After at least three years, syllabi database still in progress

A syllabus database would allow students to see sample syllabi for courses before enrolling.

by Max Chao

A database which would allow University of Minnesota students to view syllabi for different courses is in the works again after several years of attempts by past student government administrations.

On Dec. 5, the Minnesota Student Association passed a letter of support for a campus-wide syllabus database. 

The letter claims the database would provide students with unbiased information they could use to enroll for courses and would lead to fewer dropped classes. 

The database is one of MSA’s longtime goals, with implementation efforts dating back to at least 2014, according to past Minnesota Daily coverage.

A program giving departments the option to submit sample syllabi for popular courses was passed last year and is currently being implemented, said Abeer Syedah, MSA president for the 2016-17 school year. Though some framework already exists, the new database will be unique from the previous administration’s work, Syedah said in a text.

MSA plans to build parts of the new database off the existing framework, Syedah said in a text.

Although the letter of approval was passed, the database will not be implemented until it gains approval from administration, a process which could take years, said Emily Graper, MSA at-large representative and lead author of the letter.

Some faculty and administration members have raised questions about the database, including its infringement on their intellectual property, which is protected by Board of Regents policy, Graper said.

Other faculty members have no problems distributing their syllabi. 

“Just because something is distributed doesn’t mean that it’s no longer my intellectual property… I really can’t see any reason why I would deny a student access to a syllabus for a course that he or she might be interested in,” said Jason Hill, associate professor of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University. 

The main issues with the creation of the database so far have been logistical, said Nanette Hanks, assistant dean for curriculum for the College of Liberal Arts. 

“I think some faculty are always concerned about putting their intellectual property up for public view… [but] I wouldn’t characterize it as an issue where the faculty has said no, I would just say it’s more that we’re a big, complex organization and sometimes it’s hard to get initiatives pushed through,” she said.

Details of the database’s structure haven’t been finalized, but it could be an x500-locked resource that would give access to current and past class syllabi, Graper said.

At the University, the Departments of Chemistry, Public Health, Political Science and Psychology currently offer course syllabi to students. 

The University of Minnesota-Crookston and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Law School both have syllabus databases. Other Big Ten schools, like the University of Maryland, University of Iowa and University of Indiana, also have syllabus databases.

Although MSA continues discussions on the topic, it may be up to five years before the database is implemented, Graper said. 

“I think it’s a great project and if it takes me another two years to flush out and create, then it’s two years well spent,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated when Abeer Syedah was MSA president. Additionally, information attributed to Syedah was clarified.