Pitzer’s College Council passed a resolution that asks faculty members to post a detailed course description online prior to registration and to send out lists of required books before classes begin starting for the Spring 2010 semester. The College Council, comprised of faculty, staff, and students, is the final decision-making body in the process of policy changes. No other Claremont College requires course description beyond what it is in each school’s course catalog.
The original proposed changes would have required teachers to either post tentative syllabi or past syllabi before pre-registration periods. Sean Sullivan PI ‘10, who championed the proposal, commended the vote.
“This is a small victory, but an important one since it is the first time that Senate has pushed a meaningful policy change through College Council, that I can remember,” said Sullivan in an e-mail. “In the end, something like this shouldn’t take five months.”
Shatara Ford PI ‘09, president of Student Senate, said that the goal of this proposal was not to impose on teachers but to increase communication.
“The idea was to support better communication between faculty and students and planning,” said Ford.
Dean of Faculty Alan Jones said that he enjoyed the dialogue between students and faculty and that he believes this is good policy for the institution.
“I think that, to the extent that it helps students make informed choices about the courses that they will register for, it’s a positive move,” said Jones. “Like other faculty, I was informed by the discussion at College Council—I certainly have no complaints about how Student Senate drafted or brought forward this measure.”
The original proposal was modified in order to satisfy teacher concerns that it could restrict their teaching methods. Student Senator Sara Phillips PI ‘12 said that this policy would have been more helpful to the entire community if the original proposal, which required teachers to post course syllabi, had been implemented.
“Asking teachers to post syllabi and book lists prior to pre-registration would be beneficial not only to students, but also to professors, advisors and the Office of the Registrar,” said Phillips. “For instance, if a student signs up for a course, but on the first day of class finds out that the course was nothing like its description in the course catalog and wants to drop that course, the student would have to go through a ridiculously tedious process to exchange the course for something else.”
Mita Banerjee, a psychology professor who voted to pass the proposal, thinks that it will improve student and faculty communications but shed some light on some possible shortcomings of the earlier proposal.
“I am okay with students wanting more information about courses,” said Banerjee. “However, it’s not always going to work for every teacher to post course syllabi. When developing a new course, sometimes faculty do not prep their course until the summer time.”
In addition, philosophy Professor Brian Keeley thinks that students should compile past course syllabi themselves to make a site for student use.
“More and more are recognizing that students do want this information,” said Keeley. “If students really want the things they are asking for, they could compile a website.”
Ford disagrees with that notion. “The policy needs to have more teeth,” Ford said. “I wish it were binding, because it will help students to plan what they want to take.”
Another complementary solution, Keeley says, is for students to ask the Huntley Bookstore for the books that professors order.
“The Huntley Bookstore asks for our course options the semester before so then they know which books to hold onto,” said Keeley. “Maybe the students should be talking to the bookstore and try to gather that information.”
Sullivan sent out an e-mail to the Pitzer listserv in November about ideas to “make Pitzer better.” After receiving positive feedback about the initiative, Sullivan went before the Teaching and Learning Committee, a Pitzer faculty committee. After meeting some opposition in that venue, Sullivan took the matter to the Student Senate before it ultimately passed at College Council.
“When investing thousands of dollars in a class we should be able to have more than a few sentences in a course catalog to base our decisions off of,” said Sullivan. “Seeing prospective readings and class work can give students and idea of the class and if they would be interested. Ideally this might also mean that more interested and engaged students end up in classes.”
Phillips said that many in Student Senate wanted stronger language for this policy, but that Senate “softened it” in order to make it palatable to the professors on the College Council.
“The only conflict that came up in Student Senate was in the wording of the language of the proposal,” commented Phillips. “The council decided on a less intense approach to the language because we thought that would be more well-liked by the staff. We made this decision with the knowledge that we could always go back and make changes to the proposal after it was approved.”