After Faculty Senate recommendation, gap in syllabi availability remains

Media Credit: Garrett Mills | Hatchet Photographer

Students can access syllabi for most courses via Blackboard.

Updated: Sept. 17, 2015 at 12:54 p.m.
Students can know what books they will read and when essays are due before they even register for class, but some faculty still have not made their syllabi public.

After a Faculty Senate resolution passed last spring, faculty were asked to upload syllabi for their past courses online. Out of all the courses taught at GW, about 600 professors have uploaded their syllabi to Blackboard and the registrar website.

Starting this semester, students should be able to read all courses’ syllabi via Blackboard and the University registrar, according to a Faculty Senate resolution passed last year.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said the Faculty Senate passed a resolution to “provide extra information for students seeking to register for courses,” but never outlined a specific process for implementation. Last year, a Student Association committee proposed Blackboard would be the easiest way for students to access the information.

Robert Harrington, a member of the Faculty Senate and the author of the resolution, said that because the resolution could not be more forceful than just a recommendation, there will be a gap in faculty who choose to follow the recommendation and those who do not.

“I don’t think it was communicated great, but in any case, it’s up to faculty to decide individually,” Harrington said.

He said some faculty members may not be interested in uploading syllabi because they believe students have easy enough access to information about their courses.

Charles Garris, the chair of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, said Faculty Senate resolutions like the one asking for faculty to make their past syllabi available are not always relayed to all faculty effectively or officially enforced.

Garris said faculty often “need a reminder” after these sorts of resolutions are passed to follow through on them and said he would remind all faculty via email this semester.

He added that the timeline and process for submitting syllabi may be confusing to some faculty, making it less likely that they will upload the documents to the websites.

“There’s a lot of hassle about the format,” Garris said. “Because faculty are extremely busy people, if [administrators] don’t make it simple, the faculty won’t do it.”

Alicia Rose, who served as the vice president of academic affairs in the Student Association last year, said GW’s Office of the General Counsel told her committee that faculty cannot be required to post syllabi because syllabi are considered the intellectual property of faculty.

“Essentially you cannot make it where you’re mandating faculty to give up their syllabi. The best you can do is to strongly suggest and advocate and make sure that professors know the importance of sharing their syllabi online,” Rose said.

The idea to give students a preview of courses to help them decide what to take originated from a joint group of students and faculty.

Alyssa Weakley, the chair of the Student Association committee for academic affairs that oversaw the syllabi project, said uploading syllabi is important for students to know more about a class beyond what requirements it fulfills.

“The goal is basically to create as much accessibility and openness for students, so when they are registering for courses, they can look at the syllabi and see what is in store,” Weakley said. “I prefer to take courses with project-based learning and experiential learning, where other students prefer a writing-based course or one with more detailed reading.”

Other institutions have started similar initiatives to upload syllabi for all students to access. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched OpenCourseWare, a website that allows professors to upload syllabi, lecture notes, problem sets and videos.

Ellie Smith contributed reporting.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that 400 faculty uploaded their syllabi. About 600 faculty updated their syllabi. We regret this error.

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