Letter to the Editor: Syllabi aren’t secrets

To the editor:

Jenna Robinson’s concerns about syllabi are overwrought and misdirected.  No syllabus is ever a “secret.”  Syllabi are distributed to the students who enroll in the class, not locked in a vault somewhere; nowadays this almost universally is done electronically, so once it’s out of the stable, it’s as “public” as it could be and any student can send you a copy.  Although some academic departments maintain binders or archives of syllabi, universities don’t: these documents change constantly as instructors update pedagogies, technologies, readings, and assignments in response to the availability and pricing of texts and online materials.  Ms Robinson could, if she so desired, go to any sorority or fraternity to obtain copies not only of syllabi, but exams, papers, opinions of professors, you name it.

Finally, a syllabus is no more equivalent to what gets taught than a party’s platform would equate to what policy it pursues.  Many of them explicitly indicate that the pace and content of the material is subject to change in response to classroom conditions.  Lessons are extended or shortened, for example, or the instructor decides to have the students discuss rather than write some assignments.

Peter Knupfer
Associate Professor Emeritus of History

East Lansing, MI