The Corner

Education

Syllabi Should Be Public

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Sellers of all kinds of goods and services are required to provide accurate information to consumers. False advertising and deceptive labeling are not allowed.

But when it comes to education, it’s caveat emptor. Students, parents and taxpayers often find it difficult to discover exactly what a course contains because syllabi are treated by some colleges and universities as the intellectual property of the faculty members — they’re copyrighted material and thus not available under public-records requests.

In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson discusses this problem. When the Center tried to get syllabi for education courses taught at NC State, we ran into the “sorry, but the syllabi are copyrighted” blockade by the university.

Robinson argues that syllabi should be available to the public under the “fair use” exception in federal copyright law. She writes, “Public records requests from news and public policy organizations are very clearly included under the fair use interpretation. ‘Criticism, comment, news reporting’ and ‘nonprofit educational purposes’ are specifically cited as justifications for fair use.”

But fighting that legal battle would require considerable resources. State legislators could and should step in and declare that syllabi at the schools they oversee will be available to the public. Texas has passed such a law.

Universities can also adopt a policy of disclosure. Robinson points to the University of Florida: “The University of Florida provides a model for syllabus transparency. At UF, a universitywide policy requires that all syllabi be posted online in a single, easy-to-use directory of courses. Such a model has benefits for students, in addition to making the university more transparent. It enables students to accurately predict what will be covered in class, which helps them to plan their course loads and enroll for the content they want and need.”

This wouldn’t matter so much if it weren’t for the fact that many “progressive” educators have decided to smuggle propaganda into their classrooms. That shouldn’t be any more acceptable than including sawdust in hot dogs.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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