Plagiarism service solicits students

Credit: Annette Ko/Art Editor Credit: Annette Ko/Art Editor

A website called Lashzone, which functions as a paper mill service, recently sent a number of emails to Carnegie Mellon students. The university staff and administration views these emails as threats to academic integrity. They also coincide with the university’s current attempt to update its policy on academic integrity.

According to Lashzone’s website, the service offers “professional assistance on post-secondary homework, assignments, essays, lab reports, assignment revision...etc.” Students wishing to spend money for the site’s services would send their assignments to the website, prepare for another major event like a test during the week, and then simply receive the requested, completed assignment in a reply email before the due date.

Holly Hippensteel, dean of student affairs, notes that although multiple students forwarded the Lashzone emails, “We don’t know how many students were contacted.”

Student reaction to the solicitation from Lashzone was mixed. One first-year student said he wouldn’t do it himself, but he doesn’t mind it. “The kids don’t learn anything in the end — but it’s their choice. Let them do what they want,” he said.

Alternatively, Je-Hoon Oh, a first-year chemistry major, had trouble understanding why students would partake in a paper mill program. “Why would students want to copy someone else’s work, especially in this age?” Oh asked.
Oxford University students received similar emails in January, with student responses akin to Oh’s. “I wouldn’t use it — my prose style is weird and identifiable, and I also quite like my degree,” one Oxford first-year said. “But I fully encourage its proliferation on the basis that the ‘yoof’ who do use it are more likely to get caught. And I am basically a pretty spiteful person.”

Although it is unknown whether Lashzone is trulya homework site or just a phishing site aimed to scam students, students and administration have concerns about Lashzone. According to Hippensteel, “The emails were provocative, which got our attention. It’s a relatively new website, and some feel it’s a phishing site while others think it’s a homework site. But we felt there was enough discussion that we decided to let faculty know. Lashzone is certainly not the only online paper mill out there.”

Hippensteel notes that Coastal Carolina University has a website that keeps track of paper mills, with over 250 already identified and located. She also feels that, besides being morally wrong to use, sites like Lashzone offer a risky proposition for students. There is no guarantee — besides the site’s own pledge — that it does not copy and paste the same answers for different students’ assignments, which would be plagiarism by definition.

“The idea of using a paper mill is probably risky in the age of Turnitin,” Hippensteel said. Turnitin is a plagiarism detection and prevention website created by iParadigms.

Hippensteel does admit that there may be stressed, desperate, or lazy students who would attempt to use the website to their advantage, which is a concern.

Hippensteel also notes that Carnegie Mellon is looking to update its academic integrity policy.

“The current policy was last revised in 1990, so it’s long overdue. It came out of a conversation from faculty senate, and thanks to students, we had a chance to look at the policy in March.” The changes look to clarify the current policy and make it clearer.

Currently, the policy focuses on the issues of cheating and plagiarism. However, the major change adopted by the new policy would be to clearly list “unauthorized assistance” — such as services offered by Lashzone — with the current two categories. Although unauthorized assistance is currently covered in the current policy, the new policy would make it clear to students that collaboration is not permissible unless students are explicitly given permission by their instructors. Using things like cell phones, cheat sheets, and outside help would therefore not be allowed unless the professor permitted.

“It’s about honest communication,” Hippensteel said. “And if you are unsure about a professor’s policies, you can just ask professors and you’ll get an answer. Students can also go online and see the policy.”