“The Shadow Scholar” and “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower”

Under the pseudonym of “Ed Dante”, the author of “The Shadow Scholar” presents an interesting and somewhat complex scenario. He writes academic papers for students who then submit the work under their own names and he is a worker in a vast industry of which it appears universities are unaware or uninterested. Equally, pseudonymous is “Professor X”, who relays his experience of teaching basic writing skills to college students. Both men have a single agenda: to point out severe issues in higher education today.  Both articles also, and regrettably, offer only current circumstances and no suggestions as to improve them.

Ed Dante essay is compelling.  In regard to the author’s intent, there is an overwhelming amount of self-validation.  In paragraph after paragraph, he perpetually returns to his own accomplishments. He outlines the processes by which he performs the work, but more evident is his apparent satisfaction in his abilities.  He produces academic papers at Ph.D. levels easily and the list of disciplines with which he is adept virtually covers the entire range of all academic studies. This pervasive aspect of the article may be viewed as relating to logos, in that he wishes to substantiate the mechanics of his profession.

The defiance of Dante presents his pathos; he is never apologetic, as he never refers to questioning the morality of how he earns a living. He claims to be something of an inevitable creation of an educational system hopelessly out of touch with its student body: “Say what you want about me, but I am not the reason your students cheat” (Dante). The pathos is then apparent in the victimized component of this argument. Dante proudly refers to the money he earns, yet he also presents himself as an unappreciated force.  There are references to the long hours he puts in, and to the difficulty, he faces in deciphering instructions from students unable to write a simple sentence.  In terms of pathos, this is transparent: the reader cannot help but wonder why, if the challenges are so extreme at times, the author continues on, particularly as he notes that his earnings are not excessive.

This reverts back to the matter of ethos, and Dante is more successful here.  He conveys an ethical dilemma apart from himself, and even his excessive self-promotion works here. By defining the three types of students most commonly employing him, Dante enhances the ethos through logos. That is to say, he seems to be well experienced, and his assertion, that students unfamiliar with English are easily passing courses by virtue of his own work, strikingly reveals the enormous, ethical problem in education.  Simply, universities cannot claim to educate when they are so distanced from their students that they are unaware of the blatant incompatibility of expertly-written paper and students unable to write basic English. Worse than this is the suggestion that these concerns are deliberately ignored by an academic industry only interested in moving students along.

However, and tellingly, Dante sets up another ethos wholly dependent on the reader’s acceptance of his somewhat victimized role in the affair, and this is a questionable foundation. When he describes the other two classifications of his clients as lazy/rich and “hopelessly deficient”, he is on a shakier ethical ground because here he adopts a kind of arrogance: “My favorite customers are those with an unlimited supply of money” (Dante). He does point out that this group also offers the clearest directions as well, but this only reinforces further the author’s willingness to utterly ignore the ethics of the situation, and take a highly desirable job. It is to Dante’s credit that he does not obfuscate his reality to enhance his integrity, as would be the case if he claimed only to be in business to assist students lost in a foreign language.  Nonetheless, as with his relentless self-promotion, the casual, and almost boastful, admitting to his preferences undermines his position, especially as he seeks to blame academia for the entire process. Ultimately, however, Dante fails, and not merely because he so consistently takes time to exalt himself. Had Dante opted to more seriously examine the underlying issues of his client base, his role would have acquired some of the ethical validation he is, despite his ostensible nonchalance, clearly lacking.

Professor X’s entire article is chiefly centered on pathos.  He does present the circumstances leading to this appeal, which goes to logos; the students he tries to teach, as he recounts several times, have no basic skills.  Many of the older students are utterly incapable of using a computer to do research, or even as a word-processing tool.  Many are barely literate: “Students routinely fail… because they cannot write a coherent sentence” (Professor X).  His position, in terms of logos, is validated by the facts given regarding his career, as well as by numerous examples of this situation.

In fairness to Professor X, he also touches upon ethos, as he expresses great regret over a higher education system that is so self-defeating.  It seems that he has a strong sense of his role in a large canvas, and ethos is addressed through his sympathetic, if rhetorical, questioning. No one, especially the students, is gaining as things are, and no one in charge seems to care.  He refers to colleges as economically-driven industries, out to obtain as much tuition as possible.  Just as Dante, he notes the enormous flaw in this approach: “No one is thinking about the larger implications, let alone the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass” (Professor X).  There is throughout a genuine expression of sadness and of hopelessness.  X is not defiant, as Dante is, but he is similarly unapologetic.  He also asserts that he is merely a cog in a vast and uncaring machine.

This goes to the essential flaw in both articles, which centers on logos, or rather an absence of it. Both writers are highly literate and adept at presenting their specific circumstances.  Both appeal powerfully to pathos.  Dante almost inadvertently generates sympathy for the students who employ him, while Professor X’s feeling for them is more directly manifested.  Neither, however, offers even a generalized suggestion of how so damaging process, as they perceive modern higher education to be, may be addressed. Dante talks about his second-language students as hopeless, while Professor X laments a widespread inability to write a basic sentence.  Neither man, however, seeks to either trace or offer suggestions for rectifying this scenario. In “The Shadow Scholar” and “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” essay here lay out certain, dismal realities of modern education.

Works Cited

  1. Dante, E. “The Shadow Scholar” The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 12, 2010.    Retrieved from  http://chronicle.com/article/The-Shadow-Scholar/125329/
  2. Professor X. “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” The Atlantic Monthly, June, 2008.  Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/06/in-the-basement-of-the-ivory-tower/6810/#
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