Cheaters Do Prosper  by Steve Knopper

The Trail of Tears

Was it unjust and inhumane? What happened to the Cherokee during that long and treacherous journey? They were brave and...

[Editor's note: Wait a second. What does it have to do with the Internet? This sounds more like the beginning of a bad high school history paper.]

[Author's note: Right. Umm, OK. Sorry. Here goes again.]

I understand that some students that have already graduated from college are having a bit of trouble getting their new businesses started. I know of a tool that will be extremely helpful and is already available to them: the Internet.

[Editor's note: Stop right there! I wrote that intro on a paper back in college. I remember because I stayed up all night drinking Jolt Cola, listening to Anthrax and pricking myself with pins.]

[Author's note: That explains the punctuation errors.]

[Editor's note: Listen, wise guy, I got a B+ on that masterpiece. Where did you get that intro from, anyway?]

[Author's note: I downloaded the Trail of Tears paragraph from the School Sucks Web site and the Internet one from the Evil House of Cheat, just two of the many Web sites that have copies of recycled research papers. You want something else? Maybe a biology report on Huntington's Disease? A creative-writing story about renovating a palazzo? A law study of Marbury vs. Madison? ]

[Editor's note: Look, just write the story you were assigned to do--in your own words.]

Kenny Sahr gets an A+ for rationalization. He says his Web page--, one of many term-paper-trading resources on the Internet-- isn't simply a seedy den for student cheaters. It's a detailed critique of the world's school systems. The term papers he posts, which many students simply download and turn in, aren't the problem. They're a symptom.

"This site is not about plagiarism," says Sahr, a fast-talking 25-year-old who has been running School Sucks for more than a year. "One of the arguments I get from professors is 'These papers suck.' My attitude is, these papers are reflective of the students of the world. How dare (professors) say that? I absolutely reject that. Any professor who thinks the papers suck should go learn how to teach."

See the logic? The papers are horribly written, and yet students can turn them in and, occasionally, get good grades. Therefore, it's the school system's fault. Sahr continues to rant: The tenure system encourages lazy teachers; communications classes are archaic; professors without even a minor in education are bad for colleges; athletes zip by in easy classes while professors look the other way. "There is something really wrong going on here," he says. "This education system is a farce."

Because School Sucks has a catchy name and a controversial reputation, Sahr has been rewarded with a media pulpit from which he can spread his views. Since last June, the Miami resident and former Israeli soldier says he has done over 300 interviews for stories in publications such as the Washington Post Online, Newsweek Online, the Detroit News and People. His overriding purpose, he says, is not to profit from the black-market term-paper trade. It's to draw attention to his arguments about the educational system.

Presented with Sahr's line of reasoning, Northwestern University computer science professor Joseph Walther pauses briefly, before erupting in loud, sincere laughter for several seconds. "I don't think we have a mediocre educational system at the institution of my current employ," he says.

"I've looked at one of those (term paper) sites," Walther says. "It worried me when I first heard about it and then I looked at the quality of the papers there and I'm not worried anymore. Anyone who turns in a paper like that would not pass my class."

Most students are inclined not to cheat, says Donald G. Marshall, head of the English department at the University of Illinois-Chicago. (Notably, UIC was recently listed along with Harvard University and the University of Texas on School Sucks' list of "Slacker Schools of the Week." This is apparently based on Sahr's informal poll of his site's paper traders.) "This is sort of 'Dog bites man'--the real story is that the millions of students who could cheat don't," Marshall says. "A tiny fraction cheat. People love to exaggerate things, but most people are honest.

"I understand, being a human being, substituting the wrong goal for the real goal. There's always somebody in society who's exploiting people's weaknesses and trying to make money out of it. That's something they do cold-bloodedly in their own interests. It's kind of a cynical exploitation of a student's weaknesses. That's really reprehensible. That's really evil."

For as long as there have been colleges, there have been services for lazy or struggling students to buy pre-written term papers. If professors had the power to do anything about them, those long-running "TERM PAPER BLUES?" ads at the back of Rolling Stone would have disappeared long ago. But the Internet has made shady transactions so much easier. Plug "term papers" into Yahoo! and more than a dozen working Web addresses for paper-trading sites come up.

It's hard to tell, on the surface, which of these sites profit from students' cheat money and which simply help frustrated paper-writers come up with ideas and hard-to-find documents. Almost every site contains a disclaimer: "For research or informational purposes only." Technically, this means you can't turn in a paper for class credit. In practice, on the Internet, the agreement carries as much weight as "Stop! You must be 18 or older to proceed."

There are for-profit sites, such as the Term Paper Warehouse, which charges $6.50 a page for prewritten papers on "How to Change Your Oil" or "The Declining Power of Europe." There are free sites with a hidden agenda, like Sahr's. And there are free sites run by actual students, including the pseudonymous 17-year-old San Jose, Calif., resident "Steve Case," who started his page with friends' term-paper donations. "It is a free country," he says. "People can do what they like with them."

School Sucks, thanks to Sahr's uncanny ability to promote himself through the national media, is the most prominent "cheating" site. "I answer every e-mail I get from professors--well over 500. I'm probably misnumbering it by thousands," Sahr says. "A lot of times they call up yelling and screaming...I explain to them the reasons for this site and they understand.

"The letters we get from the students are gems. They're so funny. First of all, they think we'll send anything to them. We'll get 10 messages a day saying 'I need a paper on...' All these Beavises and Butt-heads out there saying, 'Anything on math. Please! I can't do math!' You can almost see the desperation."

Sahr, who also hawks a rock tape-trading network and his Israeli travel book on the page, hopes to incorporate his musings about School Sucks into a second book. But recently his competitors have started to pay attention to his self-promotional reputation: " sucks up to the media so just bugs me," says Jonathan Bagot, an 18-year-old college student who runs the year-old Term Paper Emporium. And Peter Revson, managing research consultant of the more reputable High Performance Papers, says Sahr's true purpose is to just "elicit ads."

Revson's six-year-old company, owned by two attorneys and based just south of Milwaukee, is in a tricky position. High Performance Papers makes decent money-- of the Web page's 600 hits a day, Revson says, 60 become paid orders--providing what the company terms "Professionally Prepared Research Documents." He says his clients are professionals who can't write; foreign students who need help finding English-language research; and rural residents whose local libraries have sparse resources. Almost nobody, he says, has ever tried to buy one of the company's documents and turn it in for class credit.

Yet High Performance Papers still fights the negative perception created by School Sucks or the Evil House of Cheat. Revson says such sites "give the industry a bad name."

Revson has talked a few times with Jens Schriver, a 19-year-old Copenhagen, Denmark, student who has been running the Evil House of Cheat for more than two years. He says he can't fault Schriver for wanting to make a few bucks. (For the record, Schriver defends his site's holy purposes, too: "It's a library. A research center. In that light, it is something very positive.")

But Revson says the title "Evil House of Cheat"--not to mention a huge ad banner for a phone-sex page, displayed prominently at the top of the site--doesn't exactly help the site's image as a research foundation. Schriver says he would never consider changing the site's name. "Who would be interested?" he asks. "It's an eye- catcher. If it wasn't a bit provocative, it would just seem boring."

In the end, Schriver admits, money is "the main reason it is still up. I wouldn't do it if I lost money on it." Though Revson says some states have laws preventing second-hand term paper distribution, there's certainly nothing illegal about them on the Internet. Still, many fed-up advocates of honest education--not to mention people out to make a few bucks--have been trying to steer desperate students from cheating pages to more positive study pages. Infonautics, the Wayne, Pa., company best known for its Electric Library media database, even took the unusual step of advertising its homework-helper page on School Sucks. is "Gallant" to School Sucks' "Goofus." Its search engines scour dozens of the Electric Library's newspapers and magazines, including Newsday and the Los Angeles Times, for matching articles. There's a chat room, a writing center with tips on grammar and conciseness, and a directory of topic ideas. So it's not surprising that Tom Damico, the company's business development manager, says he's "100 percent against" School Sucks and its founder's values.

"Does our ad on give it credibility and make it legit?" Damico asks. "I really don't think it does. Our ad is such dirt-cheap advertising, it's not going to make it worthwhile for anybody. We think [School Sucks] is definitely getting a lot of eyeballs by students interested in the concept," Damico says. "But I'm guessing that the great majority of students would never cheat or take advantage of these sites...The fact remains: You've got to write a research paper. Why don't you come to our site? It's really letting people take advantage of the Internet."

In conclusion, then, the Cherokee survived the hardships of the Trail of Tears and the loss of their loved ones and all that belonged to them. Their population continues to grow inspite of the immense...

[Editor's note: Hold it, hold it. "Inspite of?" And what's with the Cherokees again?]

[Author's note: I couldn't think of an ending, so I took a quick spin back to School Sucks. Much easier that way! It was either the Cherokees or that palazzo renovation. What is a palazzo anyway?]

[Editor's note: Listen, I'm sick of this. Just end this story in your own words or I'll download your paycheck from the School Sucks page.]

Sahr, who with a partner runs an Internet content marketing company called Moonstone, is frank about his secondary motives. Yes, he says, he would like to make money off School Sucks. And while his growing media profile hasn't set off an avalanche of new business, it hasn't hurt business either. But money isn't the bottom line, Sahr says: "My concerns are the concerns of my students. Just by having the papers out there, it's keeping the professors on their toes."

Responds Marshall, the UIC's English department head: "The odor of rationalization is just all over that."


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