: on average (median), about 10% (ten percent) of the operating budgets of the top research universities in the United States is spent on the salaries for the top administrators. This is roughly 40 to 70 people, depending on the institution. In contrast, about 1% (one percent, that is not a typo) of the operating budget is spent on adjunct salaries. Adjuncts teach around 25 to 30% of the classes in these universities.

These adjuncts are the people that are getting the anger for what happens when some students buy papers? That is missing the point entirely of what's actually happening in this system. And the adjuncts and faculty are the people who are actually in the trenches of the classroom, with the students, trying to get at least some of them to actually learn.

Start yelling at the admin who are taking your kids money, not at the professors. Every system has abuse. This is part of being in a system. You have to change the system from the top down and you can't yell at other people who are also being abused by the same system and hope that will incite change. They want this; they want the weak to eat the weak while they get fat on our dime. This is the exact problem, and students buying papers to pass classes is only one of the many symptoms of the crisis in higher education today.
posted by sockermom at 5:59 AM on November 17, 2017 [9 favorites]


Well, All I'll say (and be done) is this: if you love teaching and want to do that for a living, public schools are always looking for teachers. The administration is usually no worse than the horrific nightmare you are all assuring me that college is. There is a tenure system and a union and modest but steady wages available. The hours are long but not excessively so. You get the joy of guiding young minds toward learning. There is room for some individual classroom innovation, and the chance to spend time with fellow educators who are probably not looking to replace you or steal your courses. With academic credentials and advanced degrees, you would be both welcomed and respected at least as much as the undergrads you are teaching now respect you.
Adjuncts, if you are in this business because you love teaching, I would suggest perhaps you are in the wrong market.
posted by Chrischris at 6:06 AM on November 17, 2017


I feel like this is linked to the same shift in market priorities as what a Forbes article called an amenities arms race. Relatedly, previously.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:08 AM on November 17, 2017


Reform your own damned organization--after all, apparently you all are an irreplaceable part of it. Organize a fucking union if you're so pissed upon. Public school teachers have.

ell oh ell

Have you been paying attention to the fact that the same people who have been gutting the university system for profit are doing the same thing to the public school system? That one of the architects of this decades long project is now the Secretary of Education, and is moving the levers of power to destroy those same unions? That as of a vote yesterday, no one who isn't independently wealthy will be able to afford to go to grad school anymore?

But sure. The grad students working 80 hours a week for $15,000 a year are the problem. That's definitely logical.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:29 AM on November 17, 2017 [13 favorites]


My issue isn't that I think it's fine to buy papers. It's that I only have but so much energy to direct at being outraged, and that seems like such a minor issue in the grand scheme of what's wrong with American universities. You want to talk to me about how we admit students who cannot possibly do the work, charge them out-of-state tuition for the year that it takes them to flunk out, and then act like it's their fault when they finally get dismissed? I have energy to be outraged about that. You want to discuss the proliferation of bullshit degrees (Sports Business! Health Studies!) that purport to be pre-professional but don't actually prepare students for jobs and also don't have any academic rigor? I am here for you! You want to complain about "dual enrollment community college credit," which is fake college credit that students earn in their high-schools, being taught by their high-school teachers, that allows them to bypass introductory college classes and go straight into advanced classes for which they are not prepared and which they often flunk? There's not a thing we can do about that, because it's all dictated by the state legislature, but it's a disaster, and it's primarily a disaster for poor and middle-class kids, who don't feel like they have the luxury of "retaking" a class that they didn't take for real the first time. There are huge, systemic things for me to be pissed off about. I don't think we have a systemic problem with cheating, and I don't think that it's common for students to cheat their way to a degree. So honestly, I'm going to saved my pissed-off-ness for things that seem to matter more.
Well, All I'll say (and be done) is this: if you love teaching and want to do that for a living, public schools are always looking for teachers.
You cannot seriously be arguing that there's no cheating in high schools. When I ask students about the difference between high school and college, one of the things they frequently bring up is that cheating is taken seriously in college. They also literally don't understand that it's pointless to copy their classmates' homework, because the point of doing practice problems is to learn the material, rather than to get points for having the homework done. And given that you also don't seem to understand that, I guess I can understand why they think that way.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:45 AM on November 17, 2017 [7 favorites]


You cannot seriously be arguing that there's no cheating in high schools. When I ask students about the difference between high school and college, one of the things they frequently bring up is that cheating is taken seriously in college. They also literally don't understand that it's pointless to copy their classmates' homework, because the point of doing practice problems is to learn the material, rather than to get points for having the homework done. And given that you also don't seem to understand that, I guess I can understand why they think that way.

This thread started out being about academic cheating. A fair number of of practicing academics stated that they are fine with it or don't have the energy or clout to do anything about it. Then, it devolved into how bad the academic system apparently is, and all the myriad issues that afflict the graduate student/adjunct sector as mitigating factors for acknowledging but not pursuing academic dishonesty. When I suggested certain remedies for those issues that have worked for others in the education field, suddenly ad hominems about my intelligence are brought up, as if I were too stupid to have an opinion. So, I'll just keep my opinion to myself from now on. Suffice it to say, though, that some of the arguments about arrogant, ivory-towered academics and their contempt for common folk are starting to look less stupid by the minute.
posted by Chrischris at 7:02 AM on November 17, 2017


Public schools are NOT looking for uncredentialed teachers. There is a credentialing process and a PhD doesn't cut it. In my state, you will take your shiney PhD and go into more debt to spent two years getting a teaching credential. There are licensing exams. And unless you're credentialled in science or special ed, there's a glut of teachers and you will have a very hard time finding a job.

And the hours are definitely fucking brutal. And there's not a lot of room for innovation thanks to teaching to the test and the corporatizing of schools. And most public schools are removing planning periods and collaboration periods for teachers, so you don't even get to spend time with other educators on a daily basis.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:25 AM on November 17, 2017 [9 favorites]


A fair number of of practicing academics stated that they are fine with it

Literally no one said this.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:26 AM on November 17, 2017 [15 favorites]


ad hominems about my intelligence are brought up, as if I were too stupid to have an opinion
This also did not happen. Saying that you don't seem to understand what is going on is not a criticism about you or your intelligence, it is saying that you are not actually looking at the problem critically. That's not a dig at you personally, it is a dig at the way that you are arguing. This exact thing is what we teach in college. How to make an argument, how to look at an argument and evaluate it, and how to separate the criticism of ideas from criticism of people. No one here is criticizing you, they are criticizing the arguments you are making.
posted by sockermom at 7:30 AM on November 17, 2017 [11 favorites]


When I suggested certain remedies for those issues that have worked for others in the education field, suddenly ad hominems about my intelligence are brought up, as if I were too stupid to have an opinion.

Some of your suggestions so far:

-that instructors are somehow responsible for who gets admitted to universities
-that wanting to eat and have a place to live should be secondary to the love of teaching, and that making choices based on not wanting to be homeless is the equivalent of prostitution
-that working to try to improve an imperfect system is “robbing” non-rich kids
-that giving a mediocre student a C instead of failing them for academic dishonesty that you cannot prove is the same thing as letting unqualified psychologists treat patients
-“Organize a fucking union”
-just go become a public school teacher, because that is easy to do (do you know any public school teachers? People who have trained for that job are barely able to get work)

No one is criticizing your intelligence. But you are wildly uninformed, and you are being extremely insulting. People reacting badly to your uninformed and antagonistic suggestions has nothing to do with the ivory tower.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:49 AM on November 17, 2017 [20 favorites]


And the hours are definitely fucking brutal. And there's not a lot of room for innovation thanks to teaching to the test and the corporatizing of schools. And most public schools are removing planning periods and collaboration periods for teachers, so you don't even get to spend time with other educators on a daily basis.

This is literally just bullshit talking points with nothing but accepted Metafilter Wisdom to back it up. I interact with public school teachers almost every day. I am in public schools as a volunteer, a parent, and a citizen 20+ hours every week. Several of my family members are teachers. Their hours are long but no worse than many of the cubicle dwellers I know. They do have extra credentialing requirements, after hours obligations, etc., but its not some hellhole job that kills one's soul. They certainly make more than $15,000 a year and work less than 80 hours a week. Like every other profession, some are suited for it, some not. Just this week I was in a school board meeting where several thousands of dollars were awarded to teachers to develop innovative classroom curriculum programs, including: funding for author visits to classrooms, the purchase of large model rockets to build and launch to teach the principles of propulsion, gravity, etc., stipends to send teachers to national education conferences. My district is rural and dirt poor compared to others, but we mostly manage to do ok by our kids. And our teachers.
posted by Chrischris at 7:50 AM on November 17, 2017


This is literally just bullshit talking points with nothing but accepted Metafilter Wisdom to back it up.

You are talking to someone (Eyebrows, not me) who literally spent years in local government working on their school board as an elected official. Maybe you need to deal with the fact that your experiences are not universal.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:55 AM on November 17, 2017 [10 favorites]


I'm a retired teacher. The hours are long, and they never get shorter. As a university practicum coach, I spend a lot of time in urban public schools; the one I'm placed in now has students who speak seven different languages and thirty different dialects, where every day I witness interactions in the office with parents who do not speak English and are trying to enroll their children because they have moved, or with parents who candidly talk about being abused and trying to shelter their kids from custody battles with exes, grandparents, etc. I had my university students interview their mentors about the hours they work, and my students were a little startled about how much work teachers take home, how much they talk with parents (usually in person because on the phone the parents and teachers cannot understand one another), and how little control they have over their lesson plans, despite how unsuitable some of those lessons are for these particular kids.

Teaching is a great job. I loved it. I retired from teaching middle school because the hours never got shorter - I kept adding responsibilities - and because it was beginning to get to me that people kept speaking so poorly of teachers. I'm still teaching, though.
posted by Peach at 7:57 AM on November 17, 2017 [6 favorites]


This is literally just bullshit talking points with nothing but accepted Metafilter Wisdom to back it up.

Or maybe, since school districts vary wildly by state and region, what is true in your specific school district is not universally true. I know high school teachers in three different states. Each has had a very different experience. It's great that teachers in your district make a decent wage and have funding and support! But that sure wasn't the experience for my friend teaching math in Kansas.
posted by halation at 7:58 AM on November 17, 2017 [8 favorites]


In my opinion the problem isn't any specific university or instructor, it's the idea of a multi-hundred-student classroom as a place where any kind of learning can happen. Those are basically lower-level classes at large universities. At the school where I TAed the first 2 years for undergrads were in large anonymous lecture halls, taught by poorly-paid TAs like me. (I was 25 myself and making something like $8/hr teaching 400 students). In that environment, it's easy for the students to get bored, disaffected, lost, and cheat.

If I had teenage kids now, I'd help them get the first 2 years of college done at a local community college where they could actually interact with the professors in small classes where there are fewer shenanigans going on (and for far lower tuition). Then I'd have them transfer to our big state research university, work in a professor's lab, and take advanced coursework to finish undergrad and leading to a master's or professional degree. (Because as others have mentioned, a BA on its own isn't worth a whole lot today.)

It's not hopeless, and it's not impossible to get a lot out of a university education. But as the schools have gotten bigger, it's gotten easier to fall through the cracks.
posted by miyabo at 10:39 AM on November 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


my students were a little startled about how much work teachers take home,

This might be a derail, but I am continually surprised at how my college students seem to have no idea what my job actually entails or what my job duties actually are. It's like when I'm not literally standing in front of them teaching them a thing, I may as well be powered off in my office, waiting for my next class. In truth, I only spend 12 hours a week in front of a classroom, and the rest making those 12 hours actually worth a damn.

Just this week, one of my students happened upon me sitting at a promotional table for the Modern Languages Department in the Student Union. I had all my brochures and signboards up, and I was also grading a stack of in-class compositions. My student noticed me grading and said, "Wow, that's conscientious of you." I didn't really know what to say to that. It's conscientious of me to do my job?
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:58 PM on November 17, 2017 [6 favorites]


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