Pens for Hire


  • Geoff E. Buerger Kiita Learning Community, Barrow, Alaska



academic fraud, contract cheating, ghost writing, history, term paper mills


This is part one of a three part invited article series examining the historical evolution of the “ghost writing” industry, a term that is now widely referred to as “contract cheating.”  This article describes the commercial trade in academic work starting in the 1930s through the term paper mills’ heyday of the mid-1970s. The 1960 investigative reporting of Alex Benson of the New York World-Telegram and The Sun, receives close attention, as does the field of competing firms active at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1972. The article concludes with a series of questions to help provoke reflection. These questions can be used as discussion topics in courses with students or within professional development opportunities for educators and practitioners.


(n.d.). Retrieved from School Sucks:

Applebome, P. (1997, June 8). On the Internet, Term Papers Are Hot Item. New York Times.

Benjamin, R. A. (1939, June). Ghost Goes to College. American Mercury, 157-160.

Benson, A. (1960a, February 27). Chiseling in School: How Reporter Ghosted Test. New York World-Telegram and Sun, 1-2.

Benson, A. (1960b, February 25). College Ghosts: How a Phone Call Uncovered Scandal. New York World-Telegram and Sun, 1.

Benson, A. (1960c, March 1). College Ghosts: Reporter Becomes Partner in Thesis-Writing Agency. New York World-Telegram and Sun, 1 & 3.

Benson, A. (1960d, March 2). College Ghosts: Reporter Discovers Cheaters Can Buy Doctorates. New York World-Telegram and Sun, 3.

Benson, A. (1960e, February 29). College Ghosts: Student Saw No Wrong in Ringer Test. New York World-Telegram and Sun, 1 & 16.

Benson, A. (1960f, March 3). Dishonest Student Termed Old Story. New York World-Telegram and the Sun, 3.

Benson, A. (1960g, February 26). How ‘Ghost’ Firm Hired Reporter as Student’s Ringer. New York World-Telegram and Sun, 1 & 4.

Bingenheimer, K. (1971, October 21). Term Paper Businesses Prosper in Madison. Badger Herald.

Bride Jr., J. (1967, February 5). Cheating Ring at Air Force Academy: A Smudge On the Cadet Code. Life, 82-83.

Daily Cardinal. (1971, September 29). Classified advertisement. Daily Cardinal, 18.

Dulin, D., & Starr, S. (1971, November 2). Letters to the editor. Cardinal.

Gantar, J., Patten, T., & O'Donnell, M. (1996). A Question of Honor: The Cheating Scandal That Rocked Annapolis and a Midshipman Who Decided to Tell the Truth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Greenberg, P. (1972, May). Buy A Better Grade, Kid? Wisconsin Alumnus, 10-12.

Hastings, H. W. (1943, December). Homer’s Wink. College English, 5(3), 149-152.

Hechinger, F. M. (1960, February 28). Scholarship by Proxy: If a Ph.D. Thesis Can Be Ghosted, Critics Feel, System Is Faulty. New York Times, IV & 9.

Hechinger, F. M. (1972, March 17). Term Papers: Passing Grades For a Price. New York Times.

JOC. (1971, November 4-7). Badger Herald, 9.

Laws of New York. (1947). Chapter 820 (the Education Law), § 224 and § 225.

Life. (1965, February 5). A Startling Survey on College Cribbing. Life, 84.

Maeroff, G. L. (1971, July 10). Market in Term Papers Is Booming. New York Times, 25 & 27.

Mentzer, M. (1972, June 12-14). Termpapers From Boom to Bust. Badger Herald,, 3.

Milford, M. (1997, May 8). Term papers on line -- good or bad? Gannett News Service.

Murray, M. (1989, April 21). Owner of essay-writing firm puzzled by sudden police raid. Toronto Star.

New York Times. (1960a, March 16). ’Ghost’ Inquiry Begins. New York Times, 25.

New York Times. (1960b, September 27). 2 Writers Admit Guilt; Face Sentencing on Preparing College Students’ Papers. New York Times, 15.

New York Times. (1960c, September 16). Ghost Writer Fined $500. New York Times, 13.

New York Times. (1960d, March 30). Ghost Writers Hunted: Grand Jury’s Investigation Is Extended Unttil [sic] June 1. New York Times, 26.

New York Times. (1960e, February 26). Ghost Writers Under Fire; College Cheating Charged. New York Times, 1.

New York Times. (1960f, November 5). Ghostwriter Is Fined; Woman Pays $500 Instead of Spending 30 Days in Jail. New York Times, 14.

New York Times. (1960g, March 4). Grand Jury to Get College Fraud Data. New York Times, 15.

New York Times. (1960h, June 25). Student’s ‘Ghost’ Enters Guilty Plea. New York Times, 9.

New York Times. (1972, February 13). 23 Term Papers Sold After Theft; Concern in Queens to Give Them Back to Harvard. New York Times, 54.

New York World-Telegram and Sun. (1960a, March 1). College Expels Student Chiseler. New York World-Telegram and Sun, 3.

New York World-Telegram and Sun. (1960b, March 2). Indiana U. Suspends Ghost-Hiring Student. New York World-Telegram and Sun, 3.

Prall, R. E. (1960, February 25). Hogan Raids Ghost Writers Hired by Cheating Students. New York World-Telegram and Sun, 1.

Roth, J. (1960, April 12). Fraud Laid To 6 In Ghost Writing. New York Times, 1 & 30.

Roth, J. (1960a, April 12). Fraud Laid To 6 In Ghost Writing. New York Times, 30.

Roth, J. (1960b, May). Jury Urges Check on Ghost Writers. New York Times, 41.

Roth, J. (1960c, May 11). Jury Urges Check on Ghost Writers; Bids State Keep Constant Eye on Agencies,”. New York Times, 41.

Snead Jr., W., & Shepherd, J. (1967, January 24). Air Academy’s Cheating Scandal. Look, 23-25.

Wisniewski, S. (1971, October 26). Now profs write papers for students. Daily Cardinal, 1.

Wisniewski, S. (1972, February 1). Termpaper factories prosper though far from fool proof. Daily Cardinal, 1.

Witherspoon, A. (1995, June). This Pen for Hire: On grinding out papers for college students. Harper’s Magazine.




How to Cite

Buerger, G. E. (2021). Pens for Hire. Canadian Perspectives on Academic Integrity, 4(2), 3–15.



Invited article