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  • J.A.Willoughby

PSA: To Parents of College Students and Future Collegians

Parents, this is my gift to you this Holiday Season.

Chances are that your child is home or will be home for the Holidays, soon. Let this short bit of writing serve as a “gift” from me to you from ‘behind-the-scenes’ of your child’s educational process in college. Hopefully it is one PSA that you will take very seriously.

Our digi-culture, by way of content on the web and social media, promotes sharing. That attitude leads to piracy (although we most often don’t refer to it in such bold terms) of intellectual and artistic properties. It is commonplace for those who find something they like to simply copy and download it for their own amusement. The result of this act of stealing, ironically, becomes its own reward. In the privacy of your home (on the devices that you or your child owns and controls) there are no repercussions, and in fact becomes routine. There are no consequences, even though what you’ve done is, in actuality, illegal.

That lack of consequences changed dramatically when your student attends college. If that student copies something they need for an assignment, pastes it into their document, and turns it in for a grade, there are tremendous consequences, because now that act has taken place in an academic setting. The complacency bred by our technologically-saturated society becomes an act of plagiarism.

Since most colleges and universities now also participate, in their way, in technologically-driven assignment submission, checking, and grading practices, that act it is easily discovered by professors and it can cause you and your child great pain.

Not enough emphasis is put on this in high school, apparently, because it is widespread. My wife has taught at several local colleges and universities and has encountered this problem at every one of them. Her students report that very little time is devoted to teaching ideas of using sources ethically in the already-packed curriculum of their secondary schools.

So, is your college student aware that copying and pasting is a problem?

Absolutely, yes, they are. In high school, there is certainly at least a prohibition against “cheating.” What’s most likely, however, is that “cheating” is only vaguely defined, and might live in the mind of your student as an act like looking at someone else’s quiz answers or copying wholesale from someone else’s assignment. The definition of cheating is much broader than that in academia.

In college, you can be sure that a syllabus describing the requirements for the course is given to (and hopefully read by) the student. In case it is not read and understood, in most first-year classrooms, a lecture on the subject is given by the instructor, providing accepted strategies for navigating these pitfalls, and warning students not to take this action in completing their assignments. And yet a thriving industry has sprung up online, making “model” essays available for students (usually for a price), and even offering to generate essays for specific assignments. Most of these outlets make no mention of the fact that using their service amounts to cheating.

But let me get straight to the consequences of this seemingly harmless act.

1. If caught— and they WILL get caught, given the tools available to faculty just for this purpose— they will at the very least fail the assignment. As a result, depending on the policies of their professors, they may possibly fail the course. For students, it’s a blow to the ever-important Grade Point Average. For parents, it translates to money wasted on the credit, and may mean the student will have to take the course again and pay for it a second time.

2. They will be confronted by their instructor, and, because most college students are over the age of 18, they are dealt with as the adults they so desperately aspire to be. Further, due to Federal law, no matter how much you want to “protect” your child or curse out the professor for doing their job, those faculty are not allowed to communicate with you. In a best-case scenario, you’ll do battle with a Department Chair, or even a Dean, who will most frequently support their faculty member and the policies outlined in the course.

3. At the discretion of the professor, a letter of the incident may be forwarded to the Dean’s office and will become a permanent part of your child’s academic record. Multiple offenses can result in the student’s expulsion, permanently marring the student’s college transcript, which—unlike the proverbial “permanent record” of yesteryear—actually does follow people when they try to move on in life.

So parents: It is not your fault that our academic system in the lower grades fails them. It is not your fault that our culture encourages and even promotes this type of activity with social media Shares and Retweets and free downloads. But it is your responsibility, now that you know, to PLEASE impress upon them the potentially severe consequences of their actions. Teach them to be original and resourceful on their own; these are qualities that will serve them well in all aspects of their lives.

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