Many Penn professors hit the ground running when students return to campus for the new semester with rigorous homework assignments and in-class activities. While it’s reasonable to expect students and professors to try and make the most of the time they have for classes, if Penn wants to give students a serious chance to be prepared to hit the ground running, syllabi must be accessible prior to the start of classes.
For many Penn students, the add-drop period is regarded as little more than a joke. Although students can technically add new courses to their schedule during the first two weeks of the semester, it’s often practically impossible to do so, unless students are willing to forego a week or two of assignments and start the course off at a disadvantage.
Access to syllabi at least a couple of weeks in advance before the start of classes would help students head off some of the problems that can arise when they show up for courses and realize they need to drop and add a new class. Some classes simply aren’t a good fit, or aren’t precisely what the student thought from the usually brief description on PennInTouch or a department website.
There are also even more intractable issues, like exam conflicts, that might cause students to rearrange their schedule. While there are rules that require accommodations so that students with overlapping finals or three finals on the same day have the ability to move one of them, these same rules do not apply universally to midterms, and different departments and professors vary in their willingness to be flexible with midterm makeup exams. Often the easiest way to resolve these conflicts is to check the syllabi and make sure these conflicts are limited from the jump.
The effect is that students do not have the flexibility to adjust their schedule before classes start, which means that often the only options are to drop classes without adding another one in order to achieve the optimal number of credits, or staying in classes that will create conflicts in the future.
Further, while many professors allow some flexibility with purchasing textbooks throughout the first few classes, more time would enable students to pursue alternatives to the Penn Bookstore. Utilizing other sources of books, by finding one to borrow from a friend, ordering a cheaper version online, or tracking down online versions can save students hundreds of dollars that they might otherwise be forced to spend in order to get the materials in time to complete homework assignments.
Making syllabi available at least two weeks before the start of classes would solve this issue without putting an undue burden on professors. The conditions cannot be substantially different between mid-August and the start of classes, and syllabi are generally already presented with the caveat that readings, assignments, and exam dates are not set in stone, so there’s no reason that an adequate but inexact level of precision could also be achieved prior to the start of classes.
Some professors who teach the same course many times make past syllabi available on their website. This can be a helpful resource for students looking to get a sense of the course material or topic, but does not solve the problem for students taking new classes or classes that are being taught by a new professor and obviously does not help with exam scheduling.
The clearest and simplest solution is for the University to mandate that syllabi be made available at least two weeks prior to the start of classes.
Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.