In China, as in many other countries, 18 years old is the age at which a child is recognized as having become an adult. They are expected to behave like a grown-up and take full responsibility for their behavior.
However, in most university campuses across China many of these 18-year-olds are only adults in appearance. These “kidults” indulge in their wants with no respect to others around them. The moment it looks like they may be subjected to a punishment they run to their parents for protection.
Two weeks ago, my colleagues and I held the thesis defense for one of our undergraduate classes. At the end, when we were recording the final grades of all students, we were baffled to find that one of the students with a disappointing thesis had managed to rank first.
We looked into her file and discovered that the grade given by her supervisor had been changed. We confronted her, but she confidently claimed that it had been changed with the full acknowledgement of the teacher. My colleagues and I picked up the phone and her lie was immediately exposed.
We found out later that the student had been provisionally admitted into the London School of Economics on condition of a minimum 3.5 GPA, and it just so turned out that everything came down to her thesis defense. The forged grade was corrected, and the school demanded a written self-criticism from the student.
We thought the story would end there, until the student’s mother made a dramatic appearance in our office one day, demanding the punishment be withdrawn.
At first, my colleagues and I tried to explain university regulations and the reasoning behind the punishment — which was really not severe at all considering the crime. But we soon realized that we were preaching to deaf ears.
The mother’s argument, which defied logic, was that since her daughter was a good girl that she — as mother — should be responsible for the malpractice. She outright refused to allow her daughter to write a self-criticism, claiming that it would damage her irreparably.
The mother took a firm stand and refused any reasoning. The weapon in her hands was inexhaustible time and energy to pester professors, administrators, or anybody that would listen to her.
Sadly, this was not the first time I had to deal with irrational parents. Several years earlier, I warned a graduate student I was supervising that there was a real possibility of her failing if she didn’t spend more time studying.I received a letter from her mother the following week, in which she called her daughter “outstanding,” but a little “thoughtless.” She even attached two gift cards as an offer of good will. I returned the cards and explained that it was academic standards, not my mercy, that was at stake.
One of my colleagues had an even more harrowing experience with parents. After failing a student for plagiarism, he was called by the perpetrator on a Sunday morning to dispute the grade, to which my colleague responded that plagiarism was the equivalent of an academic “death penalty case.”
The next day the student’s father appealed to the university’s Office of Academic Affairs — the group in charge of teacher management and evaluation — claiming that the professor’s use of the word “death” in describing plagiarism had seriously upset his son. My colleague was forced to write a detailed report on the entire incident before the ridiculous charges could be dismissed by the university.
Many people in China judge competency entirely by university diplomas. In a talent market as highly competitive as China, a degree from a prestigious university is the easiest way to identify a person’s capability.
Most Chinese parents invest heavily in their children’s higher education, and celebrate university graduation as the child’s and family’s collective success. However, to many of these kidults and their parents, what you take away from education is much less important than the end result. As long as you get a diploma at the end of the day, nothing else matters.
This attitude interferes with teaching in universities. Being endlessly pleaded for mercy does in fact cause some professors to lower their standards — either from exhaustion or to stop from making enemies.
It is easy to see why the children run to their parents. Since adults are generally treated with more respect than children, it is much harder to say “no” to parents than to young students.
How they raise their children is another big issue. It goes without saying that they are mostly all caring parents, but excessive love only runs counter to their offspring become strong and responsible adults.
Covering up a child’s mistakes instead of addressing them properly only serves to make them more reckless and haughty, and prevents them from growing into a capable person. What kind of adult has no courage to face and solve their own problems?
The girl who falsified her grade ended up not escaping from punishment after the dean of the school became involved and refused to budge. I admire the dean’s attitude, but I still believe we need more formal institutions or university orientations in place to deal with such matters.
Institution likes these would be able to save the professors harassment and pressures, as well as give kidults and their parents a much-needed education on rules and procedures at universities.
(Header image: A parent carries his child’s luggage on orientation day at a university campus in Shanghai, Aug. 27, 2016. Lu Haitao/Sixth Tone )