Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Syllabus as a Student-Teacher Contract, Now Including Legalese

A front-page story in the March 14 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education laments that "the contemporary syllabus is becoming more like a legal document, full of all manor of exhortations, proscriptions, and enunciations of class and institutional policy--often in minute detail that seems more appropriate for a courtroom than a classroom."  The article, by Paula Wasley, provides several examples, including this one from an introductory-religion syllabus at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa: "Keep your e-mail 'inbox' tidy so that you may receive timely notices from your professor."

The article speculates that the syllabus has become an implied student-teacher contract.  In some cases, notes Ms Wasley, the students must sign and attest that they have read the syllabus (and its proliferation of fine print) and that they understand it (and presumably agree to its terms).

Some syllabi also explain laws, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.  Other syllabi are now including provisions that reserve intellectual property rights, and that prohibit the taping and posting of class sessions on YouTube.

The article is worth a read, and I'd recommend asking your library to get you the paper edition of the March 14, 2008 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.  There is a sidebar article on page A11 on "Research Tips on Crafting a Better Syllabi" and an unrelated (but still very interesting) article on page A10 finding that the highest paid professors are those who teach law, business, and engineering.

Mark E. Wojcik, The John Marshall Law School-Chicago


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