Professors Should Feel Comfortable Changing Syllabi


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Students and professors should understand that syllabi may change throughout the semester.

With the end of the semester rapidly approaching, there is only so much more time left to cover the important topics in a class. What if the most important topics have been saved for last, but suddenly there does not seem to be enough time to reach them? A professor should not be opposed to changing their syllabus.

I have heard that a syllabus is a binding contract between a professor and their students, but I disagree. Life happens. Time passes. There is no possible way to know how the semester will go when planning for it beforehand. A syllabus should not be something to be beholden to. In my mind, a syllabus serves as a guide or a general idea for the structure of a class. Things like grading procedures, academic expectations and assessment formats should probably not change, but the course schedule absolutely can.

My one request, if a professor decides to change something, is to give their students a little bit of notice. I am someone who likes to plan ahead, so last-minute disruptions to my schedule often frustrate me and hinder my work performance. With that being said, I still think it is okay to deviate from original plans as long as things are introduced in advance. If a change is to be made, I believe students should have 48 hours or more of notice, maybe less if something is getting pushed back, but certainly 48 hours or more if something is getting pushed up.

For example, in one of my classes, a test was moved from a Friday to the following Monday. This was handled very diplomatically with a poll sent out to all students around two days before the day of which the test was originally scheduled. There was also an option to nor deviate from the original schedule and take the test on Friday as planned, but most students voted for the move to the following Monday. However, my professor was very concerned that this was violating student trust because it was an edit made to the syllabus, even though he believed it would be more beneficial to our learning if the test was on Monday.

For instances like these, it is beyond acceptable to edit the syllabus, especially when it is diplomatic and far enough in advance. Moving the test was beneficial for both the students and the professor, so I see no reason why anyone would frown upon changes of this nature.

However, in other classes, professors can often spring work on students unexpectedly or move due dates with minimal notice. It is frustrating to learn that the expectations for a paper or project have changed just before its due date or to learn that there is something extra coming up in the next few days with a disproportionately large effect on overall course grades. Changes of this nature contribute to the already high levels of stress at the end of the semester.

So, while I think it is okay to make last minute edits to the syllabus if it is in everyone’s best interest, it is important to leave enough time for everyone to mentally prepare for such changes. This should leave both students and professors pleased with their courses.