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Education: Term-Paper Hustlers

4 minute read

What old grad can forget the scourge of the term paper: those sunny afternoons in the dusky stacks, the nightlong bouts with procrastination, the notes on white index cards that convey recrimination rather than inspiration?

Thousands of collegians in the Boston area, that’s who. The reason appears under several names: International Termpapers, Inc., Universal Termpapers, Termpapers Unlimited and Quality Bullshit. Since September these new, aboveground organizations have turned out more than 4,000 term papers for students willing to pay $3 a page for standardized material and $6 a page if the paper is custom-made.

For off-the-rack themes, a buyer with the money first checks topics in stock, then tells his instructor that he has “chosen” to “write” about one of them. Up-to-date offerings include “Black American Heroes,” “Nixon’s Influence on the 1970 California Election,” “Problems and Possible Solutions to Air Pollution.” One service cheerfully composed a theme titled “Why I Wouldn’t Use a Professional Term Paper Writing Service.”

By the end of the spring rush, according to an exposé of the industry in the Boston Globe, the term-paper entrepreneurs expect to have produced 10,000 essays for a gross of $250,000. Several are setting up branches in other New England states, New York and California.

Glut of Longhairs. Ghostwriting on a modest scale has been a campus ploy for many years. But turning the practice into big business has taken men of vision like Ward Warren, 22, a senior at Babson College near Boston. Last fall Warren sank $25,000—earned in the delicatessen and the snack bar he owns—into Termpapers Unlimited. He now says that he is close to breaking even. “The secret of my success,” he says earnestly, “is that my employees really believe in what they’re doing. Also, there are a lot of brilliant, long-haired people out of work around here, and I rely on them.” Indeed, the nationwide Ph.D. glut has produced a readymade crop of writers, including, the hucksters claim, some instructors at Harvard and M.I.T. Most of the firms remove from their files any paper that gets less than a “B” from two professors; they also say they keep track of where papers are submitted to make sure the same instructor does not get telltale duplicates.

Business comes mainly from what the entrepreneurs call “proletarian” campuses, where students have few hard-to-fake seminars with their professors—the University of Massachusetts, Boston University and Northeastern. One customer is a father who is trying to assure academic success for his two children by contracting to have all their papers written by the pros.

Best in Years. The pros have snowed the profs. One returned a paper with the remark: “Best paper seen in years.” The Babson faculty has pronounced Warren’s activities “very distasteful,” but the college plans no action against him on the theory that his customers are guilty of plagiarizing—not he. Harvard Dean of Students Archie Epps has asked university lawyers how the school can proceed against the sharpsters. In fact, the colleges are virtually powerless to prove a given paper was plagiarized.

Meanwhile, the entrepreneurs are in some disagreement over the ethics of their work. Warren claims that customers use his products only as reference sources. “Listen,” he insists, “I’ve taken surveys of 400 of my clients, and the overwhelming majority say that they don’t plagiarize.” One professor cites the case of a senior she confronted who confessed “four years of successful plagiarism, parental pressure and a conviction of his intellectual incapacity for college.” Richard Mari, 26, a former technical writer for General Dynamics who heads Quality Bullshit, says that plagiarism is the whole point. “The kids have so many term-paper assignments now that they’re an obstacle to a degree rather than a learning technique. As long as we’re operating to help people, the business is not only justifiable, it may even be commendable.”

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