By Michelle Halpern
Ryerson’s new high-tech defence against plagiarism is useless against work created by private essay-writers, admits Diane Schulman, secretary of the academic council.
“If these services actually write the essays, which they say they do, we just can’t catch them,” Schulman said. “Concerns have been raised at academic council meetings, but we still haven’t found a solution.”
Turnitin.com, a web service which Ryerson paid thousands of dollars to subscribe to earlier this year, promises to catch plagiarized essays by comparing them to a large database of texts and other essays. But if the essay hasn’t been written before, the web site can’t flag it.
Custom Essay Service promises to deliver essays that can beat turnitin.com. Located in a shabby room just outside the Toronto Reference Library, the service guarantees an original, custom-crafted essay for the small price of $30 per page.
“What we’re doing is not illegal,” said a man at Custom Essay who wouldn’t provide his name. The company’s policy, inconspicuously printed on its door, states that the material provided is to be used for research purposes only.
“As far as we’re concerned, you’re not handing it in,” he said.
That’s why they can’t provide a grade guarantee. If they did, they would be openly acknowledging and encouraging plagiarism.
What most essay services do guarantee is that their writers are professional, with at least one university degree. “We have writers that re specialists in different areas,” said a woman at Quality Research and Term Papers, who also refused to identify herself. “Some of them even have PhDs.”
But you’ll have to take their word for it. Customers are never allowed to meet or even know anything about the person writing their papers. “We’re ghost writers,” said the man at Custom Essay. “We’ll never give out the names of any … writers.”
And it seems students don’t care. Essay Experts, in North York, said most of their clients return, so they assume students are satisfied with the system the way it is.
Or perhaps they just don’t question it anymore. For some of these companies, this is the way business has been for nearly 35 years.
Students fill out a form with the details of their assignment, their course of study and their level. Fourth-year and graduate students can expect to pay more for their papers.
“We custom design your paper to match your language and academic level,” Custom Essay claims on its website. “Whether you are a pre-college student with English as your second language or you are a PhD student proficient in the language.”
Most services require at least one week’s notice for major essays and term papers, but for a few dollars extra, they’re willing to have it ready in as little as two days.
And while some accept major credit cards and even Interac, others deal strictly in bash. One service, advertised on virtually every display board at Ryerson, will arrange to meet you somewhere on campus. You bring the cash, they bring the paper.
Schulman finds the idea of students paying others to do their schoolwork appalling.
“Everybody who gets out of Ryerson should have worked hard for their degree.
“People who use these services make other Ryerson students look bad in the workforce,” she said.
Employers might be hesitant to hire Ryerson students if they find out they are using these services, she added.
Unless, of course, they have a brilliant job application prepared by an essay-writing service. Not only will they help you pay your way through school, most services will also write your letters, employee reports, or company speeches.
Although turnitin.com is a useful tool in catching plagiarism, Ryerson recognizes that there are circumstances in which it has little effect on cheaters.
Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse says turnitin.com was simply an option the university has chosen to explore in an effort to slow the spread of academic theft, and not a fail-proof device.
“Cheating hurts everyone at Ryerson. It hurts the quality of your degree,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I don’t think anybody believes [turnitin.com] is the answer to cheating. There will always be people who find new ways to plagiarise. But this is one tool, a pretty non-expensive tool, that is available to us.”