This is now a very hotly contested area in the management of syllabi, and something we will only scratch the surface on in this article.
To begin, many faculty feel that a syllabus is their own intellectual property and therefore they can choose how (or how not) to design and disseminate it. Most schools do now have a process for collection in place, but often they are at the department level, loosely adhered to, and may even stipulate that the school return syllabi to the instructor once it is observed and reviewed.
On the other hand, administrators believe a syllabus is part of the instructors' job and therefore a work-for-hire piece. Then in the case of public schools, it would even be subject to open records law. In fact, Texas introduced legislation, House Bill 2504, in part to make access to syllabi and CVs by the public possible in an effort to increase accountability and reduce costs. Other states are now considering similar measures.
Further, we have started to see a number of other pressures related to syllabus management that have opened the IP can of worms so to speak, namely programmatic accreditation. As schools are scrutinized more heavily for consistency and outcomes, many have adopted centralized syllabus management policies and practices, further pushing the IP argument towards the side of the administrators.
A final and powerful example of how pervasive this issue has become is from a study the National Council on Teacher Quality is performing on education programs. As a part of their ranking, they are requesting and reviewing syllabi from education schools. While many have complied, a handful have held out on the grounds of IP and realistically, the burden of collection and organization of the documents.
In the case of the University of Wisconsin System, the court ruled that syllabi do fall under Wisconsin's Open Records Law. Therefore they were required to not only turn over the documents, but also pay a fee of $10,000. Then the same outcome happened with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. The jury is still out for the University of Missouri, though a similar result is anticipated.
In all cases, NTCQ does go on to emphasize that this request does not actually transfer ownership of the document. However, a precedent has now been set that syllabi are not the property of the instructor.
The Syllabus Geeks have certainly seen both sides of the story and helped schools to devise solutions that meet the needs of both groups. We'd like to offer a number of suggestions.
In general, we lean on the side of transparency. Having "open" syllabi is better for everyone. It means students can preview course expectations before they enroll in them. Instructors can more easily collaborate and build of the teachings of their peers. And administrators can get a better purview and mapping of all of the academic activities being delivered by their institution.
Additionally, while Concourse can be used to restrict permission to say the public, we advise our clients not to do so. Part of this simplifies the implementation itself, but it usually makes good sense to do allow public access to attract new students and streamline the transfer process.
Beyond the technology, we recommend clarification on syllabi within the faculty contract. Furthermore, we've seen instances where syllabi are treated differently for full time vs. adjuncts, but we absolutely advise against this sort of segmenting.
Finally, we recommend a phased approach to the implementation of a syllabus process. Begin with something simple like just collecting syllabi. Then get a baseline for where all your syllabi stand. Plus poll the instructors to see where they stand. Continue with instituting syllabus templates and you will be well on your way to becoming a model Syllabus Geek campus.
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