Contract Cheating in Alberta: Quick Facts

September 8, 2021

I originally posted this over on the Alberta Council on Academic Integrity website. I am re-blogging it here so it gets shared more widely.

Alberta Council on Academic Integrity

  • Other terms used to refer to this industry have been “term paper mills”, “essay mills”, “academic consultation services”, or “academic research services”. It is an illicit industry whose main business is providing the means for students to engage in academic misconduct by doing school work on behalf of the student. “Contract cheating” is now the preferred term worldwide.
  • Contract cheating services have been operating for decades. The first known media coverage about term paper mills in Alberta appeared in the Calgary Herald on February 24, 1972.
  • The contract cheating industry is valued at over $15 Billion USD.
  • This is a predatory industry. In 2021 the Better Business Bureau issued a scam alert about contract cheating companies that engage in extortion and blackmail of students who use their services. The industry shares some parallels with organized crime.
  • The Alberta Council on Academic Integrity estimates that over 7,000 Alberta post-secondary students are…

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Ghost Grading: Part 2 – Examining Possible Legal Loopholes in Canada

September 7, 2021

In Part 1 of this series I talked about how contract cheating companies are now targeting professors and teaching assistants (TAs) to offer grading services. Since then, I have done a bit of digging into whether it is legal, or even permissible to outsource one’s grading responsibilities.

I figure if you are hired to for an academic role that includes teaching that would also including taking responsibility for grading and other duties related to assessment. Of course there are provisions to work with a TA in some courses, but TAs are also employees of the university and their work is approved by the institution. In cases like this, working with a TA is a perfectly legitimate activity and there is no deception. Ghost grading is different because it can happen without the knowledge or permission of the employer.

Ghost graders are unauthorized individuals, hired under the table, to perform academic duties that would otherwise be conducted by academic staff or teaching assistants.

Employing ghost graders also deceives students because they have no idea who is assessing their work or who has access to it. Just as educators expect students to complete their assignments themselves, without engaging a third party, so too, should students be able to expect their professors and teaching assistants to assess their work. If a professor or TA hires a ghost grader, the student has no idea what that individual or company might do with their work without their knowledge, such as re-sell it or share it to the contract cheating company or any other additional third party. You can start to see how the practice of using unauthorized ghost graders gets complicated fast. By hiring a ghost grader, educators are breaking trust with their students and their employers.

University faculty members at publicly-funded universities in Canada are often unionized. To my surprise, I found several examples of collective agreements and employment contracts that do not strictly prohibit the outsourcing or sub-contracting of one’s duties. I started with my own university. I searched for the terms “outsource”, “outsourcing”, “subcontract”, and “sub-contract” in our collective agreement for academic staff. I found no matches for these search terms. I reviewed the collective agreement and it was not immediately evident to me that there was any clause that specifically prohibits faculty members from outsourcing their job duties to a third party. (Please note: I am not a lawyer or an expert in contract law.)

I found this puzzling. I am the first to admit that I am not a lawyer, and nor am I an expert on labour laws, collective agreements or contracts. So, I reached out to the University of Calgary Faculty Association (TUCFA) on August 12, 2021 via e-mail to ask for clarification regarding outsourcing in University of Calgary’s collective agreement, but yet to receive a response. To be fair, I am quite sure they remain very busy with matters related to COVID-19 and I will update this blog post if I receive a reply from them.

Out of curiosity, I repeated the search and scan with the collective agreements for academic staff at the University of Alberta (Alberta, Canada), the University of British Columbia (British Columbia, Canada), and Queen’s University (Ontario, Canada) with similar results. As a non-expert, I could find no immediate evidence in any of them that it is prohibited to outsource one’s grading responsibilities, or any other employment duties, for that matter.

I should point out that I have not conducted an in-depth investigation into this. I am situated in Canada and I cannot speak to what happens in any other country. I did not conduct a scan of the collective agreements that cover teaching assistants, but I would not be surprised if the situation was the same.

Following my first blog post on this topic, I received a number of e-mails from individuals telling me stories of professors at their university (in Canada and elsewhere) who regularly outsource their grading duties, paying for services out of their own pocket or under a research grant, classifying them as “professional services”. This is all anecdotal and I cannot substantiate any of it.

What I can say is that it seems there may be a legal loophole, at least in Canada, that would allow contract cheating companies to wiggle into this new line of business of offering grading services to professors and teaching assistants. As with student contract cheating, the companies would not be at fault, particularly since there are no laws in Canada prohibiting these kinds of companies from operating. In other jurisdictions, were laws against contract cheating have been enacted, the focus has been on academic cheating, so there may be loopholes elsewhere that legally allow companies to reach out to faculty and teaching assistants to provide sub-contracting services.

Of course, no collective agreement or employment contract can be exhaustive of all the ways that an employee can engage in misconduct. It could be that there is no clause in these agreements that strictly prohibits outsourcing of work because it falls under a general category of employee misconduct that might be addressed on a case-by-case basis, with investigators considering numerous pieces of evidence and details. It seems bizarre to me that this particular loophole exists, because it has left post-secondary institutions vulnerable to exploitation from commercial third-party providers who profit from various forms of misconduct. And if faculty and teaching assistants do not know that it is unacceptable to outsource their work, then it seems reasonable to expect that some of them might fall prey to companies who promise to ease their stress and relieve them of aspects of their work that they find unrewarding or too time-consuming.

Contract cheating companies are infiltrating higher education faster than ever before; and they may have just found a whole new market for illicit academic outsourcing services with professors and teaching assistants being their target customer base.

Read more:

Ghost Grading: Part 1 – A New Twist on Contract Cheating

Related posts:

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.


Why Universities and Colleges Need Clear Policies to Deal with Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Records and Test Results

August 17, 2021

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With the new academic year just around the corner, universities and colleges are grappling with a return to campus. Some institutions are calling for mandatory vaccine requirements, and the list continues to grow. In Canada, for example, journalists are sharing news of this rapidly changing landscape on a daily basis. Here are just a few examples of news stories from major news outlets:

Just this morning, the President of the University of Calgary sent a campus-wide e-mail stating:

“Starting September 1, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge will require all those coming to campus to undergo regular rapid testing. Those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are exempt from this requirement.

Students, faculty, and staff who are not fully vaccinated, and those who would prefer not to disclose their vaccine status, will need to regularly complete a rapid screening test and receive a negative result before they participate in in-person activities.

Any individual who cannot be tested or vaccinated based on medical or other protected grounds recognized by the Alberta Human Rights Act can request an accommodation.”

The e-mail was signed by all three Alberta university presidents:

  • Bill Flanagan, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Alberta
  • Ed McCauley, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Calgary
  • Mike Mahon, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Lethbridge

I applaud this decision – wholeheartedly and unequivocally.

What was absent from this communication, and most of the communication I have seen about vaccine requirements on campuses, is what the consequences will be for falsifying vaccine documents. On August 9, the Associated Press published an article on how “Fake COVID-19 vaccination cards worry college officials” in the United States.

It is utterly naïve to think that fake COVID-19 test results or vaccination records are limited to the United States or other countries. These are already available for sale for Canadians. I will not include links to these services in this blog post because I do not want to give the impression that I am endorsing any of these services, but you can do a simple Internet search yourself to find out how easy it is to buy these in Canada.

One Canadian news report claimed that fake COVID-19 vaccine passports were available for purchase online for as little as $12. That’s about the same cost as a box of donuts and a couple of coffees from a popular Canadian donut chain restaurant.

A critical question that remains unanswered is: What are the consequences for presenting fake or fraudulent COVID-19 documents on our campuses?

For staff and professors, I expect that human resources departments will be involved. For students, I expect that presenting fake COVID-19 would be a violation of student conduct rules (e.g., academic or non-academic misconduct). What is unclear is how such cases will be dealt with.

Falsifying COVID-10 vaccination status or test results is a willful act of dishonesty and needs to be treated as such.

I contend that such consequences need to be articulated through institution-wide policies and procedures and must be consistent across the institution. For example, it would be ridiculous for a student in arts to receive a warning and a student in science to receive an expulsion for the same offence of presenting a fake COVID-19 vaccination record. Similarly, it would diminish public trust in the institution if contract-based staff were dismissed from their employment for presenting faked COVID-19 documents, but tenured faculty members or administrators received a warning.

Universities and colleges need to take a strong and public stance on the issue of fake COVID-19 documentation.

This is no time to hide behind political-speak such as, “Violations will be addressed on a case-by-case basis” or “We do not expect this to be a problem”. This is a time for universities and colleges to communicate clear and firm expectations that presenting accurate and honest information regarding COVID-19 vaccination status or test results is essential for upholding the academic integrity and ethical standards. In addition, institutions need to develop and communicate clear and firm consequences for presenting fake or falsified COVID-19 documents.

Further, it would be useful for institutions to track and report on misconduct that occurs related to COVID-19, for all campus stakeholders including students, staff, faculty, and administrators and report back to the community on how cases are addressed. This is a not only a matter of public interest, it is a matter of public health. Lives are literally at stake.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.


International Journal for Educational Integrity (IJEI) – Applications to join Editorial Board now open

July 29, 2021
IJEI is seeking new editorial board members. Find out more!
International Journal for Educational Integrity

I’m pleased to share that the application to join the editorial board of the International Journal for Educational Integrity (IJEI) is now available. IJEI is ranked as a Q1 (education) journal, co-founded in 2005.

Editorial board members serve for a three-year term, with the possibility of renewal. We are seeking new board members to serve an initial term from January 2022 to December 2024. At this time we are seeking 3-5 new members for the board.

This year we are prioritizing candidates from equity-deserving groups.

Please circulate this call for applications among your networks. I am happy to answer any questions from prospective applicants.

Applications are due by August 31, 2021. Questions can be directed to me.

Here is a link to the application: : https://forms.gle/PYyyC6eBw3KeVpew8

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.


New article: “Career development, academic integrity and counterfeit credentials: Understanding the connections”

July 26, 2021

Last year, my friend and colleague, Ann Nakaska, invited me to contribute an article to a special issue of the Career Planning & Adult Development Journal for which she was serving as guest editor.

CPAD Journal

The theme of this special issue is: “How we will work in the future”. This is a robust issue, spanning 291 pages, and is divided into 3 parts:

  • Part 1: The impact of technology on the workplace
  • Part 2: Working in the fourth industrial revolution
  • Part 3: How career practitioners will work in the future

My contribution to this robust publication is in included in Part 2. My piece is, “Career development, academic integrity and counterfeit credentials: Understanding the connections” (pp. 98 – 106).

Ann’s invitation challenged me to write for a different audience: career development professionals. This piece is for a professional practitioner audience, though it may also be of interest to others interested in the topic of fake degrees and fraudulent or faulty credentials.

Abstract

The purpose of this article is to highlight ethical aspects of career development through the lens of academic integrity. I begin with an overview of academic integrity and the fundamental values that underpin it. Then I discuss fake and faulty academic credentials, including degrees, diplomas, transcripts, and related documents. I explore the impact of fake credentials on society, highlighting a few significant examples that have been featured by mainstream media. Finally, I examine the role that career development professionals play in promoting academic integrity and professional ethics to their clients. I conclude with concrete recommendations for career development professionals to inform themselves and their clients, and in doing so, to become partners in integrity and advocates of ethical education.

The issue has just been released and Ann shared with all of the contributors that just before the issue was published, her co-guest editor, Steven Beasley, who had served as managing editor of the journal for 20 years passed away. My deepest condolences to Steven and all who knew him.

The entire issue can be accessed free of charge here: https://files.ctctusercontent.com/56f4bf3f301/4ffe3e3a-9252-46b4-b19c-c9913e1fec19.pdf?rdr=true

 #AcademicIntegrity #FakeDegrees

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.


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