Students need to see syllabi sooner for purchases, planning

Few students have the luxury of considering full time enrollment with a full-time job. Most juggle work, family and study, meaning planning is a necessity. A syllabus is a crucial road map for the semester, but too many professors are leaving students in the wilderness until the day classes begin.

Less than a week before school started, we found many classes were listed online with no syllabus. Students use online syllabi to plan their work and study schedules and to order text books online.
We ask that professors make every effort to get syllabi to students at least a week before school resumes, and we believe the Provost’s office needs to introduce an official deadline for professors to turn in syllabi. We recognize that enforcing this deadline would be difficult and time consuming, but perhaps noting the professor’s average amount of pre-semster lead time alongside course review ratings could help time-strapped students avoid procrastinating professors.
Though the Provost’s office has been collecting syllabi since 2006, and have made them available to students through their online application CourseBook, limited participation from faculty members and the absence of a formal deadline for turning in syllabi have turned a precognitive resource into an archival tool that can help students replace missing documents and little else.
UTD is accredited by the Commission on Colleges (COC) of the Southern Association of Colleges and  Schools (SACS). Every 10 years UTD must be reevaluated, a process which requires the college to self analyze and collect data about its functioning, make improvements and report back to the COC. This process takes several years, so though UTD was not going to be reevaluated until 2008, a program called SACS was developed in 2006.
As part of the SACS program, the Provost’s office began collecting and standardizing the syllabi that professors were giving to their classes. As a result of this initiative, syllabi submitted to the Provost are required to list professor’s contact information and office hours, course description, lecture or assignment outline, textbooks and course objectives.
Since the COC reaffirmed UTD’s accreditation in 2008, the percentage of faculty members turning in syllabi to the Provost’s office seems to be dwindling, even as internal pressure and standards placed on faculty have increased.
The bulk of syllabi are turned into the Provost’s office starting a few days before term starts until three weeks in, said Simmon Kane, associate provost. Since most professors hand out syllabi the first day of class, putting the syllabi on CourseBook at this time does little to help students.
According to the National Association of College Stores’ (NACS) Student Watch 2008 Report, the average student spends $702 on course materials every year, 24 percent of which are purchased online. Professors need to make students aware of their course materials sooner to allow for shipping times of these purchases.
It is particularly frustrating to see old syllabi from professors who teach the same classes each year, and wonder if the forthcoming semester’s selections are different.
Faculty and the UTD Bookstore often communicate directly to order textbooks. This causes professors to circumvent the Provost’s office, and in some cases be unaware of the ISBN of the books they have ordered, making it harder for students to confirm if they are purchasing the correct text. This also places the UTD Bookstore as the authority on what books are required for a class.
It should not be the bookstore’s responsibility to provide the student body with information which could damage their business. While we do not believe the UTD Bookstore should conceal this information, we feel the main responsibility should remain with the faculty and Provost’s office. It is unfair to students to outsource part of the educational process to the UTD Bookstore.
We recognize the strides the Provost’s office and faculty members have made toward improving students’ education and availability of crucial information. But the absence of an early deadline and the limited faculty participation after the end of the SACS program still dilute the usefulness of the CourseBook application.
It may be useful for the Provost’s office or another administrative entity to create updated syllabus templates for each type of offering, including once weekly, twice weekly, and so on.
We recognize that professors, particularly those who teach year-round, face serious time pressure as well. Perhaps busy professors will be slightly heartened and inspired to haste by another consensus opinion of the board — a syllabus in the hands of students a week or more before classes start builds anticipation and excitement about what we’ll learn.

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