The Educational Policy Committee (EPC) voted on Dec. 7 to approve a syllabus requirement and guidance, which passed with nearly 90% faculty approval and went into effect for the start of the spring 2021 semester. The policy was devised over the course of the fall semester, prompted by the difficulties created by the pandemic, however, the idea of a requirement had been brought up before the University adopted remote learning. The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) unanimously endorsed the syllabus requirement policy on Nov. 1, 2020.
“Faculty shall generally distribute a syllabus within the first week of any course’s semester or term, with exceptions limited to small and upper-level (400+) and partial-credit courses,” the policy reads. “The syllabus…should help students understand how and where to access the information and resources they will need in order to participate fully. A syllabus shall not be taken to preclude flexibility, adaptation, and adjustments, so long as such revisions are clearly communicated and do not introduce additional significant burdens on students.”
Although it is considered routine for professors to provide syllabi, the fact that there was not previously a requirement meant it was difficult to enforce.
“It’s hard to call it a grievance if there isn’t a policy,” Associate Professor of Philosophy and EPC Chair Elise Springer said. “When we approached the faculty and we said, ‘we should really make this a policy,’ I’d say most of the voices who were skeptical…just thought it was redundant.”
Faculty also had concerns that a requirement would preclude flexibility for changes to the syllabus throughout the semester. In response, the policy was written with this concern in mind to allow professors to make adjustments to their courses as needed.
Springer spoke to the importance of the new syllabus requirement and guidance.
“The purpose of this policy is to ensure that students feel clear in their expectation of a syllabus,” Springer said. “And especially given that there may be some—especially first-year students—who haven’t been a part of the kind of academic culture that they’d be exposed to if they were rubbing elbows in shared spaces on campus.”
If a professor does not provide a syllabus, students should first ask the professor for the document. Failing that, students can reach out to the department’s chair and, lastly, the division’s academic dean.
“This change will support students in accessing the information they need about their courses through the syllabus,” Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Nicole Stanton wrote in an email to the Argus.
Moving forward, the syllabus guidance opens the possibility for other requirements on syllabus content. Academic Affairs Committee Chair Ben Garfield ’22 is hopeful that in the future, professors will be required to list certain policies, like religious accommodations, on their syllabi.
“The idea is that now that you’re required to have a syllabus, we can tell you that you have to put something on your syllabus,” Garfield said. “That’s not in any of the language that was passed…but my idea is that down the line, someone else eventually will be able to force certain things to be required on syllabi.”
Sophie Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hallie Sternberg contributed reporting.