By Mary Kate Frank

(Published as the lead story, "A Special Report: Term Papers For Sale", in The Montclarion, Thursday, January 21, 1999)

Montclair State University -- Dan Jones (not his real name) thinks of himself as a good student. A Political Science major at Montclair State University, he plans on attending law school. But a few semesters ago, Jones found himself falling behind in his International Relations class. So when the professor assigned a 20-page paper, Jones panicked.

"I was like, there’s no way I can do this paper myself and do a good job on it," Jones said.

He mentioned the problem to a friend who suggested that Jones seek the help of a doctor.

That doctor was the man known as "Doctor Research," who provides term papers for a fee for college students. Doctor Research meets students in the parking lots of the 7-11 and an Italian eatery, Brother Bruno’s, on the Hamburg Turnpike in Wayne, less than a mile from William Paterson University.

At $8 a page, Jones paid $160 for the paper. Out of a possible 100, he received an 80 on it.

"I was so nervous. I swore to myself I would never do it again after the first time," Jones said.

But the following semester, in a 400-level class called Western European World Politics, Jones was assigned to read a lengthy book and write a seven-page book review. He once again visited the doctor.

Jones gave the book to Doctor Research who then produced the review. Jones was able to bargain the price of the paper from $56 down to $48. He received an A+.

"He said he read the book," Jones remembered. "He obviously did something right. He hit it right on the head. He did awesome," he said enthusiastically.

Unbeknown to many professors, it has become common for college students in the area to buy their term papers from Doctor Research and other professional

researchers. The growing popularity of the Internet has also made that an easy forum for buying or downloading term papers. The reactions of the administration and faculty of MSU are mixed.

"I am totally shocked," said Dr. Carl Gottschall, who teaches the course Development of Math, for which there is only an optional term paper. Doctor Research says he’s sold about 10 students papers for this course in the last few years and they’ve all received A’s. "I have no knowledge of this in any way. However, I feel very strongly that if this is not a criminal activity it is at least against University policy."

Carlos Ortiz, Administrative Assistant in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences was less surprised. "That’s been going on forever," he said of students turning in purchased term papers.

Indeed, instances of student plagiarism have been consistently high for quite some time. A 1993 study conducted by William Bowers (Northeastern University) and Donald McCabe (an Associate Provost at Rutgers, Newark) of 1,800 students at nine state universities found that 84 percent of students surveyed had cheated at least once on a written assignment.

The study defined cheating as copying material without footnoting, plagiarizing, falsifying a bibliography, turning in work done by another or collaborating on assignments that were meant to be done individually.

This information was consistent with what Bowers had found when he conducted a similar study in 1963 of more than 5,000 students on 99 college campuses of all sizes. In that study, 82 percent of students admitted to cheating on a written assignment.

McCabe, who is also the founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity in Stanford, Calif., called the instances of student plagiarism a "stable pattern."

"Certainly, there’s more than a trivial amount going on here [Rutgers] and I’m sure there’s more than a trivial amount going on at Montclair," McCabe said.

Francie Davis, a reference librarian at Dowling College in Oakdale, N.Y., agreed. "This is a universal problem on all campuses," Davis said. "I think it has probably gotten easier because of the Internet."

Davis has just completed a report entitled "Plagiarism from the Net." Intended for use by the faculty of the college, the report lists dozens of sites where papers can be bought or obtained for free. Among these are sites with names similar to, "Essay Writer 911," "The House of Termpapers," and "School Eats It." Davis first began looking into the problem when a professor came to her with a paper and asked if it were possible to check if it had been taken from the Internet. "I found the paper in about 30 seconds," Davis said.

Davis feels that many students are turning to plagiarism because of panic at the thought of not handing a paper in. "The students are pressed for time," she said, "and they just can’t get it done."

McCabe noted that students are often unaware of what constitutes plagiarism. "I think perhaps there’s less of an understanding today about what the rules of plagiarism are," he said.

Jones offered a different reason. "It was totally laziness. I had no interest in the classes," he said.

According to the Montclair State University handbook, the consequences of plagiarism are severe. The handbook, under a section marked "Other Written Work/ Plagiarism," reads, "If found in violation of academic dishonesty it could result in a sanction up to and including suspension or expulsion from the University."

Jones knew this when he purchased the papers. "I guess, whatever, you get expelled. That’s the penalty at Montclair. I guess I risked everything," he said.

But Dean of Students Dr. Helen Matusow-Ayres said that expulsion for plagiarism is highly unlikely.

"Expulsion is very uncommon," she said. "Most of the plagiarism cases are handled before they even get [to this office]."

Plagiarism cases are dealt with at the lowest level possible, Matusow-Ayres said. If plagiarism is suspected, a faculty member is expected to confront the student. For a first offense, a common punishment is failing the assignment or the course.

"The faculty, themselves, handle this very well," Matusow-Ayres said. "That’s part of their job and they take it very seriously," she said.

Ortiz noted the difficulty of proving student plagiarism. According to Ortiz, the professor must have the document the student copied from in order to make a case.

"The professor has to have real proof," he said. "If he or she doesn’t have that, there’s very little a professor can do."

After an accusation is made, a committee may be formed to hear the case. The case would then proceed to the chair of the department, Ortiz said. But faculty members are not required to report plagiarism cases to a disciplinary committee, Matusow-Ayres said.

When the charges of plagiarism are more serious, for instance stealing another student’s work and handing it in or for a repeat offender, the case comes to Matusow- Ayres. She normally sees four to five of these cases per semester. Since last September, she has only seen one.

"There’s a lot going on that they [administrations of colleges] just never hear about," noted McCabe, who has conducted three major studies of academic integrity since 1991.

"A lot of the cases I have seen are people who didn’t know any better and needed to be educated," Matusow-Ayres said. "That is the reason why our disciplinary actions are cumulative."

MSU’s procedure when it comes to student plagiarism seems to be the norm. "There aren’t a lot of schools who will expel students for any kind of cheating, especially a first offense," McCabe said.

At Rutgers, a level four-breach of academic conduct (repeat offenses, plagiarism of a master’s thesis) may result in expulsion. But a level-three breach (first offense plagiarism) could only result in suspension, McCabe said.

"We would not have the right to expel them for that single violation," McCabe said.

Mike Taylor (not his real name) a junior Political Science major at MSU, buys his papers from a company called Research Assistance. Located in Jersey City, the service regularly leaves its blue business cards under the windshield wipers of students’ cars in the MSU parking lots.

"They have over 1 million papers in their database," Taylor said.

Students are able to search through these papers on the company’s computer by typing in key words. After narrowing it down on computer, a staff member will bring the actual paper out and students can read through it before purchasing it, Taylor said.

Research Assistance charges $7 a page for this service. They also sell custom- made papers for $11 a page, Taylor said.

Taylor has bought papers for the classes General Humanities, The Development of Political Thought to Machiavelli (a 400-level class) and a seminar course.

"I think that I got all A’s, to tell you the truth," Taylor said.

He never worried about the consequences he would face if he were caught.

"I don’t care. They gotta prove it. I’ll start to worry when they show me another paper that looks exactly like mine," Taylor laughed.

Students may feel invincible but the researchers who sell these papers are violating Section 2A: 170-77.16 of the New Jersey Criminal Code entitled, "Sale of Term Paper, Thesis, Dissertation, or Other Writing Intended for Submission to an Academic Institution Under Student’s Name."

Under this, the sale of a term papers to a student is a civil offense which is treated as a disorderly persons conduct and includes a fine of $1,000.

However, the law includes an exception. Any person is able to sell research assistance.

"You can help people; you can’t write it for them," said Susan Sciacca, Assistant Prosecutor in the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office. "You can give library-type assistance; you can’t be prosecuted for that."

The researchers seem well aware of this law. Doctor Research requires students to sign a disclaimer stating that the paper should be used only for assistance. Research Assistance stamps the words, "Research Assistance Only" on all the papers it sells.

"That’s the only bad part," Taylor said. "I had to retype it."

"If you look at the exceptions, you’ll see the difficulty in prosecuting this type of case," Sciacca said. "It would be hard to prove someone violated the statute because of a defense that they were just providing research material."

Although the law has been in effect since 1977, Sciacca has never seen anyone prosecuted under the statute.

The lucrative business of selling term papers continues for people like Doctor Research.

"He [Doctor Research] said that’s his only job," Jones remembered. "He makes a ton of money. He said that he has no people working for him and all of his papers are original."

7-11 and Brother Bruno’s, where Doctor Research meets his clientele, also profit. "He attracts business for them," Jones noted. "A lot of kids go there and while they’re waiting for him they eat pizza or they go into 7-11."

Dr. Grover Furr, who teaches a new course entitled "Internet for English Majors," thinks that student plagiarism is merely a symptom of a larger problem.

"I think that things like term papers on the Internet expose the teaching," Furr said. "They only work for classes that are taught badly to begin with. I think teaching must be really awful to create a situation wherein students can do this sort of thing."

According to Furr, there is a simple answer to the problem of plagiarism. He requires his students to submit notes and a first draft along with their papers. He also workshops the paper with them, checking on their progress week by week, he said.

"You can’t buy the process," he reasoned, "only the final product. If you only require a final product, you’re just asking for students to do this." He failed a Freshman Composition student two years ago for handing in only a final paper.

"I don’t care if you wrote the paper. If you don’t show me the process, you’re failing the class," he said firmly.

According to McCabe, many students have indicated in surveys that the faculty at their colleges don’t care about plagiarism and that nothing will happen if they are caught.

"Individual faculty members need to be clear about what expectations are and that if something happens that they will pursue it," McCabe said.

Davis recommends very specific assignments, changing assignments from year to year, drafts, notes and even oral reports.

Regarding the papers available on the Internet, Davis said, "They’re crummy. That really is one of the ways faculty know it’s plagiarized. It’s not the language used by the student. Either it’s too good or it’s too bad."

According to Furr, there is an easy way for faculty to discover if a paper has been taken from the Internet. A professor can pick a key phrase from a student’s paper and then go to a search engine such as Alta Vista. If the key phrase is typed within quotes, the computer should automatically bring up every essay on the Internet that contains this phrase.

"Students are not very sophisticated about it," Davis said. "They don’t even change the title, they just hand it right in. Students are not spending a lot of time trying to find these papers."

"You’d like to think that people have earned their degrees," she said sadly. "Otherwise, it’s really just a piece of paper."

Taylor disagreed. "Why should I do them [term papers]?" he said. "If there’s a loophole, why not use it? I think that shows more ingenuity than writing it myself. That’s the kind of person I’d want working for me."

By Mary Kate Frank
Montclair State University

It’s not hard to track down the man known as "Doctor Research," who, for a price, provides research papers to students. I simply stop at the 7-11 on the Hamburg Turnpike and Ratzer Road in Wayne and ask for his business card.

Doctor Research holds "office hours" for students sick with the idea of constructing their own term papers, in the parking lots of 7-11 and the pizza parlor Brother Bruno’s, across the street. He is at these locations five days a week, for an hour Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and fifteen minutes on Thursday and Saturday.

I pull into the crowded parking lot of Brother Bruno’s on one of these days to make my purchase. A boy in a baseball cap sits outside of his car, notes in hand and highlighter in mouth. He intently eyes a gray, four-door Camry, parked nearby. As soon as the passenger door opens and a girl emerges, the boy jumps up and slides in to take her place.

In the other cars, some containing as many as four people, students sit waiting to see the doctor.

As soon as a spot opens up, I dash for it. I open the door and slip into the front seat beside Doctor Research. He wears dark sunglasses, a Mets cap and a zip-up hooded sweatshirt. He looks to be in his thirties and has a red face with chapped lips.

He speaks to his young clients in a business-like but soft tone. At times, he seems almost eager to befriend them. He makes plans to call some of them later at night to discuss their papers further.

He takes pride in knowing some of them personally. When a girl brings up another girl’s name, Doctor Research says, "Oh, yes. She’s your roommate, right?"

Two girls and a guy are crammed in the back seat. One of the girls hands me a clipboard. On the clipboard is a form giving the terms of the agreement. The doctor does not require a down payment but insists on payment in full, in cash, when the paper is picked up.

There are spaces for name, phone number, school, course, professor and signature. There are also a few lines devoted to an explanation of the paper sought ("be as specific as possible!") There is a space to check off the following, if required: 3.5 disk ($1 extra), bibliography, MLA or APA format.

At the bottom of the form, in italics, is a message from Doctor Research indicating that, if caught, a student will be subject to the penalties of his or her school, and recommending that the paper be used for research only.

But when the boy in the back seat suggests that he write some of his paper himself, Doctor Research warns, "I don’t think that’s a very good idea because then you’ll have to blend your writing with mine."

As students climb in and out of the car, Doctor Research turns to me and smirks. "Nice little business I have here, isn’t it?" he says.

As people walk up to his open window, a sort of drive through for paper pick-up, he hands them a large yellow envelope and gets a business-sized white one in return.

At $9 a page (the price has gone up $1 a page since last spring), he negotiates with his clients. Someone wants a one-page introduction. The doctor says that for the course in question, he usually does a three-page introduction. Then he glances at the professor’s name and admits, "Although, she’s new to the department so I don’t know…"

I place my order for a four-page paper about the accomplishments of the mathematician Archimedes for the course Development of Math, although I’d already turned in my own paper two weeks earlier.

The doctor looks over my form. "Aaaahh, Montclair," he says knowingly.

He tells me he’s done 10 papers for the course in the past few years and that they’ve all received A’s.

The bartering in the car continues.

"Lydia wants to know if you can do her take-home test; it’s multiple choice," a blonde girl in the back seat says.

The doctor seems to know Lydia. "Tell her I’ll have to look up all of the answers in the book and that will take a lot of time. I’d have to charge between $100 and $200," he proposes.

A boy comes up to the window. "Can I have your hours?" he asks.

The doctor hands him a business card and the boy walks away.

"Hey! Don’t wait till the last minute, huh?" Doctor Research calls after him.

Then he turns to me and says confidentially, "He always does. Well if he wants to pay $12 a page, that’s fine with me. Last May, he came to me the day before a paper was due at the end of the semester and I charged him $15 a page. He paid it, too. Some people have to wait till the end of the semester. It’s in their blood."

He tells me to pick up my paper in five days. The paper will cost me $36 and the doctor wants me to write that amount and my initials on the envelope containing the money.

I ask him how I can be sure of a good grade.

"90 percent of my clients get A’s and B’s," Doctor Research assures me. "I’ll take care of you."

As I prepare to climb out of the car, he introduces himself as Steve and says it’s nice to meet me.

Doctor Research is only in Brother Bruno’s from 12:15-12:30 p.m. on Saturdays, the day I am to pick up my paper. I arrive early at 11:45 a.m. but already, students are waiting.

A boy in a Bergenfield High School football jacket taps on the car window of a girl smoking a cigarette.

"That guy who writes papers, he’ll be here soon?" he asks and the girl nods.

This time, I slip into the back seat of the Camry. A girl with sleepy eyes and curly hair sits in the front, clutching a literature anthology. The doctor tells her that the professor he is doing her paper for knows of his operation.

"Oh, I know," the girl sighs. "He mentioned it to our section. He said he can tell when it’s not the student’s work and that only makes us look stupid." She rolled her eyes.

"Well," the doctor said. "I’m having everyone buy the disk and print it out on their own computers for him."

"Yeah, that’s what I was going to do," the girl agrees. "He wants to see a first draft so I’m gonna print it out and make mistakes and show that to him as a first draft."

The doctor nods.

"That’ll be $86," he says to her.

A few moments later, I hand him my envelope and watch him sift through dozens of his own before handing one to me.

"Hope to see you again," he says as I exit the car.

When I get home, I find a flyer in the envelope reminding me to use the paper only for assistance. "The enclosed research materials are intended to supplement students’ own research efforts. Otherwise, students are only cheating THEMSELVES out of an education," it reads.

But Doctor Research has typed a cover page with my name, the course and the professor on it.

The paper is excellent and well researched, much better than the one I handed in weeks ago. At six pages, I even got more than I paid for and the good doctor has thrown in the bibliography for free. Unlike a trip to my real doctor, both visits with Doctor Research have been quick, hassle-free and virtually painless.

http://chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/franktermpprs.html | furrg@alpha.montclair.edu | HTML'd 26 Jan 1999