Montreal-based business UnemployedProfessors.com is billing itself as a fool-proof way for students to circumvent plagiarizing software without doing their own assignments by providing customers with original content written – allegedly – by actual academics.
Unemployed Professors currently employs 30 professors, according to the Montreal Gazette.
The website operates through a bidding process in which professors compete for requests submitted by students.
The Daily submitted a prompt to the website to evaluate these bids, and within minutes of submitting a prompt for a generic history assignment using 15 primary sources, two professors had bid on the project.
Using the pseudonym “Professor-Rogue,” the first bidder demanded $250 for the ten-page paper, promising a two-day delivery.
Professor-Rogue’s profile stated that they hold an “Ivy League BA, Ivy League MA (Sociology), Ivy League MA (Political Science) and a Big State School PhD (Political Science).” On the Unemployed Professors blog, Professor-Rogue claimed to hold “a relatively good position at a top-flight University.”
The Daily could not verify these claims.
Professor-Rogue also described themselves as an “academic prostitute.”
“When I write a custom essay, I’m selling my cognitive function, my ability to regurgitate complex information in a coherent way,” Professor-Rogue wrote on their blog.
Professor-Rogue received a rating of five stars on the website, based on 71 student reviews. One anonymous student commented, “Excellent work, as usual! Exhaustively researched and persuasive.”Another claimed that “[the work] was so well done, I thought my teacher wouldn’t even think it was me who wrote it!”
The second bid for The Daily’s prompt was from “History-Mistress,” who asked for seven days to complete the project at a rate of $25 per page.
Although the company claims all of its writers are “current and former academics and graduate students who teach their own classes, with advanced graduate degrees,” History-Mistress only claimed to have a Bachelor of Arts from “a top tier school” on their profile page.
The Daily did not accept either bid.
In defence of its service, Unemployed Professors states on its website, “the academic system is already so corrupt, we’re totally cool with [being really unethical].”
Professor-Rogue echoed this sentiment in a blog post entitled “Don’t Hate Da Playa; Hate Da Game,” in which he stated that “the PhD market is oversaturated” and that administrators and football coaches are “pocketing mad cash.”
“Education has become a commodity,” wrote Professor-Rogue.
Linda Jacobs Starkey, interim Dean of Students at McGill and Chair of the Enrolment and Student Affairs Advisory Committee (ESAAC) Subcommittee on Academic Integrity, told The Daily, “As an academic, Chair of the Subcommittee on Academic Integrity, the existence of such sites is clearly disappointing. That our students could be drawn to them is a big concern. It’s too bad these sites are there and that students use them.”
“Students that use the service are not trying to scam the system,” she continued. “Students could fall down on a paper and make bad choice and we have to wonder what went wrong. These students lack confidence as learners to express [their] analysis and interpretation.”
Beginning this semester, graduate students must complete a mandatory online academic integrity tutorial. Next year it will be mandatory for undergraduates as well.
“Notions of research ethics and academic integrity have impact. If we prepare our students about academic integrity, and if they have confidence to show their thinking, we can prevent plagiarism,” said Starkey.
U3 History and Political Science student Samuel Felix Harris, whose friend has used a similar service, believes that Unemployed Professors “shows a bad flaw in the academic system…a blatant example of when the system is broken” and that students use the website out of desperation, “[seeing] no other way of completing these papers they have to submit.”
“Because of the academic integrity warning published on every syllabus at McGill, everyone knows what plagiarism is,” he said. “Arts papers are easier to plagiarize because you can get away with writing a paper without attending a class.”
He added that while plagiarism detection software such as Turnitin is a “decent idea”, “requiring research proposals would be helpful in preventing plagiarism because they force you to engage in the topic you are purportedly going to write about.”
According to the Committee on Student Discipline Annual Report published by the McGill Senate, 164 allegations of plagiarism were made at the University in 2010-2011, 31 of which were against graduate students. 55 students were ultimately exonerated.