“Essays edited in as little as 3 hours!” “Prices as low as $3/page!”
These are some of the advertisements occasionally seen on bulletin boards above printers in the Library or in the College Center, prompting private editors or math and science tutors. They promise to do such things “improve your grades” and to “relieve your stress,” as well as to “be more successful in school & life.” But could these services be considered cheating?
College resources on the question are unclear. The Vassar College Student Handbook under the section about academic honesty states, “Each student’s work shall be the product of the student’s own effort.” But nowhere in the text is there explicit reference to private tutors or editors.
Meanwhile, a companion piece made available on the Dean of the College’ website, Originality and Attribution: A Guide for Student Writers at Vassar College, dictates that “no formal collaboration should take place in course work at Vassar unless its nature is set forth in advance and in detail by your instructor,” this restriction applies more specifically to cases of collaboration among students. Neither is it clear whether all work with a tutor or editor would fall under the definition of a collaboration. For instance, one professional editor who has advertisements on campus explained how all she does with a student’s work would be to proofread it, leaving content alone.
Academic Support and Learning Resources Specialist Karen Getter said the college does not appear to have an official stance whether this would still be considered a breach of student integrity.
Getter, who works at the Learning, Teaching, and Resource Center (LTRC), cautioned students, however, against placing something so personal as one’s school work in the hands of a stranger, stressing that one flier is not necessarily proof of trustworthiness or legitimacy. She said, “My concern would being seeing that it is an entity outside of campus, how would you verify the validity of what they do and how well they do it?”
According to Getter, there are alternatives within the college that students can consider before turning to outside help. Getter herself will often meet with students to discuss effective work habits. She said, “A majority, if not all, of Vassar students are very intelligent students, but sometimes they have to modify what they have done. And it doesn’t stop with time-management and a lot of times it doesn’t start with it either, but that’s where most student needs help with.”
Another internal resource, the Writing Center, offers to read students’ essays and at zero cost. Director of the Writing Center Matthew Schultz said he does not believe that private editing services are aligned with the college’s Liberal Arts mission.
He wrote in an emailed statement, “Vassar College is an educational institution. What educational value is there in paying someone to edit one’s papers? What does one learn in that process? Campus resources–professors, colleagues, Writing Center consultants–are educational resources. We are educators, not editors, who help produce better writers, not simply better writing.”
Unlike some private editors, the writing center meet students face-to-face. Those looking for feedback on their writing can enter the Writing Center and sit down with a consultant to discuss an essay or assignment. According to the Center’s website, before becoming a consultant, students must first take the seminar Process, Prose, and Pedagogy taught by Schultz.
Private services, Schultz believes, leave no room for the process of writing. He wrote, “Vassar is a college of writers. As such, our students are interested in developing a range of written abilities. Paid editing is a myopic service focused solely on correctness. There is no dialogue about complex ideas, communicative structure, or the aesthetics of voice. Gone is the ambiguity and messiness of dialogue that we so highly value at a liberal arts college.”
He continued, “When students work with a professor, colleagues, or Writing Center consultant, conversation is opened up, not shut down. The focus is on the student-as-writer, not merely the mechanics of her work.”
Getter also described her dealings with students as a collaborative process. What she says she tries to achieve isn’t to tell students how they are supposed to complete schoolwork or stay on top of their reading, but to instill within students a sense of confidence. “Most times it’s having conversations with student’s about things they already know and just helping them pull that out. I find that is very common for a Vassar student,” she said.
Another question surrounding private editors and tutors Getter was herself uncertain as to how widespread a practice is it for students to contract paid professionals for academic assistance.
Sam Smith ’14 works at the College Center Information Center desk, which reads and approves all signs and posters before giving them with the official stamp. Only fliers and signs bearing this stamp have the right to go up on campus bulletin boards. Smith reports that in the time she has never during one of her shift personally encountered anyone wishing to put up a flier for a private tutoring or editing service. The number of these types of outside parties like those coming to campus is low in her estimation. “I work everyday Monday through Friday” said Smith, and added, “I’ve never seen that here.”