EDITORIALS

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October 6, 2009

Early decision

Course selection is by definition one of the most important academic choices that students make, and giving them the most information to make this crucial decision seems obvious.

The best way to get a feel for a class is clear: Take a look at the syllabus. They will tell you a lot—the class’s focus, reading load, attendance policies, grading schemes. It would make sense, then, for students to be presented with syllabi not on the first day of class, but during the weeks before the academic quarter starts, when they’re adding and dropping courses. Unfortunately, students at the U of C are not always given this opportunity, forced instead to rely on ambivalent course evaluations or word-of-mouth anecdotes. Luckily, there’s an easy fix to this problem—mandate that professors post course syllabi online before the start of classes.

Course selection is by definition one of the most important academic choices that students make, and giving them the most information to make this crucial decision seems obvious. Many professors appear to agree with this sentiment, helpfully posting their syllabi to the Chalk website prior to the start of classes. As it stands, however, many instructors don’t make syllabi available in advance. Yet requiring some amount of lead time wouldn’t be a major inconvenience for most professors, as their syllabi are often written well beforehand. If instructors can’t provide full syllabi until class begins, almost all can at least give the basic outlines of the course and a list of readings.

The current state of affairs puts students at a disadvantage when it comes to finalizing course schedules. Those who want to choose between two classes meeting at the same time must do so on the basis of sometimes cryptic course titles and descriptions instead of an examination of their respective syllabi. Also, students forced to wait until the first class meeting to know whether they don’t want to take a course are often confronted by a lack of open alternatives late in the selection process. If syllabi were available earlier, students would be less likely to face these dilemmas.

The U of C consistently offers a compelling array of classes. Students can best capitalize on course offerings when they are informed consumers—that is, when they are able to make the best choices about which classes will work for them. Ensuring the posting of syllabi in advance of the quarter will take us a step closer toward that ideal.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and two additional Editorial Board members.