The last time the Brown community broached the subject of holidays, the University eliminated Columbus Day amidst fierce debate and controversy. We are certain, though, that Columbus Day enthusiasts and detractors alike will appreciate our new recommended tradition.
We propose that Aug. 27, 2010 — five days before the beginning of shopping period for the Fall 2010 semester — be declared Syllabus Day. To honor Syllabus Day, the administration should mandate that all professors upload their course syllabi to the Web by this date. This simple measure will directly benefit both faculty and students.
Professors are currently encouraged to upload their syllabi to courses.brown.edu, the University's online course database. We applaud recent efforts undertaken by the Provost, the Dean of the College and the Undergraduate Council of Students to increase faculty participation. However, The Herald reported last week that just over one-third of the courses offered this semester had syllabi on their Course Preview Pages at the beginning of shopping period.
A new, University-wide mandate would be no more than a minor inconvenience to professors. Syllabi are likely completed a week prior to the beginning of the semester, and many are recycled from year to year. Uploading these syllabi electronically should take no more than a few minutes.
As students and professors have noticed once again, the first week of classes is often wasteful. Overstressed students rush to classes without knowing what will be covered. Professors, perhaps frustrated because they are not able to begin teaching immediately, frequently focus the most of the first class meeting on the content of the syllabus.
Because the first meeting of class tends to be simply an exercise in syllabus distribution, students are forced to delay their final registration and attend another class to get a feel for the professor's teaching style. As a result, students often leave classes dissatisfied or more uncertain than when they came in. Furthermore, the large crowds of students attending some classes are often forced to stand or sit on stairs in auditorium halls, creating discomfort and even fire hazards.
Making syllabi available online ahead of time can alleviate many of these problems. If the University adopts our proposed suggestion, then next fall students will be expected to have read syllabi prior to the first class meeting. This measure will make students' shopping decisions more informed and allow professors to change the usual first day routine. We hope professors will take advantage of this opportunity to commence teaching — or at least previewing in detail — course content right away. Since the first day's attendance will more accurately reflect the likely class size, professors will also be able to make more informed judgments about rooms, sections and TAs. And instead of listening to logistical information they could have easily read on their own, students will be able to focus on the material and determine whether the professor's teaching style appeals to them.
As the online system develops, we hope the Course Preview Pages can also become an extensive database of syllabi from past semesters. For students deciding whether to take semesters off, study abroad or just planning in advance for concentration requirements, perusing syllabi from previous years can be tremendously useful. Access to old syllabi will also aid students embarking on independent research.
We don't expect that Syllabus Day will elicit the same kind of camaraderie as other days Brown students are fond of celebrating (like Spring Weekend and April 20). But we do think that a few minutes of professors' time can go a long way in making a noticeable, positive difference in academic life at Brown.
Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to email@example.com.