Saxa Politica: Let students see more syllabi

November 8, 2007

Pre-registration—that time of year when, for once, we plan for more than a few hours in advance. In choosing courses, students look at course titles, then move onto course descriptions and syllabi, which offer the most information about a class. However, many syllabi are notably absent. Students must have a course syllabus available to them at pre-registration in order to choose classes correctly.

Unfortunately for students, faculty think this is not possible. Women and Gender Studies Program Director Pamela Fox said that professors often do not have time to create a syllabus in time for pre-registration.

“It’s unrealistic because course preparation entails a whole lot of work and we’re busy during the semester with our classes,” Fox said.

There are a few easy steps faculty can take to move towards this goal that should really be painless. When professors request a class to teach, they must have some idea of how it will be taught. It should not take much work to translate these ideas into something students can look at.

Professors also tend to teach the same courses and usually the syllabus is not entirely new. Nobody expects all syllabi to be completed by pre-registration, but professors should use a past syllabus in creating a new one or even post a former syllabus. This would give students an idea of what they will have to do, instead of leaving them in the dark.

Even though Becky Gessler (COL ’11) is a freshman, she realizes that a lack of syllabi makes choosing courses difficult.

“For example, every teacher teaches Problem of God differently, so it’s hard to determine what a particular section is like,” she said.

The Problem of God is among the clearest examples of how this lack of information can hurt students. This spring, students can choose between 13 different professors for this class. Depending on the professor, the focus of this class can range from the history of Christianity to Eastern philosophies. Syllabi are crucial for classes such as these so students can gauge their interest level and choose the one that best suits them.

Faculty Senate President Wayne Davis noted that the Faculty Senate approved a revision in December 2006 to the Faculty Handbook that mandates syllabi for all classes by the beginning of the class. This is a step forward, because students will know what to expect before the end of add/drop and can change their schedules to their liking. But, having to wait until add/drop to make an informed decision still puts students at a disadvantage in their class selection.

Professors must produce something tangible during pre-registration. Georgetown students pride themselves in obsessing over every detail of their academic lives; having pre-registration syllabi means that students would not be forced to base their class selections on guesswork.

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