Freelance professionals often have to scramble to make ends meet. But what would you do if a client asked you to do something unethical?
As a freelance media professional, I get all sorts of strange requests for content. One client wants me to write about women in motorcycling. Another wants me to edit his podcast about lichens and bryophytes -- the mossy stuff that grows on other living things. Off-the-wall requests, yes, but nothing I can't handle.
Then comes a request that makes me stop and think. A client sends me an email and asks me to write term papers for college students. Not only that, the client wants me to actually pose as a student and sit in for online college courses.
As I am reading the email, the memory of covering a college basketball cheating scandal, back when I was a college reporter myself, comes to mind. Like then, I feel a tremendous swell of disgust bubbling to the surface. People actually do that, and get away with it? Who are these people -- and what professions will they one day be in? Are these the future doctors and lawyers of America, who we trust to be top-notch in their fields?
It's not illegal to buy a term paper, suggests a paper published on Stanford University's website -- but it is illegal to pass the paper off as your own. In other words, students are supposed to use the paper as guide for writing their own. But will they actually do so?
In an article on Canada's CBC News, one custom term paper writer said he makes more than $30,000 a year writing custom term papers for students who don't want to do the work themselves. The writer, who chose to remain anonymous, says he has more work than he needs -- and the demand is always there. Students are willing to pay high prices because the work is original and will pass through any plagiarism checkers the college or university might have in place.
As a freelancer, I know the challenges of the writing marketplace. Sometimes, I don't sell anything original for weeks and am forced to take on low-paying gigs to keep the rent paid. With that in mind, $150 to $500 per term paper sounds pretty enticing. Add in the thousands I could make by taking someone's online class for them, and I could probably buy that new computer I've been eyeing.
On the other hand, that work is not going to be something I would be proud to show others. I wouldn't be able to put it in my portfolio or add it to my resume. Unlike other ghost writing gigs, those term papers are not even something I'd feel comfortable discussing with my colleagues.
I thought about simply ignoring the new client's request and never writing back, but the rabble-rouser in me couldn't keep quiet. This morning I wrote him an email letting him know I thought his business was unethical and that I would not be taking part. Bye-bye. Moving on.
If you're a ghost writer or term paper writer who's making money and proud of what you're doing, feel free to chime in here. Explain why you do what you do (I suspect you're hard up for cash) and what you'd rather be doing.
Image credit: Quinn.anya - Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/6391831325/sizes/z/in/photostream/