First day, aka ‘Syllabus Day,’ seems unnecessary, redundant
Published: Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 17:08
Imagine you're wide-eyed and fresh out of high school, marching into your first UNC class with all the excitement of a goldfish dropped into a new bowl. Your first day of university life is your first day of adult life. But apart from larger classes and a darker lecture hall, your first day of college classes is much the same as all of your first days since seventh grade. It is the most unexciting and uninspiring day of the semester, the monumental waste of learning time we call "Syllabus Day."
It sounds like the name of an obscure holiday, and to some students I'm certain it is just that: no homework, no class discussion and a good chance you'll be released earlier than scheduled. But for students who take pride in their learning and look forward to a new opportunity, Syllabus Day is a bit of torture at the beginning of each semester.
For the majority of classes, we can guess what the syllabus will look like aside from the minor details. It's not the schedule or the grade breakdown that is troublesome; it's the endless lists of rules to follow.
To say "cell phone use is prohibited during lectures" is obvious to the point of insulting. If a student chooses to text their friends during class, a few minutes spent reinforcing the point in each class's first session is not going to stop them.
Same goes for listening to music, surfing the web, and any other clearly distracting activity. If students do this, instructors should by all means treat them like adults and boot them out of the room. But to spend time talking about it on the first day is wasteful.
Then there are the misguided efforts like trying to require attendance for a 100-student lecture. Again, if the student chooses not to learn, then let them fail. But don't waste the other students' time warning them about it. Sometimes common sense is the name of the game.
Perhaps Syllabus Day is an outdated relic of a web-less past. With the Internet, professors can simply post their syllabus on Blackboard and assume students have read and understand it if they ask no questions. Better yet, have no syllabus at all. Instead expect students to show up, listen closely and ask questions if necessary. If it appears the course isn't rich enough in potential interest for this to work, close the course altogether; it's not designed well.
The fault doesn't sit on professors, and they're not to be attacked. It's vital to them to spend time going over the syllabus so as not to have conflict later (i.e. the student who thought it would be OK to take his final on a day better suited to him).
The responsibility is on students to use their heads in determining what's inappropriate and disrespectful. Perhaps the university, rather than requiring that professors spend this time going over their syllabus, could release one overarching syllabus, with only two simple rules: Respect others and participate in your own learning. Everything else falls under these two.
Professors could then spend valuable time on the more valuable pursuit of strong discourse. And as wide-eyed students on the first day of class, we would no longer be held captive, but instead be captivated.
— Mark Maxwell is a junior theater arts major.