Syllabus tyrannus

Stefanie Botelho's picture

EDUCATION GETTING SCHOOLED.AUG. 26 2014 11:42 PM Syllabus Tyrannus 7.1k 187 305 The decline and fall of the American university is written in 25-page course syllabi. By Rebecca Schuman Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer. Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer

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.

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