UBC Senate to pass mandatory syllabus policy for fall 2019

UBC is one of the only universities in Canada that does not have a policy requiring professors to provide a syllabus for their courses — but after many years of deliberation in the Senate, that may change.

Chair of the Senate Academic Policy Committee Paul Harrison is confidant UBC will have a mandatory syllabus policy in place for the 2019/20 winter session.

Harrison’s committee has finished writing the policy and is scheduled to consult with the Teaching and Learning Committee and the Curriculum Committee. Pending their approval, Harrison hopes to bring the policy to Senate with joint support in December.

“I hope if we don’t get it to Senate before the end of 2018, it’ll be [by] early 2019 — and certainly if it’s adopted, [it] would be in effect for fall,” said Harrison.

While many faculties and departments have their own expectations for what a syllabus should include, there are cases where professors have not provided a formal syllabus or choose to alter their course plans throughout the term. This policy would standardize syllabi across all of UBC’s departments, which Harrison hopes will help students successfully navigate their studies.

“I think we have a feeling that most course instructors do provide students with some sort of course outline. They may call it a syllabus — they may not,” said Harrison. “But it certainly came to our attention that there were glaring omissions where students were going through a whole course without such a guiding document.”

Under the new policy, syllabi would have to contain instructor information, a course description, class structure, learning objectives, reading materials and their costs, a course schedule and assessment criteria. They would also include information about resources that promote well-being and sexual violence prevention.

When professors modify their syllabi, they would have to notify the students in class and provide a reasonable rationale for the change.

Most Canadian universities have had regulations like this in place for years, but it only came to Harrison’s attention “a couple years ago.” Harrison simply chalked the delay up to legislative oversight.

“It’s just one of those things that’s gone under the wire,” he said.

But there is opposition to the policy. Dr. Charles Menzies, an anthropology professor and faculty representative on the Board of Governors, thinks the policy is unnecessary.

“I really think people should only regulate a problem if it's actually a problem,” he said.

Menzies added the issue of professors failing to provide accurate syllabi is rare and when it does occur, it should be addressed on a case-by-case basis and not by a broad policy.

“If a faculty member isn’t providing course outlines to their students, there are ways to review their behaviour, their practice, because that would suggest that they’re not fulfilling their teaching obligations,” he said.

He also believes that much of the information that will be mandated in syllabi — like mental health resources and textbook cost — should be instead communicated directly by the university.

“It’s really creating an issue where there isn’t one,” he said. “If you want to communicate effectively policies of the university and the way things work, then you should use a direct-to-students communication network.”