This morning I got an e-mail from Davao City, bringing an article to my attention, and asking me to do an episode of The Explainer on it.
Let me quote from that e-mail:
I wonder if you have discussed the issue on ‘online writing’ in your show…
Pity that I didn’t run a thread before working for them. It turned out that we were writing academic papers for lazy students abroad. But while on it, I would receive follow-up phone calls at 12 midnight or 4am from who I believe to be a Filipino call center agent (the accent). It’s like Filipino professionals helping foreigners to rip off Filipino professionals.
I asked the sender if the information above came from person experience, and here’s a portion of the reply:
It’s a shame Sir, but I did for almost 2 weeks this April 09. I remember making a historiographic essay on Joan of Arc and an architectural analysis of The New York Times Heardquarters building…
Then, I saw this report on Fox (or CNN, not sure now) which discussed about the triviality of the homework and a local school’s effort of purging the practice due to the number of essay mills offering custom papers for a pay.
So I quit and run a thread online. I learned that a number of Filipino writers (and Indians) have been scammed since 2006! Most of them got quite nasty while a few felt like their passion was ill-used (helping students to cheat).
Finally, this person’s views on why the issue needs to be discussed:
As a Filipino and a teacher at that, I feel like in the losing end if this will be discussed by foreign media. The question on ethics, plagiarism, the parasitism of the third world, the (in)dignity of the Filipino professionals, the practice being currently adapted in our colleges and universities… among others… I guess, need to be comprehensively discussed.
The article in question is Cheating Goes Global as Essay Mills Multiply: From Virginia to Manila: on the trail of papers for cash published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.In a nutshell, the article is an expose on companies that write academic papers for a fee. A case study of sorts is used in the article, focusing on entrepreneurs from Ukraine who set up dummy American companies and then operate an academic paper sweatshop in the Philippines:
Call any of the company’s several phone numbers and you will always get an answer. Weekday or weekend, day or night. The person on the other end will probably be a woman named Crystal or Stephanie. She will speak stilted, heavily accented English, and she will reveal nothing about who owns the company or where it is located. She will be unfailingly polite and utterly unhelpful.
If pressed, Crystal or Stephanie will direct callers to a manager named Raymond. But Raymond is almost always either out of the office or otherwise engaged. When, after weeks of calls, The Chronicle finally reached Raymond, he hung up the phone before answering any questions.
But while the company’s management may be publicity shy, sources familiar with its operations were able to shed some light. Essay Writers appears to have been originally based in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. While the company claims to have been in business since 1997, its Web sites have only been around since 2004. In 2007 it opened offices in the Philippines, where it operates under the name Uniwork.
The company’s customer-service center is located on the 17th floor of the Burgundy Corporate Tower in the financial district of Makati City, part of the Manila metropolitan area. It is from there that operators take orders and answer questions from college students. The company also has a suite on the 16th floor, where its marketing and computer staff members promote and maintain its Web sites. This involves making sure that when students search for custom essays, its sites are on the first page of Google results. (They’re doing a good job, too. Recently two of the first three hits for “buy an essay” were Essay Writers sites.) One of its employees, who describes herself as a senior search-engine-optimization specialist at Uniwork, posted on her Twitter page that the company is looking for copy writers, Web developers, and link builders.
Some of the company’s writers work in its Makati City offices. Essay Writers claims to have more than 200 writers, which may be true when freelancers are counted. A dozen or so, according to a former writer, work in the office, where they are reportedly paid between $1 and $3 a page – much less than its American writers, and a small fraction of the $20 or $30 per page customers shell out. The company is currently advertising for more writers, praising itself as “one of the most trusted professional writing companies in the industry.”
It’s difficult to know for sure who runs Essay Writers, but the name Yuriy Mizyuk comes up again and again. Mr. Mizyuk is listed as the contact name on the domain registration for essaywriters.net, the Web site where writers for the company log in to receive their assignments. A lawsuit was filed in January against Mr. Mizyuk and Universal Research by a debt-collection company. Repeated attempts to reach him – via phone and e-mail – were unsuccessful. Customer-service representatives profess not to have heard of Mr. Mizyuk.
Installed in its Makati City offices, according to a source close to the company, are overhead cameras trained on employees. These cameras reportedly send a video feed back to Kiev, allowing the Ukrainians to keep an eye on their workers in the Philippines. This same source says Mr. Mizyuk regularly visits the Philippines and describes him as a smallish man with thinning hair and dark-rimmed glasses. “He looks like Harry Potter,” the source says. “The worst kind of Harry Potter.”
So there you go. The article includes a presentation, Journey to the Center of an Essay Mill, which gives an online tour of what essay-mill writers see when they log on to the company’s website.