Just issue a diploma already
The most depressing text of the week arrived in a link a commenter provided to the post, “Would you buy a used term paper from these people?” It was to an article, “The Shadow Scholar,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education by a man who makes $66,000 a year writing term papers and theses on order for university students. That’s his half of the take, split with the online service that engages him and steers the customers to him.
His clients can be classified in three main categories: absolutely hopeless students who are simply unqualified for university-level work, foreign students whose ESL classes have not made them sufficiently fluent in English, and the lazy rich who are accustomed to having other people do the heavy lifting for them.*
So at the start we have evidence of widespread acceptance of cheating to get undergraduate and graduate degrees—he finds that seminarians are particularly pleasant, though he is dubious about their ethical guidance.**
But there is more. He doesn’t go to the library to swot up subjects of which he has no knowledge. A page or two from a Google search gives him some quotes and jargon, and his ability to inflate sentences with meaningless words—he can turn four words into forty without breaking a sweat—carries him the rest of the way.
Let’s ponder the interconnected elements of the Higher Learning described in this article. We have (a) unqualified students willing to cheat to acquire (earn seems wrong here) degrees, (b) submitting superficial and largely vacuous texts, (c) which are approved by instructors who are unaware that they are being had or who are merely willing to process these cattle through the yards.
At the root, I think, is a culture that values credentials more than education. Anyone who does not have an undergraduate degree is automatically assumed to be ignorant and unqualified for serious work, while anyone who does possess the diploma, not matter how palpable a dolt, will get consideration.
My solution, admittedly a partial and imperfect one, is the traditional democratic remedy of Giving the People What They Want.
I propose that we issue every infant a bachelor’s degree along with the birth certificate.*** Then the colleges and universities could convert their athletic programs into commercial enterprises, the returns of which would underwrite scaled-down academic programs for that minority who actually want to be educated and who are, at a minimum, necessary to keep the nation operational. Gaudeamus igitur.
*Before we go on, let me forestall remarks about how much better things were in the old days when we had Standards. It has always been the case that even the prestige colleges and universities catered to the lazy rich—you may recall the phrases “gentleman’s C” and “legacy student”—as they learned how to hold their liquor and locate a spouse of the appropriate class. And if you like (but you won’t), I can quote at length from H.L. Mencken’s mordant remarks about the intelligence of professoriate of the past century.
**Speaking as someone in the pew for nearly five decades of sermons, I have to ask: If the reverend clergy are plagiarizing, why in the name of God are they not stealing higher-grade stuff?
***Not that I’m proposing some disgusting librul classless society. Ivy League bachelor’s degrees would be available for well-off parents to purchase as an upgrade.