Students should have access to course syllabi before classes begin

I was initially amazed at how quickly I received my syllabi when I started my freshman year. I could get a preview of all of my classes by August, which helped me get a head start on purchasing textbooks and other required materials. I expected the same promptness from professors ahead of this semester, but I was disappointed.

By the time this semester started, only one professor had sent a syllabus. I am taking six courses this spring, and five of my professors did not provide a syllabus before classes began. Even when a majority of my classes held their first session, I only received two more syllabi – one paper copy and one on Blackboard. The delay prevented me from buying all of my textbooks and class materials because I had no idea what to buy, so I fell behind in the first week of classwork.

Delaying syllabus handouts until the first and second weeks also chipped away at the time I had to decide whether I wanted to continue the course or add a different class. I could not figure out whether I was in the right class because I did not have a full understanding of my schedule to plan ahead for the semester. The University should require professors to submit syllabi at least a week before the start of the semester so students have more time to evaluate their courses and buy the necessary materials for them to plan ahead.

Syllabi give students a whole host of useful information – when assignments are due, when class is canceled, what reading must be completed for each session and what materials are required – crucial for students to build their day-to-day schedules and carve out study times. Students need to be able to plan for projects, study for midterm exams and write papers, especially if students have jobs or want to have an understanding of their availability for the semester. Syllabi also allow students to decide what extracurriculars they can and cannot handle, as a student expecting a large number of papers or exams might have to skip out on a club sport or swap out the class. Delaying syllabus handouts forces students into more unpredictable and unstable lives at a point in the semester that is supposed to be the least stressful.

Professors at the Center for Teaching Excellence at Duquesne University wrote that syllabi are “like a roadmap with directions for succeeding in the class.” Students often refer back to syllabi and attached class schedules to remember due dates and assignment requirements. LinkedIn finds syllabi so important that they created an entire online class to help professors create a thorough, detailed agenda for students. There is an emphasis on ensuring students have all of the information they need to organize their classes using a syllabus. Professors are only pushing back students’ time to prepare by releasing the syllabus after the class has already begun.

Calls for syllabi to be released earlier are not new. The Daily Pennsylvanian called on professors to release syllabi earlier last year, and The Harvard Crimson editorial board took on the issue in 2007. But many schools still do not have policies that require professors to submit their syllabi before classes begin. Some schools come close. Ohio State University, give students access to syllabi before registration, and Yale University requires syllabi to be uploaded “well in advance” of the registration period but does not specify a date.

Syllabi are too valuable to be an afterthought for professors. GW needs to set a deadline for them to be posted on Blackboard at least a week before the beginning of the semester to give students adequate time to gather course supplies, arrange their work schedules and set aside time to study and socialize with friends. A deadline would also give professors ample time to upload their syllabus to the syllabus bank on Blackboard.

Allowing professors to send syllabi at the last minute creates confusion and instability too soon in the semester. Administrators need to step up and require professors to send syllabi earlier.

Kyle Anderson, a freshman majoring in political science and criminal justice, is an opinions writer.

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