Senate passes mandatory syllabi policy after years of deliberation and advocacy

All credit-bearing courses except for graduate level theses and dissertations are now required to provide a syllabus under UBC policy.

After years of deliberation, UBC’s Senate approved the policy on Content and Distribution of Course Syllabi (Policy V-130) on January 16. The policy will take effect in the 2019/20 academic year, matching syllabus policies that many other Canadian universities have already had for years.

Drafted with the Senate teaching and learning committee, Policy V-130 aims to ensure that students have access to information about their courses and available resources at UBC.

“Most faculty do try to give students some sort of a syllabus or a guide for the course,” said Chair of the Senate academic policy committee Dr. Paul Harrison. “This policy is merely building on that and saying, ‘Okay, here are some standard things that maybe you didn’t think students really need, but students tell us they need.’”

Under this policy, the syllabus will expand to contain information that students may not be used to receiving: a cost estimate for the course and a resource list on learning, well-being and sexual violence prevention.

Harrison hopes it will improve communications with students and assist instructors in supporting them.

“Effectively communicating with students is a challenge for the university ... we felt that this was an additional way of communicating and putting those resources in the hands of students,” said Harrison.

“We also felt that it’s important that students see … the concept of supporting students for success is there in each and every course. We felt this was a way we could assist instructors in providing that information, without them having to come up with it on their own.”

Student representatives, who led advocacy for the policy, are happy to see it finally approved. The AMS also facilitated a community consultation for the policy, which saw received around 200 survey responses from students and faculty.

“Both the AMS and student senate caucus were very supportive of this policy,” said Max Holmes, student senator and AMS VP academic and university affairs.

“… We think that the consultation process with the students was very thorough, there was a lot of input from all of the different groups, and we’re very happy with how the policy turned out.”

But at the January 16 meeting, some faculty senators criticized the policy for being “too prescriptive,” or potentially adding “unnecessary overhead” to instructors.

In a previous interview with The Ubyssey, anthropology professor and Board of Governors faculty representative Dr. Charles Menzies said the university should inform students about resources and costs directly.

Harrison emphasized that “having nothing in policy was not working for students.”

“This simply says, ‘Here’s a list of key bits of information that you should provide your students,’” he said, noting that the policy recognizes instructors’ purview for developing their own course. “If instructors aren’t doing some of that now, it will make their lives easier if students have that material at hand.”

Harrison added that the policy allows for instructors to change the syllabi through the academic term, such as when they need to modify the weight of a final exam after a challenging midterm exam or when the class spends more time on one topic than another.

The only requirement is that instructors notify their students in class and provide reasons if there are changes to the syllabi.

Holmes said that “there weren’t many ideas” on the enforcement of the policy, but not following it could allow for academic standing appeals.

“If anything, our policy might actually be less prescriptive than some of our peers’,” he said.