Pro Bono Students Canada

PBSC Volunteers Receive Award for Research on Essay Mills Legislation at 2015 ICAI Conference in Vancouver

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from left to right are: Teddi Fishman, Director of the International Center for Academic Integrity, Maya, Megan, and Tracey Bretag, President of the ICAI Executive Board.

From left to right: Teddi Fishman, Director of the International Center for Academic Integrity, Maya, Megan, and Tracey Bretag, President of the ICAI Executive Board.

For the past six months, University of Windsor law student Maya Kanani and University of Ottawa law student Megan Jamieson have been doing research for the International Center of Academic Integrity (ICAI) through Pro Bono Students Canada. The students, supervised by Christopher Lang, Giselle Basanta and Tricia Bertram Gallant (on behalf of ICAI) have been researching contract cheating and the legality of essay mills in Canada. Essay mills are companies that sell essays to students, written by someone else, to submit for some kind of academic credit. Essay mills can tailor essay assignments to the student’s needs based on specific references, page numbers, fonts and more. These companies facilitate cheating because they are written by the company’s employees and have found a new way to avoid being by using sites such as turnitin.com.

This issue has created a social policy issue because the use of essay mills compromise the integrity of the university degree, and Canadian universities in general. After exploring potential claims of negligence and fraud against essay mills, through current legal means, Maya and Megan, along with their supervisors, realized that the best approach would have to be different. Using American legislation as a reference, they drafted a model for what ideal legislation would look like, and, in conjunction with other ICAI members from around the world, will be determining next best steps for Ontario, Canada, and other jurisdictions. The law is a blunt instrument, and this is one strategy among many being discussed by the academic community. It is important to note that universities cannot be expected to bear the full onus of discouraging and detecting this scale of contract cheating as the impact is social and economic on a global scale.

The law students, along with their supervisors, presented this research (in the form of a legal memo of over 25 pages) in Vancouver in February 2015 at the ICAI Conference to academics, students and educators from across the world. They were also presented with an award for ‘Academic Integrity Advocacy’ for their exemplary work on this project.