The subject of cheating seems to be coming up here and there. A lot of it pertaining to this article, written by a professional ghostwriter for college papers. Further commentary by Otherwill and Rufus at The League.

Longtime readers of Hit Coffee may remember that once upon a time, I was a ghostwriter for my then-girlfriend Julianne at the college level. She and I took three classes together and she shrugged off all three. The end-result was that I would get upset calls at 2 in the morning from Julianne saying that she hadn’t started the paper due the next day, had no idea what to write, and little or no knowledge of the subject-matter because of all of the classes that she missed. So I would take care of it for her. I was happy to the first few times, though after enough reiterations of how these last-minute deadlines came at her suddenly without any warning (when she’d groused at me for reminding her of it as the date approaches) and her being caught flatfooted, it gets exasperating.

Anyhow, I’m sure that you’re shocked to hear this, but I can be a kind of wordy fellow and so when a paper was meant to be 3-5 pages long, I usually had to struggle to meet the five-page maximum. So there was usually an abundance of material for a half-hearted rewrite for Julie’s benefit. I would cut out several points, usually add a couple, or if it was a paper that we had flexibility on, topic-wise, pick up on something that got cut from my paper and run with it. The papers were junk. Typically mindless, unoriginal, and about as by-the-numbers as you could possibly imagine.

They also – every single one of them – got a higher grade than the papers that I turned in with my own name. And it was never that I was overtly docked for failing to stay on-point or for rambling on. Quite the opposite. I would get docked for failing to address a particular point. Her paper failed to address it, too, but it only seemed to matter on mine. I have a number of theories as to why hers graded better than mine, though none make a whole lot of sense. By the third class I though about simply reversing the names on the papers, but though a cheater I was I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was proud of my A- papers and her A+ papers were, as far as I was concerned, parrot droppings. In two of the three classes I got a higher grade than her simply because I couldn’t take the test for her as well. In the third class I actually could help her with the tests, too, and she scored the highest grade in the class and got an email from the prof saying as much.

I’m sure if there are any Game-types that read this, they are thinking how pathetically beta my behavior is. Probably thinking that she lost all respect for me as I bent over backwards doing these things for her. The problem is that it couldn’t be further from the truth. She was actually very appreciative and did not lead her to dump by ass or cheat on me with an alpha. She did kind of take it for granted, and that caused some ill-will on my part, but she never took me for granted. After the third class together where she almost never showed up at all, I resolved that I wouldn’t take any more classes with her. It didn’t matter as our relationship collapsed at the end of that semester and she had flunked out of Southern Tech University anyway.

The second, and to me more interesting story, is this one from the University of Central Florida. Basically, some students got ahold of the test bank and the professor caught wind of it. There is a video of the lecture that the professor gave to his students, offering them an out:

“I don’t want to have to explain to your parents why you didn’t graduate, so I went to the Dean and I made a deal. The deal is you can either wait it out and hope that we don’t identify you, or you can identify yourself to your lab instructor and you can complete the rest of the course and the grade you get in the course is the grade you earned in the course.”

That’s a pretty generous deal. In fact, so generous that even if I didn’t cheat* I might fess up to having done so simply out of fear of their algorithms incorrectly identifying me as a cheater. I mean, the overall cost is lost face in the eyes of a professor and a four-hour ethics course. That punishment is guaranteed. But if the algorithms are wrong and you are incorrectly identified, the consequences are absolutely ruinous. It’s the same dynamic that leads people to confess to crimes they didn’t commit because they’re allowed to confess on a lesser charge. I mean, how much faith would you have in their algorithms? Probably a lot now, but back when I was in college? I’d probably grant at least a 5-10% chance of it being wrong. And I wouldn’t like those odds.

I wonder how many of the people that confessed were innocent but making that same calculation?

I never cheated on a college exam. I came close once, having printed out all my notes on a little piece of paper. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. In addition to helping Julianne out with her college studies, I also helped out some kids in junior high and high school for various reasons (some I regret, others I don’t). I did get caught trying to copy someone’s paper during a Spanish exam. I needed glasses and did not yet have them. The teacher did not have to be particularly perceptive to catch me. My friend Clint, incidentally, was caught by the exact same teacher trying to change his grade in her gradebook. She threatened to get a handwriting expert and he broke.

Category: Ghostland, School

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23 Responses to Appomattox Courthouse Is the Captain of the Basketball Team

  1. Maria says:

    Jesus, how could you date a girl who was that dishonest? Seriously, I could never respect anyone who was that dishonest.

    I wonder about the world sometimes. A while back I attended a party and there was a woman there bragging about how she took unemployment checks and worked for cash under the table in a bicycle store at the same time. I was appalled. Not only that she did it, but that she would own up to it so casually in a room full of crowded people.

  2. trumwill says:

    She wasn’t really dishonest by nature. I think she, like me, had kind of a blind spot with regard to what we were doing. I plan to write a follow-up on this post at some point. I think that there might be something about K-12 which creates a sort of mental separation between learning and academic achievement. The grade becomes its own thing. If anything, the higher grades that she got did nothing but increase that cynicism. She thought it was funny as hell. I got increasingly pissed off about it.

    Being a little bit older, the thought of turning in someone else’s work as my own (which I never did, though obviously I did the reverse) is something I could never do. I guess there were pangs of that at the time with my unwillingness to turn in “her” paper with my name, but I didn’t view it the same way. I can’t really tell you why, other than the cynicism I developed in K-12.

  3. trumwill says:

    Oy. Your story about unemployment is annoying (her actions, not your response). Back when I lost my first job, I anguished for weeks over whether or not even taking unemployment (which as far as I knew I was due) was right since I didn’t need it like other people I could imagine who needed it. And after I lost my second job, I never applied for an extension after the original six months expired. None of this is to say that I was or am a paragon of UEI honesty (in the second case I knew where I could get a job but I simply didn’t want to work for those dreadful people… but I ultimately did after the six months), but I had to at least find a way to justify it to myself. Sounds like she was proud of what she was doing.

    I guess, for whatever reason, I didn’t have the cynicism for unemployment insurance that I had for academia.

  4. Peter says:

    Having someone else do your college assignments for you is considered cheating. Unless, of course, you’re a football or basketball player. Then it’s expected.

  5. Kirk says:

    But if the algorithms are wrong and you are incorrectly identified, the consequences are absolutely ruinous.


    She wasn’t really dishonest by nature.

    Or maybe she was. You wouldn’t really know, would you?

    I have a number of theories as to why hers graded better than mine, though none make a whole lot of sense.

    If the professor were male, he wanted to sleep with her. If the professor were female, then giving her higher grades was just sexism. 😉

    Anyway, she flunked out, right? What is she doing now?

  6. trumwill says:


    Mathematical formulas used to determine who cheated on the test.

    Or maybe she was. You wouldn’t really know, would you?

    We were together for four years, so I think I would have picked up on it at some point. If she was a really dishonest person, she was astonishingly effective.

    Anyway, she flunked out, right? What is she doing now?

    An IT security analyst for a very successful (though much-maligned) corporation.

  7. Maria says:

    hi will: I also have refused to collect unemployment insurance several times in my life, even though I was entitled to receive it.

    The woman who was talking about receiving her checks while working under the table was very casual, as if “of course, this is what anybody would do.”

    It probably never even occurred to her that other people might have moral objections.

    But then I live in California and it’s just a sick, sick place to live in all around. No one feels any sense of ownership of the state anymore, it’s just a giant global employment agency, and it’s the tragedy of the commons all writ large.

  8. Mike Hunt says:

    Maria: I also have refused to collect unemployment insurance several times in my life, even though I was entitled to receive it.

    You, dear madam, are a chump.

    I don’t consider what the UCF students did to be cheating; they were just well-prepared…

    I don’t care if no one else got it, but just so you know, I got the reference in the title. Bravo.

  9. rob says:

    I have a number of theories as to why hers graded better than mine, though none make a whole lot of sense.

    You should have switched papers once, just as an experiment. Perhaps your leavings were better than your keepings. “Her” papers didn’t address whatever point, but were so interesting otherwise that the prof never noticed. Give us a post, and what you left out of the post, and your readers can judge: maybe your editing is a negative value-add.

    In the whole “war against boys” in school thing, I’ve run across people who think that being a girl is + 0.5 to GPA, and they didn’t all seem super bitter. It doesn’t make much sense why, but OTOH, standardized test scores show much smaller sex gaps than grades.

    I’ve found that “preparing to cheat” by making a cheat sheet is a fantastic way to study.

  10. Maria says:

    You, dear madam, are a chump.

    I could always pick fruit in the fields like I did when I was young, so I would not feet good about accepting unemployment insurance money when I alays have that option, as unpleasant as it may be. Or working as a free-lance housecleaner, as my mom did for 20 years.

    I try to hew to the old Anglo-American values as much as possible. Of course it is not always possible, and I’m not always that good about it, but at least I try.

  11. trumwill says:

    I don’t consider what the UCF students did to be cheating; they were just well-prepared…

    That’s what a lot of folks are saying at OTB. I’m not sure I buy it, unless they didn’t realize that the prof was taking questions from the test bank.

    I don’t care if no one else got it, but just so you know, I got the reference in the title. Bravo.

    Excellent. I was hoping that someone would.

  12. trumwill says:

    Perhaps your leavings were better than your keepings.

    It’s possible. Or at least “better” by their definition, which is a sort of by-the-numbers checklist grading system. I can guarantee you that “her” papers were not interesting. If anything, they were rewarded for being formulaic and mine was held to a different standard because more thought was put into them and they had more background.

    In a different class, I was marked off on a government paper for “erroneously”* stating that Chuck Robb was LBJ’s son-in-law. Now, I didn’t have to mention this factoid, but I did. And since I mentioned it, I was held to a different standard than someone that would have just glossed over that part of his biography.

    As a matter of fact, he was LBJ’s son-in-law. This is a matter of public record. This was particularly unfair point-dockage, but I wonder if because I went further than I had to go then I was ultimately held to a higher standard than someone who did specifically what was asked and not a word more.

    That’s my guess.

  13. Maria says:

    I don’t understand, will; why would you get marked down for relating a true fact?

  14. Maria says:

    Ah, a “Growing Pains” reference.

  15. trumwill says:

    He believed, wrongly, that it wasn’t true. I didn’t cite my source on that particular factoid, believing it (more or less) to be common knowledge (at least something an esteemed political science professor would know). But had I avoided going into Robb’s background (which wasn’t necessary for the paper, though I thought it helped provide context for the race I was writing about), it never would have been an issue.

    Looking back, I wonder if the more you write, the better everything has to be. If you just do things by the numbers, you can get away with more.

    I could have gone back with my source and had those points reinstated, but I didn’t get the paper back until I already got my course grade, which was already an “A”.

  16. Maria says:

    15.He believed, wrongly, that it wasn’t true.

    Christ, what a fool. Doesn’t surprise me though. Poly sci professors no doubt spend all their time memorizing the greatest hits of Antonio Gramsci and Karl Marx; they have no use for learning or teaching actual American political history. That’s why I want to axe all student loans and other tuition support for liberal arts majors.

    Yes, it’s better to leave things out. Remember the “Jeopardy” rule: if you say “Who is Lee?” to the answer, “The Confederacy’s Leading General,” you are okay.

    But if you screw up and say “Who is Robert A. Lee?” instead of “Who is Robert E. Lee?” you are SOL.

  17. Escapist says:

    Kind of off topic, but does anyone else have anxiety dreams about having to go back to high school or college, e.g. “you didn’t actually graduate high school, now you need to retake 2 years worth for your later degrees to be valid”? And of course the ubiquitous one where you realize like halfway through the semester that there’s a science class that you never attended/never did any HW for?

  18. trumwill says:

    I had the ubiquitous one just the other night.

  19. Nanani says:

    Could it just be that you and her had different graders? If the classes were large, there were probably several different TAs doing the actual grading, and her name (or ID number or something) was on a different person’s list than yours – one with lower standards.

    Or maybe she was getting “points for effort” or something of the sort. Who knows. It is certainly appalling.

  20. Nanani says:

    Commenting on the comments now –

    I’ve never had such a dream about HS. All my “school” dreams are about missing the bus and are at middle-school level.
    I’ve never dreamed about being naked in public either, nor about falling from a great height, so maybe I’m just an atypical dreamer.

  21. Maria says:

    I’ve had that dream for many years, and I’m way older than most people who post here.

    It never goes away!

  22. SFG says:

    “An IT security analyst for a very successful (though much-maligned) corporation.”

    Did she actually know anything about computers?

  23. trumwill says:

    By the time she got her current job, she had a fair amount of experience under her belt. However, she got her first job as an IT manager for a small company without any formal experience. Her then-boyfriend Tony gave her *a lot* of help (fixing network problems at 2am similar to the way I was writing her papers) while she learned what she was doing.

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