Busted for a Bogus Paper

A comedy group's Web site becomes the unlikely focus for a debate over academic integrity.
March 31, 2005

As Nate Kushner tells the story, it all started because he listed "eating Hindu sculpture" as one of his hobbies when he created an online profile for himself some years ago.

Laura K. Krishna, a college student whose real name he isn't using, sent him an instant message Easter weekend -- based solely on that joke hobby -- in which she offered to pay him to write a paper on something Hindu. Kushner says he decided to do so and to make the paper an obvious fraud, with the idea that he would eventually reveal the paper's bogus origins to the student's institution and to those who read the blog that runs on the Web site of his comedy group, A Week of Kindness.

And that's why that blog has become home the last few days to fierce debates about academic integrity, plagiarism, online ethics and more -- with the debate spreading to other Web sites as well. Some believe that Kushner is creating a hoax, with various commenters noting his background in comedy and that April 1 is just around the corner. But in an interview Wednesday, he denied that, and there is some evidence that Laura is real.

While Kushner's Web site briefly named her institution, he took down those references -- at the request of the institution, he says -- and he won't reveal the college now. But other Web sites have identified the institution as Lewis University, a Roman Catholic institution southwest of Chicago. And when a Lewis spokeswoman was asked about the incident, she cited federal laws that relate to student privacy. And those laws apply only to a college's actual students.

Kushner's Web site includes the text of his IM exchanges with Laura on subject matter, pay and his qualifications, and also includes the paper itself, which mixes real Hindu terms, pop culture references, material plagiarized from online sources, and just plain silliness. Some lines:

  • "Your actions in each lifetime affect your karma, and if a Shudra watches dharma and greg, it will have a positive effect on his karma."
  • "The second class is the Kshatriya, the warrior class, who acted as the protectors of the peace. I made a doody. Vaishya, the producing class, work as business people providing economic stability to the society."
  • "The principle of Varnasrama Vindaloo Dharma, also known as Yachti, or caste, is one of the most fundamental aspects of Hinduism."

Then Kushner describes how Laura turned in the paper, was confronted by a dean who had been pointed to some of the material on the Web site, and how she cried to him about how he was creating problems for her. At this point, Kushner agreed to remove references to Laura's real name and institution from the Web site, and to issue a request (which he repeats several times) that people stop trying to call her and her university.

Comments on Kushner's Web site range widely. Some praise him for striking a blow for academic honesty. Others accuse him of playing mind games with an immature student.

One critic wrote: "I think your action is even more reprehensible than hers. She may have felt under great time pressure and needed help, even if she did go about finding it in the wrong way. If you had wanted to make some kind of moral statement and teach her a point about plagiarism, you could have done so without torturing her. Her motive may have been need -- your motive was cruelty and ego."

And a supporter wrote: "I work at a university library and plagiarism is my biggest pet peeve. I hope this student learns her lesson ... a lesson ... anything at all from this."

Laura Kiran, director of public relations at Lewis, issued the following statement: "Lewis University has clear policies and procedures in place regarding academic integrity and appropriate student conduct. The university will take such actions as it deems appropriate under those policies. Federal laws relating to student privacy preclude our making any comment regarding the particulars of the situation."

As for Kushner, he is trying to move on -- and to help out his comedy group. His last post on the topic is titled: "Stop calling Laura. Come to our shows."


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