August 28th, 2014
When I was an undergrad in the ’90s, there was little more exciting than the first day of class. What will my professor be like? What books will I be reading? How many papers will I have to write? Answers
came readily, in the form of a tidy one-page document that consisted
solely of the professor’s name and office hours, a three-sentence course
description, a list of books, and, finally, a very brief rundown of the
assignments (papers, exams) and their relevant dates. This was a course
syllabus in 1996, and it was good.
If, like me, you haven’t been a college student since the Clinton
administration—but, unlike me, you also haven’t been a professor
today—then you might be equal parts impressed and aghast at what is required for a course syllabus now. Ten, 15, even 20
pages of policies, rubrics, and required administrative boilerplate,
some so ludicrous (“course-specific expected learning outcomes”) that I
myself have never actually read parts of my own syllabi all the way through.