Author, Author

November 16, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

 “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

Apparently, many students are taking Dr. Johnson’s words to heart.

“Ed Dante” writes only for money. And unlike Dr. Johnson, he doesn’t even get his name on his work, just the cash. He works for a “research” company, writing papers for students and sometimes admissions essays for applicants. His article in the Chronicle is quickly making the rounds. It’s a sort of update of a similar article (pdf here) that appeared in Harper’s fifteen years ago: “This Pen for Hire,” by the similarly pseudonymous “Abigail Witherspoon” who worked for a similar company.
Some things haven’t changed much. The clients still include those who have insufficient English or more than sufficient cash, or both. Clients seek papers in all fields except perhaps the hard sciences – literature, history, hospitality, sociology, etc. The future teachers of America are still well represented. Seminarians didn’t appear in the 1995 article; now Dante gets lots of them:
I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow.
Rates have gone up. In 1995, students were paying $20 a page. Dante’s clients pay per project – $2,000 for a 20-40 page paper, which works out to $50-100 a page. The writer-company split is still the same – 50-50.

Some other things have changed. Witherspoon, writing in 1995, was ghosting pre-Internet. She had to go to libraries, and students often showed up in person to get “their” papers. Each page of the paper was stamped with the company name, so the student had to retype the essay, or pay someone to retype it – not a problem in the digital era.

Witherspoon also took more liberties, substituting her own leftish opinions for the conservative ones clients wanted. A request to “Show why immigrants are dead weight on the economy and take jobs away from us” became an essay on the INS’s unequal criteria for refugee status. Nobody complained, probably because, despite the required retyping, nobody noticed.
Both writers take a certain pride in their uncredited work, and both view academia with skepticism that spills over into contempt. Dante sees his services as a critique of university teaching. (“These students truly are desperate. . . .They need help learning and, separately, they need help passing their courses. But they aren’t getting it.”) Witherspoon’s resentment is mostly class-based, directed at those who are lazy, wealthy, and anti-intellectual:
When I’m alone in my room, in front of the computer and between the headphones, it’s hard not to write something good for myself and maybe even for the imaginary absentee professor or appreciative T.A., something that will last. But when I’m standing in the crowded Tailormade office, next to someone elegant and young and in eight hundred bucks’ worth of calfskin leather, someone who not only has never heard of John Stuart Mill and never read Othello but doesn’t even know he hasn’t, doesn’t even mind that he hasn’t, and doesn’t even care that he hasn’t, the urge to make something that will last somehow vanishes.

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