Charles McGrath has written a part deux to his expose of term paper mills in today’s Week in Review section of the NYT. Let it be noted that Mr. McGrath has for some reason not discovered the Pakistani Crime Syndicate we unearthed after his article last week. The paper he commissioned this week, a comparison of Brave New World and 1984, cost a whopping $49.75 and was delivered quite late. Interestingly, it was wholly unoriginal and had been plagiarized line by line. This essay was commissioned from the allegedly Pakistani outfit Term Paper Relief, that same website that had been accused of hiring an American designer to make it look legit.
I have to admit I am kind of disappointed. I had fantasized, I now realize, that these Pakistani term-paper mills were poignant efforts on the part of cash-strapped PhDs just trying to make ends meet. I had imagined a group of young intellectuals, or perhaps some greying scholars of the humanities, sitting down and pouring their hearts into these term papers. Late at night, by the light of a dim bulb over a crummy old desk stacked high with novels like Heart of Darkness and The Great Gatsby, a group of old friends, PhD class of ’62, would smoke cigarette after cigarette and argue about what qualities really make Gatsby a quintessentially American protagonist and how we might analyze the conditions presented in 1984 in light of the fact that that calendar year has already passed.
Many of these services even offer to write dissertations! How could they do that, I had wondered, without doing substantial research on the proposed topic themselves? Would the dissertation client send in his or her research notes and then have the service provider put them together to form a cogent argument? Where would the theory come from? Would it cost extra to have the argument fit into a particular theoretical framework? But now that we know that this service is nothing better than an expensive recycling plant, I would advise my graduate student friends, those of you who may be experiencing a frisson of sinful temptation at the thought of a possible shortcut, some way out of this madness that will still give you something to frame and put on the wall, I would caution you against commissioning your doctoral theses from these enterprises. After all, how would academia survive if it were built on a foundation of recycled ideas, shaky transitional arguments and scholars who don’t know how to parse a sentence?