Especially in America, there is immense corporate pressure to have a college degree – as a meal-ticket to a better job and future, not necessarily as a proof of one’s intellectual skills. When the fact of having the degree is more important than the process of earning the degree, the stage is set for fraud on a massive scale.
The for-profit college student loan meltdown is another direct symptom of this rot, with one difference: people are beginning to realize that student loan debt is hindering our economic recovery.
Paid thesis writing is still winked at as a largely victimless vice. Maybe railed about in literary journals. Advertisements for such services bill themselves as ‘academic support’ or ‘academic content writing’, and stipulate they aren’t responsible for how students will use the custom ‘sample papers’ provided by the service. Skilled, fast writers can earn respectable incomes ghostwriting other people’s term papers, thesis papers, entrance essays, and other writing assignments. They’re earning money – why should I care how they do it? How is that any different from book packaging, novelization, or ghostwriting?*
Because the people buying these papers are doing so to pass courses or meet business responsibilities they would otherwise fail. In this instance they are frauds. Many of these buyers go on to, or already are in, positions of power and authority. If they’re willing to cheat on a college grade, what else are they prepared to cheat on?
Do you want a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant who never did their own homework? This shows they not only cheat, but that they may not know how to learn, frame a rational argument, research their position, and write out their opinions.
*Book packagers are usually upfront with their authors: in exchange for the work and a sizable fee, the author gives up further rights to the book. Their name may or may not be on the byline.
Novelization turns a movie, graphic novel, screenplay, etc into a text-based novel – sometimes by the person who wrote the original work, often not. They can be paid a flat fee, or get royalties off sales.
Ghostwriters team up with celebrities, scientists, politicians, and other people who may have a great idea and information, but no experience in writing it down presentably. Ghostwriters don’t get their name on the book (usually) but they do get paid for it, and may get royalties. I have less problem with entertainment ghostwriters than I do academic and political ones – in the latter cases, they still enable a kind of misrepresentation that can further careers and agendas.
I’ve seen exposes of thesis mills before, and I’m sure the practice will never go away. The money is really tempting: sometimes greater than $30 per page, sometimes a gross yearly income of $60K or more.
What’s at stake, beyond the money, beyond fraud? Nothing less than the human ability to learn.
New research on learning techniques seems to indicate people learn least when simply handed information, and more when they have to search it out and analyze it. Even the act of entering search keywords can help ‘lock’ information into memory.
The underlying point of the thesis not the grade. It’s showing that you know how to research, argue coherently, and write your case.
Here are a couple of good links on a brilliant book which is just now making its way into an official English translation: Umberto Eco’s ‘How to Write a Thesis’.
Josh Jones article in Openculture: <Eco dissuades a certain type of possible reader from his book, those students “who are forced to write a thesis so that they may graduate quickly and obtain the career advancement that originally motivated their university enrollment.” These students, he writes, some of whom “may be as old as 40” (gasp), “will ask for instructions on how to write a thesis in a month.” To them, he recommends two pieces of advice, in full knowledge that both are clearly “illegal”:
(a) Invest a reasonable amount of money in having a thesis written by a second party. (b) Copy a thesis that was written a few years prior for another institution. (It is better not to copy a book currently in print, even if it was written in a foreign language. If the professor is even minimally informed on the topic, he will be aware of the book’s existence.>
(In case you can’t unravel that quote, the good Professor directs his laziest, unteachable students to fraud and theft, since he believes there is no point wasting time on trying to teach them.)
Hua Hsu article in the New Yorker:
<…in Eco’s rhapsodic and often funny book, the thesis represents: a magical process of self-realization, a kind of careful, curious engagement with the world that need not end in one’s early twenties.**
“Your thesis,” Eco foretells, “is like your first love: it will be difficult to forget.” By mastering the demands and protocols of the fusty old thesis, Eco passionately demonstrates, we become equipped for a world outside ourselves—a world of ideas, philosophies, and debates.>
** Learning needs to be lifelong to be effective: new technologies and markets demand it. Paid academic writing undermines that critical skill.