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Classes start in three days, and that means it’s time to crack open the Courses of Instruction, scope out the CUE Guide, and examine course syllabi—that is if you can find them.
Students are expected to complete their work on time ,and there’s no reason that expectations for professors should be any different. When professors fail to punctually perform their teaching responsibilities before, during, and after the school year, students suffer.
Unfortunately, a disturbingly large number of Harvard faculty are currently shirking their responsibility by not posting course syllabi online in a timely manner. On Wednesday, students working for the textbook discount website CrimsonReading.org visited the webpages of 231 popular courses and found only 42 syllabi. That only 18 percent of professors cared enough to post their syllabi is, quite simply, pathetic.
This is troubling given the crucial role online syllabi play in students’ pre-shopping week planning. Many students depend on syllabi in order to purchase books early for classes they are sure they are taking, avoiding the Coop’s high prices while still receiving their materials before the beginning of classes. Professors may think little of putting a syllabus online, but their apathy may cost their students thousands of dollars.
In addition, syllabi provide a glimpse of what a course will entail, allowing prospective shoppers to make informed decisions about which of Harvard’s many offerings they should visit come shopping week. The timing of a midterm, a course’s requirements, the books used, and the particular subject matter taught often make a difference in course decisions, and in these areas the CUE Guide and Courses of Instruction are insufficient. This is especially crucial because many popular classes meet at the same time, leaving students bewildered as to which courses they should shop.
This unfortunate situation can be entirely avoided with a little bit of planning and effort. It seems reasonable to require all syllabi to be posted by the time the dorms open to freshmen, giving students a full nine days of advance notice before courses begin. A similar schedule in the spring would also be reasonable. As long as professors are invested and engaged in developing their courses, they should be able to have a good idea of the material they will be teaching two weeks before they deliver their first lecture. Posting at least a preliminary syllabus—perhaps even from a previous offering of the course—on the Web is not too much to ask.
Harvard’s professors are a fairly erudite bunch, but time waits for no man. We hope to see a dramatic increase in the number of posted syllabi today and a more efficient and institutionalized system in years to come.
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