Web posted Thursday, April 2, 1998 12:55 p.m. CT
Plagiarism by modem?
By DON MUNSCH
Globe-News Staff Writer
In bygone days, high school and college students burned the midday and midnight oil to churn out term papers, using notes drawn from old library books that they tap-tap-tapped onto their paper, using an old manual typewriter.
Nowadays, with desktop publishing, students tap-tap-tap their notes into a computer that can hold a disk that will store their information, and laser printers spit out perfectly lined papers. Also now, instead of perusing a card catalog to find books as in the old days, students can get online via the Internet to find information on their subject.
They also can find services that sell term papers – papers that they could turn in as their own.
The Christian Science Monitor reported in the fall that more than 50 term-paper sites exist on the Internet. The newspaper reported that Boston University had filed a federal lawsuit against eight Internet term-paper companies in seven states. Texas and 16 other states have passed laws making it illegal to sell term papers that students may pass off as their own work.
One term-paper site not under suit is called “Cheat.com” and run by 16-year-old Paul Roberts.
Another term paper site is School Sucks (www.schoolsucks.com), which allows high school and college students access to term papers. But School Sucks owner Kenny Sahr said students should not use the papers as their own work.
“All of the papers are free,” said Sahr, who operates the Web site out of Houston. “They’re just going to the site and getting the papers they want.”
Sahr said the service offers about 2,500 papers, which are written by students themselves. Sahr said the papers help students understand the proper formatting and protocol for writing term papers and are not meant to be used by students to be turned in for grades.
He cautions that plagiarism would be unwise because many of the papers are poorly written – an event that he blames on the educational establishment – and thus a student could easily get caught.
“If the papers are so bad, what does it say about the teachers?” he said. “It’s a statement of their work.”
Ironically, Sahr said it’s not the stereotypical 19-year-old, Beavis-and-Butt-head slacker types who would patronize his service for papers they could plagiarize.
“It’s the adult who works for the fire department or a municipality who needs credit for a degree,” he said.
Sahr seems more put off, though, by an educational establishment that does not have checks and balances that ensure qualified people are teaching. He said the best and brightest are not entering the teaching field, especially at the college level.
“Just because you have doctorate in biology doesn’t mean you can convey (the material); (it) doesn’t mean you can teach it,” he said.
Another Internet term-paper site, The Paper Store, operating out of Jackson, N.J., states it furnishes papers for students to use as a “model” for papers they will turn in for grades. Like School Sucks, the service says it simply wants to help students understand the proper formatting for papers.
“All too often, talented students receive reduced grades on otherwise excellent papers simply because they misused the APA or MLA style, failed to include an outline or even because their paper was a day late!” the business states in its advertisement.
The Paper Store – which is one of the original eight businesses being sued by Boston University; two of the suits have been dropped – reminds interested parties that “Plagiarism is a Crime!
“The Paper Store will NEVER offer its services to ANY person giving any reason to believe that he or she intends to wholly or partially submit our work for academic credit in their own name,” the business says.
Andrew Green, chairman of The Paper Store, said high school and college instructors may ask his company to see materials they have sold to students. He said the business contracts with students all over the globe, selling papers for prices ranging from $20 to $60.
Students get a skeletal paper that has been written for this establishment, Green said, adding that students are not hired to write the papers for the business.
Green said the business places its name in a surreptitious fashion inside the report to prevent fraud.
“We ask what (students) plan to do with their research when they do their report,” he said. He said college instructors contract with services to provide papers. The Paper Store can be reached at 1-800-90-WRITE.
Other term-paper sites can be found in traditional venues, such as magazines. One research paper company, advertised in the back of “Entertainment Weekly,” declined to talk about its services to the Globe-News.
“I’m sorry; we don’t deal with the press,” said a female representative from the company, hastily hanging up the phone. A representative from another company advertised in the same magazine did not return repeated phone calls.
Russell C. Long, president of West Texas A&M
University, said during his 20-plus years of teaching he had about a half-dozen students turn in papers that he knew they did not write. He said he thinks it still occurs, but not to a large degree, as no cases have emerged that needed disciplinary actions at WT. At WT, academic dishonesty can result in an F for the course, a letter of reprimand or an academic sanction recommendation to the dean. An expulsion or suspension also is possible.
Long said a student’s writing style and tendencies often give away his or her cheating on a paper.
To prevent cheating or uncertainty of expectations on an assignment, Long said instructors should inform students of the proper protocol for papers when assignments are made.
“I would be disappointed in any faculty member who assigned students a paper and didn’t give them any idea of what the paper should look like,” Long said.
James Hallmark, WT associate professor of speech communication, seemed skeptical of businesses that provide “model” papers, as he said most term-paper formats are not that difficult to master.
Cindy O’Dell, business manager of The Prairie, WT’s student newspaper, said to her knowledge no businesses selling term papers have ever approached the paper to buy advertising. She said the paper maintains the right to refuse advertising, including those who peddle papers.
“I think it would depend on the circumstances and whether they were offering other services,” she said. “I think that would be an editorial board decision (to accept advertising).”
Dave Wohlfarth, The Prairie’s faculty adviser, said the paper will not accept advertising that is in bad taste, libelous or illegal.
Hallmark and other educators say they don’t encounter too much plagiarism of term papers, but they say that does not mean it doesn’t happen.
Jerry Miller, dean of the T. Boone Pickens College of Business at WT, said he tailors his term paper assignments in a unique fashion so that students will be challenged. Thus, he said, students will not be as tempted to cheat.
“I’ve never had a problem with it,” he said.
Miller added, though, that, “I’ve been in this 35 years and I’ve seen all kinds of things – every thing you can think of, on tests and on all kinds of things.” He said asking students to discuss their paper or present it in class combats cheating, as well.
“I’ve never talked to a student who said they had done it or have said they know someone who’s done it,” Hallmark said.
He said students could find magazines that advertise companies that sell papers, should they not have access to the Internet. He said it can be difficult, though, to prove plagiarism. For his classes, he requires students turn papers in in sections.
“I go out of my way to make the paper unique so that there will not be a paper mill out there,” he said.
Hallmark said students cheat themselves when they use someone else’s work, but strangely enough, he said, cheating students don’t understand the irony of their actions: Higher education is the only thing a student pays a large amount of money for and then tries not to attain its fullest use.
“You’re paying for this; you might as well get something out of it,” he said.
“I don’t think (term-paper cheating) is a common occurrence,” said Greg Williams, dean of student services at Amarillo College. “I have no reason to believe it happens a lot here. I haven’t heard anyone complain.”
In the Amarillo Independent School District, cheating or copying the work of another student (or entity) is construed as a Level III offense, which can result in grade penalty, detention or exclusion from extracurricular activities, according to the AISD’s Discipline Management Plan and Student Code of Conduct.
Gary Angell, Tascosa cluster director, said a student cannot be expelled for turning in work he or she did not do.
Marjorie Black, sophomore honors English teacher at Amarillo High School, said she easily can determine if students turn in work that is not their own.
“They didn’t write the same way they had the rest of the year on essay questions and on assignments,” she said of students she suspected of cheating.
Black said she will confront the student if the paper looks suspicious, and she said getting to know students helps her judge their work’s authenticity.