College kids don’t like writing papers; no newsflash there. But the behavior that accompanies this assignment anxiety can look very different depending on the student. Some plan ahead, crafting outlines and slogging through multiple drafts. Some procrastinate, pulling all-nighters and drinking boatloads of coffee. Some, according to Nick Mamatas for The Smart Set, whip out their credit cards, forgoing the work and buying an essay from a term paper mill.
“The Term Paper Artist” details Mamatas' stint as the writer on the other side of this transaction. For several years, he wrote term papers for students willing and able to dole out the money for one. A broker connected him with the students, who he identifies in three camps: “DUMB CLIENTS,” one-timers, and non-native English speakers. Mamatas bluffed his way through their requests—be it theological reflections, literature critiques, or historical investigations—and earned the funds that helped him buy his first house.
The essay reads salaciously, kind of like a bad Dateline exposé. It’s full of cheap thrills, particularly those that come at the expense of his former clients, like the one who needed a paper on “Plah-toe” or the one who couldn’t identify the body of the paper without help from Mamatas. For his part, Mamatas spins himself into the kind of character who ought to occupy such a narrative, presenting the term paper artist as a largely unrepentant bad boy. He hints at a vague guiltiness, but any such feeling seems to get drowned out by his obvious scorn for the students he sold papers to.
That is to say, there’s little big-picture reflection about term paper mills or post-secondary education. This seems to be mirrored in the thin response to the essay. Even On the Media treats the story as a sleazy curiosity. It’s a shame, because Mamatas’ story highlights a string of breakdowns in post-secondary writing education that might merit deeper exploration: admissions policies that accept students unprepared for college coursework, overcrowded classrooms that allow struggling students to slip under the radar, and lack of access to auxiliary writing help, to name a few.