So it's Sunday night, and you're stuck with a 10-page paper to write for 8 a.m. class the next morning. What's a Brown student to do?
Thanks to Kenny Sahr and his fast-growing site on the World Wide Web (http://www.schoolsucks.com), students can head to this site and download a pirated masterpiece. By clicking on the icon for English, students may find a paper entitled, "The Canterbury Tales: A Character Sketch of Chaucer's Knight." If they head to the History section, papers on topics like "Chinese Economic Reform" will surface.
Sahr, a 25 year-old journalism student at Miami International University in Florida, established his site in June 1996 as an alternative to what he calls "the traditional paper mills," such as the infamous "fraternity files" or ads listed in the back of magazines which offer papers at a price. Sahr's site has grown rapidly, today displaying over 90,000 hits and a variety of papers sent in by students all over the country, on subjects ranging from "The Law" to "Sciences and Economics."
The name of Sahr's site -- along with the slogan "Download your Workload!" -- has prompted angry criticism from his detractors. They charge Sahr with promoting the idea that students can freeload off the work of others. Sahr, however, defends his position, stating that he believes most students will use his site as a "jumping-off point" to gather ideas for their own papers.
"I don't think it is being used as plagiarism," Sahr said. "Most people might think we're the end, but where we are is at the beginning of the term paper chain, providing people with initial ideas and sources."
He also pointed to the fact that more professors than students are aware of the services his site provides, making it even more perilous to risk handing in one of the papers on display.
"And the slogan is a joke -- people take media slogans way too seriously today. Do you really believe that you can have it your way at Burger King?" he said.
Vice-President for Computing and Information Services Don Wolfe reiterated Brown's policy of not regulating or monitoring the websites that its students, staff and faculty choose to access, in the name of free speech, but also cautioned potential users.
"At Brown, we take a pretty dim view of academic dishonesty of any kind," said Wolfe. "That is one sin that I suspect no one will defend you for."
The quality of most of the papers on Sahr's site, as he freely admits, is well below the standards of any Brown professor, although Sahr did say that he had received papers from Ivy League students to be posted in the History section of his site.
"The papers are not rated by me," Sahr said. "It's up to students to know what is good and what is not. Caveat emptor -- may the downloader beware."
Sahr also said the reason papers of such poor quality often get posted is that, "students can learn from those papers too. It's important to recognize how not to write. Plus, those papers are reflective of students in this country, and who is to blame for that but their teachers?"
Professors and other academics have attacked the author and the site, Sahr said.
"I look forward to failing and expelling students who use their time in school to replicate resource sources or actual papers found on the web," wrote Providence College's Assistant Professor of Political Science Michelle Mood in an e-mail to Sahr posted on his site. He also received, among others, a sternly worded communal message from the English department faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. "We tend to be people who take violations of academic integrity and honesty rather seriously, and we will be watching your service carefully," warns the notice.
Brown Professor of English and Modern Culture and Media Robert Sullivan concurred with the opinions of his colleagues.
"It's dishonest, electronic plagiarism--plagiarism made easy. How it can be prevented is a more difficult question," Sullivan said.
Wolfe, while not exonerating Sahr, pointed out that, "The supplier would not be successful if not for the outrageous behavior of the users. I don't think he is doing anything illegal. In fact, it can do more damage to limit than allow these kinds of things, even if they do have egregious results, because of the value our society places on freedom of expression."
In fact, Sahr said that he is actually grateful to the professors and administrators who have expressed their displeasure with his site so openly. The controversy has led to attention from national media outlets, as well as increased advertising revenue from World Wide Web sponsors who advertise their product on his site.
"The fact that all these professors are writing in and getting angry is not an accident," Sahr said. "I counted on their help for publicity reasons -- I knew they would all get pissed off. I want to thank all the people that have written in to me for their help in spreading the word -- they've been doing me a big favor and I appreciate it."
For the foreseeable future, Sahr said that he will continue to run his site, and defend his position, with a future plan in mind to take School Sucks to a multilingual level.
"All I did was the same thing that the catalogs did, except this time the students aren't paying for the service, my advertisers are," he said. "I think it's hilarious that the post OJ press is asking me about ethics. I didn't write the rules of the game. I just know how to play them, and play them I will. I'm in this, first of all, for the money -- it's a profit venture, not a holiday camp. And secondly, it's the content, stupid! I personally believe that it is important for students to have a resource like this, and that's who it is for."
This story appeared in The Herald: Monday, October 7, 1996