Friday, September 21, 2012

A Man for All Semesters An exposé reveals how the Internet has turned collegiate cheating into big business. From WSJ.

'If you knew how I work!" Balzac wrote to a friend in 1832 as he finished up another volume of what would become the "Comédie humaine." "I am a galley slave to pen and ink, a true dealer in ideas." Dave Tomar is no stranger to the feeling of tortured subjugation to the written word, though whether one could justly call him a "dealer in ideas" is another matter—"counterfeiter" is more like it.

In "The Shadow Scholar: How I Made a Living Helping College Kids Cheat," Mr. Tomar, a 32-year-old Rutgers graduate, describes how, for the better part of a decade, he labored as a writer-for-hire catering to incompetent and lazy students. It didn't matter if the task at hand was a reflection on Nietzsche, a piece on Piaget's theory of genetic epistemology, or a 150-page paper on public-sector investment in China and India. Mr. Tomar, with not a small amount of help from Wikipedia, was a man for all semesters.

The most amusing and disturbing tidbits of "The Shadow Scholar" are excerpted communiqués from Mr. Tomar's clients that show just how badly these arrested young minds required his assistance. "Let me know what will the paper going to be about," one college student instructs Mr. Tomar. "Also dont write about, abortion, euthanasia, clothing or death penalty, yhose were not allowed by my teacher."

Mr. Tomar worked for only a few cents a word, but he kept busy enough to earn $66,000 in 2010. (Not bad, especially considering that the average pay for a non-tenure-track lecturer at Harvard last year—an institution with its own student-plagiarism scandal at the moment—was just under $57,000.) He was a freelancer for several of the "hundreds and possibly thousands" of online paper mills in the United States, services with names like and that produce custom essays for their student clients. Lest you think that this sleazy racket is a fringe, underground phenomenon, Mr. Tomar is here to declare otherwise: "It's mainstream. It's popular culture. It's taxable income. It's googleable."



  1. Tomar seems to be producing mostly regurgitated Wikipedia. He has an income because faculty are unwilling to grade properly.

  2. Oh, so he did finally write a book? My students read his Chronicle article every year when we talk about plagiarism and what NOT to do when they're writing a paper.

  3. I think our only option is to find a way to pirate this book. I'm certainly not going to give this tool money...

  4. Madavis--Well said. I wonder whether the thought about whether people would actually pay for his book.

  5. I personally think he made up that shit. At least most of it.

    1. I'm hoping he copied the book from the guy who really did write the essays for hire. That would rock.


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