There's been a mild kerfuffle* in the wake of Ed Dante's essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education on his career as a paper-writer for college and graduate students. Most of us in academe are naturally dismayed at Dante's reminder of the vast extent of plagiarism among our students, and I was also surprised to learn how many divinity, education, and nursing students made it to their graduate degrees with the help of a ghostwriter. (How did they afford those $2,000 thesis chapters, I wonder?**) What particularly struck me, though, was the author's confidence that he had somehow kept his own inner purity and righteousness throughout the experience. It was not his own choice, Dante argues, but a corrupt academy which valued grades over actual competency that drove him into his morally questionable career. He is merely a product of the "desperation, misery, and incompetence that your educational system has created." Despite working for ten years as a hired liar for plagiarizing students, he believes that he retains the soul of an honest artist. This is implicit in Dante's statement that he plans to retire from the racket and do something more worthwhile with the rest of his life. Hogwash. Dante obviously gets a charge from the life he leads - the full professional dance card, the tight deadlines, the thrill of deceiving burnt-out professors, the bittersweet satisfaction of helping desperate, subliterate students - and he almost certainly could not obtain equivalent satisfaction from doing something else. Moreover, a decade of doing intentionally rushed and subpar work for others cannot have left Dante well-prepared to do his own writing, something that will require creativity and contemplation. These are two talents he has either crushed or allowed to wither. I suspect he'll be back at his old racket, or one very similar to it, soon enough. As a certain twentieth-century English essayist wrote, "Once a whore, always a whore***."
* The story has, as of this writing, generated over 500 comments on the Chronicle's website.
** Though if you're spending $10,000+ a year to earn a graduate degree, an extra $2,000 to finish that degree probably doesn't seem like a big additional expense, particularly if you'll recoup the "investment" later in a higher salary.
***Apologies to my readers who are actually legitimate sex workers. I mean no offense.