Shadow Scholar Rebutted

August 26, 2014 2 5373


Dave Tomar, a self-proclaimed “Shadow Scholar” published a scandalous article in the Chronicle of Higher Education mocking professors that he has been helping students cheat for over a decade and got away with it.  He followed up with an autobiographical book providing a detailed account of his experiences working in the essay-writing business.  The book was full of impetuous outbursts of indignation at the self-serving university administrators who are more interested in lining their pockets than in helping their students.

It would seem that he came forward with these criticisms of the system of education because he wanted to expose the severest problems that it is being plagued by.  Seemingly, he was arguing that academic ghost-writing is a burgeoning business because students feel cheated by the system and for this reason, have no compunction violating the Code of Academic Integrity.  The logical conclusion of this argument would hold that in order to truly change this system, we need to raise the public’s awareness of the grievances that Dave Tomar voiced in his publications.  Paradoxically, he capitulated at the very end of his article conceding “But I understand that in simple terms, I’m the bad guy.  I see where I’m vulnerable to ethical scrutiny.”

Regrettably, logical rigor does not appear to be Tomar’s core competency and the chaotic organizational structure of his book bears testament to that fact.  It is little more than a pastiche of tangentially related themes submerged in an arbitrary succession of crass personal stories.  There are more anecdotes about him reeling out of a bar inebriated out of his mind and fantasizing about the attractive physique of his female customers than thoughtful criticisms of our system of education.

The fact that he claimed to write between 20-40 pages per day clearly suggests that he was a cheap essay-mill scrawler rather than a bona fide academic writer who takes pride in his.  Once again, he published yet another article that contradicted the implicit argument of his original publication in the Chronicle of Higher Education.   Instead of exposing the morally deplorable behavior of the University Administrators, he begins siding with them by helping them detect ghost-written papers.

The article centers on his six essential tips for professors to identify students who have used essay-writing services.  His prelude to the crux of the article is absurd, as per usual. He cites the studies showing that as many as 98 percent of college students may have confessed to cheating, yet he refuses to address the systemic factors that cause them to breach the code of academic honesty.  Instead, he addresses the most superficial aspect of the problem and that is the steps that professors can take to catch students who use ghost-written papers.  Inevitably, this shallow approach to reforming our system of education will simply lead students to avoid detection.  Indeed, by Tomar’s own admission, “Also, if so motivated, a ghostwriter could readily work around many of these telltale signs to produce a fairly undetectable paper.”

These telltale signs are a dead giveaway for papers that were written by essay mills staffed by shoddy writers such as himself, but they will never work on legitimate essay-writing companies.  However, as a customer, you should take the necessary precautions to ensure that we have all of the information we would need to have in order to produce quality papers.

1. Sources – When the professor requires a specific source, make sure you supply it to us. If it is a scholarly article, download it and send it as a PDF attachment.  If it is a book, scan the relevant pages and email them.

2. Style – Tomar insists that because essay-writing companies need to maximize their output, they will often re-use material and engage in “fluffy verbosity” because they get “paid per word rather than graded”. The Shadow Scholar confessed that he engaged in all of these practices and considering the quality of writing in his book, that’s not surprising. Even more alarmingly, he insists that he was available to avoid detection by many of the most sophisticated anti-plagiarism systems.

The only way this could be true is if the majority of his clients did not use and that wouldn’t be surprising as most universities do not use them.  However, re-using previous work is deeply problematic because if the original customer used and the second one does as well, the second client will be accused of plagiarism.  While plagiarism is rampant among degree mills, it will not be tolerated here.

As for “preponderance of writerly flab”, this is something that we can avoid and you as a customer can pick up on that.  Aristotle famously said that brevity is the soul of wit and William Strunk extolled concision as the principal component of an elegant writing style.  We strive for concision and simplicity of exposition, but mistakes will happen occasionally.  If you see any extraneous phrases or “fillers”, please inform us and we will revise your paper free of charge.

3. Content – Always make extra sure that you provide us not only with your assigned readings but also your classroom notes.  Make a special point to inform us of what concepts you’re studying in class, what theoretical frameworks the professor prefers and what other ideas we should thoroughly discuss in your paper.  He is correct, the essential components of a quality paper are not limited to general scholarly merits.  Good papers display considerable knowledge of the specific concepts that were covered in class, so make it a special point to give us as much information as possible about what you’re studying in class. Although this may seem like a tall order, all you need to do is provide a simple account of what theories, key terms and general schools of thought you’ve been covering.  Based on that information, we should be able to complete the assignment in way that appropriately covers the issues discussed in class.

4. Reading the signs – Please pay close attention to our disclaimer: we are here to teach you how to write your own papers.  At the very least, you owe it to yourself to read over our work at least twice and make sure that you are thoroughly familiar with the content of your paper.  Although it may be ill-advised for you to frequently interact with the instructor, you should be able to justify the key positions of the paper in the unlikely event where the professors calls upon you.  If there is any aspect of our work that you do not understand, please do not hesitate to ask us. Our writers will always make a special point to help you understand and justify our work.

In general, you do not need to worry about these telltale signs unless you are in a very small seminar that involves frequent interactions with the professor.  Admission rates of Online Degree Mills are on the rise and the University of Phoenix has the highest admission rates of all universities. They enroll over 300,000 new students per year followed by Ashford, Arizona State and Liberty University.  Also, enrollment rates in Online Universities continue to increase at a much faster pace than enrollment rates at Four Year Institutions.

To compete with the online universities, four year institutions are now forced to offer more online classes.  The number of students taking at least one online course increased by over 570,000 to a new total of 6.7 million.  Even when the conventional universities are offering traditional face to face classes, classrooms are often overpopulated and taught by TAs who have minimal pedagogic experience and tend to be more interested in keeping up with their own classes than teaching well.

In other words, Dave Tomar’s “telltale signs” can help professors spot papers written by shoddy essay mills, but the reality is that most instructors simply don’t care.  They have no incentive to track down students who violate the code of Academic Dishonesty because there is too much of that going on and essay-writing is a burgeoning business.  Moreover, most professors simply are not in the position to be concerned with this kind of a thing because teaching is not a priority for them. Assistant Professors must raise their profile in the community of researchers by publishing acclaimed peer-reviewed articles. Those who fail to do so generally cannot obtain tenure and for obvious reasons, the “publish or perish” ethos leads them to shirk their pedagogic duties.  The young TAs are often under heavy pressure to appease their students because negative reviews could lead them many of their classes to close and if that happens, they could lose their stipend.   For this reason, Assistant Professors generally tend to be more lenient in their grading than tenured professors and TAs more lenient than Assistant Professors. Tenure track professorships are becoming a thing of the past as Universities across the nation continue to supplant full-time professorships with expendable and inexpensive TA positions.

These developments further decrease your chances of being questioned by the professor.  However, Tenured Professors who do not have to worry about their job security have no reason to appease you.  If they truly are committed to restoring the standards of academic rigor and very few of them are, they might try to pressure you into confessing.  Even if they do catch you with one of these “telltale signs”, they’ll have no evidence based on which disciplinary action could be taken against you.  Yet, it is best to avoid being in that position: so please make extra sure you comply with the four tips we’ve outlined in this rebuttal to Tomar’s article.


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