America, these are (some) your graduate students

By Razib Khan | August 26, 2012 8:19 pm

If you haven’t, you should check out The Shadow Scholar, The man who writes your students’ papers tells his story. This is the conclusion:

“Thanx u so much for the chapter is going very good the porfesser likes it but wants the folloing suggestions please what do you thing?:

“‘The hypothesis is interesting but I’d like to see it a bit more focused. Choose a specific connection and try to prove it.’

“What shoudwe say?”

This happens a lot. I get paid per assignment. But with longer papers, the student starts to think of me as a personal educational counselor. She paid me to write a one-page response to her professor, and then she paid me to revise her paper. I completed each of these assignments, sustaining the voice that the student had established and maintaining the front of competence from some invisible location far beneath the ivory tower.

The 75-page paper on business ethics ultimately expanded into a 160-page graduate thesis, every word of which was written by me. I can’t remember the name of my client, but it’s her name on my work. We collaborated for months. As with so many other topics I tackle, the connection between unethical business practices and trade liberalization became a subtext to my everyday life.

So, of course, you can imagine my excitement when I received the good news:

“thanx so much for uhelp ican going to graduate to now”.

The author claims that his three primary customer demographics are “English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid.” In the above case it looks like the first category. But what are the proportions? I assume that the lazy rich kids are mostly undergraduates or MBA students.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: History
MORE ABOUT: Academia
  • Robert VerBruggen

    It seems odd to me that he has her e-mails quoted, presumable character-for-character, but claims not to remember her name.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #1, good point. perhaps he gave the chronicle access to his emails and they picked an appropriate example? more likely unnecessary literary flourish.

  • http://www.exoticjewishhistory.com Moshe Rudner

    We live in a fascinating world.

    Pre-civilization, a world in which similar people lived such vastly different lives and yet encountered each other regularly seems likely to have been rare to nonexistent. Twenty thousand years ago I’d guess that few naturally intellectually/physically superior hominids regularly engaged in unpleasant activities in order to make the lives of their inferiors even more comfortable than their own.

    With the advent of civilization the required complexity brought with it hierarchies and all sorts of non-meritocratic imperfections had to follow: My son may be an idiot but he’s MY son so, hey, he’s the new high priest. Also impressive brains born into unadvanced societies still suffered through laborious methods of acquiring sustenance that less impressive minds luckily born into more advanced societies didn’t have to bother with. – Still, on a day to day basis vast inequities in means (and the types of lives therefore lived by people of varying means) likely went largely unnoticed and unlived by various populaces in early cities as there were relatively few people of vastly higher means than the majority. (The notable exception to this would be the matter of slavery but considering the awesome diversity of the experience of slavery among cultures it would be hard to generalize about the matter. Pentateuchal Biblical law for example, with or without the attendant traditions claiming to elucidate the verses, appears to describe a slave-legal culture that didn’t result in as much discrepancy between the comforts of the slave and the comforts of most other members of society.)

    With the astonishingly recent widespread conquest of globalization however we may be living in a world where – for the first time – a sizable minority of the population is regularly interacting with large populations of people whom they can relate to even by language and major cultural passions but who truly live vastly differing lives than themselves on account of acquired means, location and other happenstances of history.

    To be sure, castes and classes have been around for a while but the relative sizes of the classes was oftentimes pyramidic in nature and the cultures/beliefs/religions of the two were sufficiently different for the empathetic inclination to be fairly muted. Today however with the popularization of mass media, the internet, easy relocation, etc, etc, etc, we’re looking at a world where people astoundingly similar in their cultural makeup not only encounter, but interact with each other for inequitable exchanges on a regular to daily basis.

    I’ll leave the moralizing to Marx and Friedman but, to me, this speaks to a worldwide phenomenon that’s at least worthy of pausing to be astounded by.

    What it means however is beyond my ability to forecast. A briefer trip for Wells’ time traveler than the 800,000 years he envisioned? Cataclysms? Radical survival of the fittest outcomes? A reversion to the mean where the relative sizes of the inequitable groups diminish or cultural and geographically segregate? The arrival of an era where such inequalities hardly matter as almost all people have clean running water, basic medical care and access to most of the pleasures and comforts of life?

    There are many new things about the world in circa 13.8b. Even from the perspective of the puny human lifespan there’s enough new under the sun to marvel at for a freeze-framed lifetime. But the social fact of what our globalized planet means for how people view themselves and their place in it as we all scurry about our activities is a pretty big one.

  • http://educationrealist.wordpress.com Education Realist

    Leaving aside the rich kids, this sort of service is caused by the colleges’ determination to graduate URMs and their reliance on foreign tuition. They could easily weed out these students with a writing test or vocab test. They don’t want to.

  • pconroy

    @4,

    The client Razib quotes above is probably a Spanish speaker, as they end the sentence with Thing instead of Think.

    The one in the article who says: ” I need propsal got approved pls can you will write me paper?”
    is probably Indian, as many Indians – from India – I know insert abbreviations into every sentence.

  • http://econstudentlog.wordpress.com US

    Surprise! – “As long as it doesn’t require me to do any math or video-documented animal husbandry, I will write anything.”

    #4 already mentioned some of the likely dynamics leading to this outcome and one obvious way to handle group 1 and at least part of group 2. Another relatively easy, if more costly, way to deal with all three groups or at least somewhat discourage the practice: Have an oral defense on top of the hand-in, where the author briefly discusses the stuff covered in the paper and is asked a few questions about it. Where I study most courses where you are supposed to hand in a paper/topic/whatever this way have an oral defense as well. If the institution cares a bit about its reputation this is a way to avoid problems down the line. Perhaps some people can survive such an oral defense by talking out of their #¤$, but it won’t be possible if the examinator is doing his job and your English skills are comparable to those of the person quoted in the article.

    Of course that kind of stuff costs money. So it makes sense that a lot of institutions do not implement such measures.

    The thing that I’m wondering about, knowing nothing about the American job market (being an ‘English-as-second-language student’ from Denmark): Say a person like the one in the article now has a PhD. Who the hell would ever hire her to do anything remotely related to what she supposedly learned while getting her education? How would she manage an interview later on? Is getting a PhD that way actually something that will pay off for people in group 1 and 2, or are they just too dim to realize that they’re just throwing money away for nothing?

  • April Brown

    I used to catch my student’s cheating by making them explain what they meant in their written homework. It was unbearably precious when they got all shocked and offended and mortified when I asked them to explain to the class exactly what a “thrombo-embolism” was. No matter how clever the plan, somehow I was never fooled when they copied Engrish out of the Uzbek Airways inflight magazine.

  • http://educationrealist.wordpress.com Education Realist

    #6 and #7, you assume they want to catch them, but they don’t. They are heavily vested in graduating URMs at both the undergrad and grad level, and if they get a reputation for giving foreign students a hard time, the foreign students will just go elsewhere.

    “Is getting a PhD that way actually something that will pay off for people in group 1 and 2, or are they just too dim to realize that they’re just throwing money away for nothing?”

    The author mentioned education and nursing. Nursing is a type of degree in which success relies a great deal of demonstrated ability, but job opportunities often come with a specified education level.

    Teacher raises on the “column” increase are assessed purely on achieved coursework, not whether or not any knowledge was acquired. Blacks and Hispanics are already finding it very hard to enter teaching because of the competency tests (which are appropriately difficult). They were underrepresented in teaching before NCLB, and their numbers have dropped perilously since then. I wrote about it here, if you’re interested: http://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/radio-silence-on-clarence-mumford/

    If colleges didn’t give credits pretty equally to whites, blacks, and Hispanics who took coursework, it would be a problem. If the standards were more rigorous, fewer blacks and Hispanics would get credit relative to whites. Principals and superintendants often need to get Phds in order to move on–same problem.

    It’s not about standards. They don’t need oral defenses. In fact, it’s not really possible that this guy is doing work that would pass anything more than “facially coherent and grammatically correct”. That’s all they’re really looking for. They have to graduate these students, either for institutional (URM) or financial (foreigner) reasons.

  • pconroy

    I wonder what kind of seminarian uses these cheating services to pass their Divinity Certification? I’d guess it would have to be those Mega-Church types, whose life goal seems to be to swindle the gullible out of their savings?!

  • AG

    Verbal skill for sale!!!

  • ryan

    #8 I believe you’ve simply made this up. I’ve seen no evidence anywhere that colleges are under pressure to graduate unqualified minorities. There’s a fair amount of pressure to admit minorities, but very little to graduate them. I’ve known a lot of people in higher ed administration, and I’ve never heard this sort of thing. In your Mumford piece, you simply assert that you yourself would be shocked if the teachers receiving false credentials in the case weren’t black. I’d note that the Mumford case involves only 50 teachers total. It has no bearing on the point you’ve made in your comment here, and there is no evidence that it is part of a larger systemic problem. It seems to be an isolated thing. Put up or shut up.

    #9 – different target, but your argument is pretty close to Education Realist, with its reliance on “I’d guess it would have to be” followed by a spectacular but evidence-free slur. What makes you think Catholic priests wouldn’t find a fake degree useful in climbing the hierarchy? One thing about “charismatic” churches is that you have to have some charisma. Yeah, there’s lots of corruption in those churches, but my guess is diploma-mill corruption is far more useful in bureaucratic churches than in the non-denoms or in the “storefront” churches of the inner city.

  • Kiwiguy

    ***I’ve seen no evidence anywhere that colleges are under pressure to graduate unqualified minorities. ***

    Some anecdotal evidence of this in respect of overseas students emerged during the Paul Buchanan email controversy at Auckland University.

    “A number of tertiary lecturers at various institutions have also written in using pseudonyms and saying that they have been similarly frustrated at feeling under pressure to pass the work of an overseas student even though the student’s work is not on a par with an English-speaking Kiwi student.”

  • http://educationrealist.wordpress.com Education Realist

    “I’ve seen no evidence anywhere that colleges are under pressure to graduate unqualified minorities. There’s a fair amount of pressure to admit minorities, but very little to graduate them. ”

    I didn’t say they were under pressure to graduate unqualified minorities. (URM stands for underrepresented minorities.) But yes, they are under pressure to graduate, not just admit, blacks and Hispanics. Have you never heard of the term “six year graduation rates”? Google it. And notice whenever that subject comes up for discussion, they break the rates down by race and income. Anecdotally, talk to the professors at public universities. Look at the support structure put in place to pull kids through. It’s a huge, huge issue, and public universities in particular are under enormous scrutiny to prove that their graduation achievement gap isn’t too far off of everyone else’s. I’m sorry, but this isn’t even debatable.

    The Clarence Mumford case is not about graduation rates, but about the performance difference between white and black teachers on credentialing tests–for which I provided tons of evidence– and the writer’s claim that education students (both grad and undergrad) were candidates for his services. If colleges increased the rigor, the failure rate for blacks and Hispanics would be significant, and further exacerbate two different problems.Increased ed school rigor would further decimate the number of black and Hispanic teachers. Moreover, many teachers return to the college to take classes for extra credits that move them up in salary. If black and Hispanic teachers qualified for fewer increases because college classes were tougher that, too, would be a problem.

    Whenever you find a problem in education–be it delivery, integrity, quality, access–it all comes down to disparate impact.

  • Tech

    Just curious, why is this being covered/discussed almost 2 years after the Chronicle posted this? I remember reading it back then as well….

  • pconroy

    @11, Ryan,

    I wasn’t making an argument, I was giving an opinion based on the fact that many of the founders of these Mega-Churches have been exposed as corrupt.

    Don’t be so skittish…

  • NotAKiwiguy

    @12: There’s a good reason anecdotal evidence is not considered scientific.

    I’ve been of MS and PhD committes of a number of students from the same Auckland University. I have similarly been frustrated at having to give English speaking Kiwi students > B grades for < C quality work. Non-English speaking students often deliver vastly superior work to that delivered by Kiwi students. But this is in post-graduate engineering.

    The issue is not the language spoken by the student but the fact that faculty are under pressure to have a large set of students graduate as quickly as possible.

  • skid

    I wonder how many of these students “paid” for these papers with borrowed money, i.e., student loans, and then will default on them making Joe Taxpayer, that’s you and I, essentially pay for their frauds?

  • pconroy

    @16,

    When i took an English Literature course in Hunter College years ago, the Prof – a very Liberal, feminist type – give an initial essay assignment. I got an A, and there were some other A’s and many B’s and other lower grades. Then she announced that our final grade would be based on how much we had improved over our initial essays?!

    So I and some others would have produce A+ work to get an A, while a student who scraped a C would only have to manage C+ work!!!

    I guess this feminist felt that she had come up with a system whereby everyone could get an A and that she was being “Progressive” and good (aka Equalist)…

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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