Academic ghostwriting

The demands of the professors’ association

Academic ghostwriting is sometimes reputed to support candidates who pass on foreign papers as their own exams. In fact, it can not be ruled out that a few of the bachelor’s, master’s, and master’s theses submitted to universities have not been written by those who assure their authorship by swearing an affidavit.

So is academic ghostwriting a kind of aiding to fraud? Legally, the situation is clear for ghostwriters and agencies. Neither is it punishable to create or convey texts (also scientific ones) for a fee, nor do the agencies know what happens to the texts or parts of texts they sell – whether they were written for information purposes, because a professor wants to publish a new textbook, whether they sink into the burdens of bureaucracy because an administrative officer is unable to produce a scientific report for his superiors, or whether a student is actually the principal.

Before considering debunking ghostwriters, as required by the professors’ association’s media efforts, longtime ivory tower dwellers should definitely take a look at the uncomfortable realities.

The question of whether academic ghostwriting is not illegal is understandable and partly justified against the background of lack of information and wild rumors. However, answering them with a simple “yes” makes it too easy, because the “symptom” academic ghostwriting has its roots deep in the current education system.

A ban on this activity would be superficial and would obscure the actual problem. It is worthwhile to look at several aspects, in particular the university environment, the implementation of a possible ghostwriting ban on academic texts and the effects of such a ban. The series of articles will address these topics in the coming weeks and months and finally answer the title question.

Why you can make it easy today

Students who find it difficult to write semester papers or theses today are subject to numerous temptations to get their work done. Maybe, so the calculation, it is enough to get some texts from the Internet and to change them slightly. Maybe a fellow student can help with the creation of the text.

As a rule, universities endeavor to put a stop to such activities. There is also a sizeable arsenal of possibilities for this: the facilitators and examiners can detect suspiciously good wordings on search engines, can pinpoint students through critical questions, threaten punishments, and reject work. The exact examination of a work, however, requires a certain effort, which is not always provided.

In contrast to the primitive “Copy and Paste”, the presentation of a work created by a scientific ghostwriter seems to be a sure thing. No examiner can prove to a student that they did not write the paper themselves.

The only defense against students who do this is personal contact: If a student presents a work whose level is, for example, far above the level shown so far, it is worth asking a few critical questions about the text, its structure and its reasoning. If the answers are poor then it can be assumed that something is wrong with the work – or rather the authorship.

At many universities, however, there is hardly any personal contact between students and examiners. In the context of the increasing economisation of all spheres of life, the universities are geared towards efficiency thinking, in which high numbers of students are to be passed through the study with as little effort as possible.

This also means increased pressure on professors and especially on the academic middle class. As a result, examiners also try, unless they are more comfortable anyway, to distribute their workload on the high number of students.

As the number of jobs increases sharply, correcting for mass processing leaves little room for individual attention and critical demands beyond the mandatory 2.5 or 4cm margin. This environment ensures that even students who have worked with a ghostwriter have a better chance of being unrecognized.

For example, suppose the college association defied its call to criminalize academic ghostwriting …

Next, suppose the legislature leaned over the lobbyists and tried to lay the groundwork for a ban. What would these look like?
First of all, it should be clear which activities are meant exactly. Already this first phase of definition brings little to be overcome difficulties:

Which types of text are meant? How does a “scientific” differ from a popular science text? Is it the notes, the footnotes, the length of the bibliography? It should be noted that it is not sufficient to give only rough framework data, instead clearly measurable criteria must exist that can not be reinterpreted by resourceful lawyers at the first opportunity.

What is academic ghostwriting? How is it ensured that academic ghostwriters are punished, members of the middle school or student assistants who gather material for professors and formulate texts, but are exempted?

What about the article written by a university employee and on which the name of the chair holder appears? Where is the limit? What is the situation of document delivery services? Can no more scientific text be written without naming the authors?

This would affect all clients who decorate themselves scientifically with “foreign feathers”, ie parties, foundations and social organizations. In principle, even the scientific service of the Bundestag would be jailed with one leg.


How should the ban be enforced? A ban without control would be largely ineffective. For a control but missing not only the human resources, but the associated know-how.

The short list presented here is certainly only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” of problems that would bring an actual ban with it.
It can not be assumed that these aspects should not be known to the professors’ association. The demand thus proves to be an attempt to attract attention or to distract attention from its own omissions (for example in the case of Guttenberg).

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