SAN FRANCISCO – Question: Why go to the trouble of reading “The Merchant of Venice” and then writing about it when you can download a whole term paper free from the Web?
Answer (choose one): A – Because it would be wrong. B – Because Shakespeare’s themes touch on broad issues of morality and conflict still important in a modern context, or C – Because your professor already knows about the Web site and will be checking it to make sure you aren’t committing plagiarism.
Optional essay question background: The Web site under discussion, “School Sucks,” is the invention of Kenneth Sahr, a journalism student at Miami’s International University. According to Sahr, the carefully indexed library of donated papers on everything from Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” to a business analysis of the soft-drink industry is not meant to encourage cheating.
“I really believe that students can use this to see how students in other parts of the world attack a given issue,” the 24-year-old said.
Rather, he sees himself as providing a system of checks and balances, undercutting the pay-per-use term paper mills of the sort advertised in the back of Rolling Stone magazine and forcing professors to focus their assignments rather than assigning generic topics that too easily lend themselves to plagiarism.
The possibility that he might make a little money along the way has also crossed his mind.
“Anyone looking to advertise to college students on the Web, you know where they’re going to go,” Sahr said, though he admits that thus far no one has placed an ad on his site, which opened in June.
The motto of the Web site is “Download Your Workload.” And college students are also invited to submit their own term papers for others’ use.
The notion of give-away term papers has been discussed with much vehemence on several Internet mailing lists used by English professors, and a “Plagiarism Websource Alert” was widely circulated.
“It’s an existing problem and it’s just hit the electronic world,” said Kenneth Fields, director of the Writing and Critical Thinking program at Stanford University. “We’ll have to keep our eye on it.”
But for those students who imagine a leisurely fall uninterrupted by anything so dull as a critical reading of the poetry of A.E. Housman, beware. The quality of writing available on Sahr’s site is not the highest, to put it charitably.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Fields said. “You get what you pay for. The students who use it are just going to be downloading garbage.”
By The Associated Press