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« Bemused realization | Main | Disjunction »

January 30, 2005



Yes. And at some universities, the fear of lawsuits thing has gone so far that you can't change anything on the syllabus--due dates, assignments, grading breakdowns--once the class has begun. Which means that if your assignments are too ambitious, or the reading proves impractical, or the class comes up with a new and interesting idea they'd like to pursue, you can't make changes to accomodate that, which interferes with your ability to be flexible, or to set the bar high and adjust as needed later on. It's very frustrating.

Sherman Dorn

At my university, the student academic grievance procedure allows grievances to succeed only where grading has been arbitrary, capricious, etc.—in other words, very rarely. Faculty really don't have too much to worry about as long as they do have a syllabus that is reasonably clear. (I've been in grievances both as a committee member and as the target of a grade grievance.) That "CYA" approach isn't the real reason why my undergraduate syllabus grew to 20+ pages a few years ago. I kept adding little tidbits that I really thought were helpful, so that I wouldn't have to repeat myself and could just ask students to look that bit up in the syllabus. "Have you read the advice I give groups?" I say. "Uh, no." Once they read the bit, then we can have a more substantive discussion. I'd say that maybe 1-2 pages is CYA material. And I'd still like to turn that into education rather than a foundation for action on plagiarism, etc.

John Thomas McGuire

As a lawyer myself (sorry if I offend anyone:)), I understand the contractual nature of any agreement. On the other hand, as a college professor I can understand the impatience of my peers who don't think the classroom should be too adversarial. But two problems crop up. First, and not surprisingly, students do not read the syllabi, or don't take it seriously enough, even though I spend at least 30-45 minutes of each first class every semester discussing it. In fact I have given fake quizzes one or two weeks into the semester about the syllabi, and received bad results (big surprise.) Second, people do sue universities. A college that I taught at for awhile (which shall remain nameless) was sued once because the administrators talked to a student's parents about his grades (not allowed under privacy laws.) I even heard of a lawsuit where a student sued an university because a change in the grading system (adding A minuses) "made" him graduate magna, instead of summa, cum laude. (Funny I never thought of that during college, when the same thing "happened" to me!). It's probably a bad result of our increasingly litigation-prone society.

Another Damned Medievalist

Hmmm ... I wonder if I could countersue if I add in a bit about how the classroom is a community and preparation and classroom participation are essential to fostering a good learning environment. I could also state explicitly that students who choose to take the class agree to work to those principles ... If a student who was constantly unprepared sued, I could show that he was in breach of contract himself ...


A student in one of my classes once threatened me, and by association the college where I taught with a law suit because I proposed a change in the sylabus in mid-semester. From that point forward I always included a "syllabus subject to change by instructor" heading to every syllabus.

Brad DeLong

RE: " I'm not Brian Leiter..."

For which we all get down on our needs and devoutly thank God...



In my case, the teacher, AFTER he posted grades, lied and said that he required homework, even though it wasn't in the syllabus; lied and said that all lab points were for attendance, even though the syllabus said it was divided among attendance, participation and actual project completion

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