by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jenna Robinson of the Martin Center explains why it makes sense to make college class syllabi public.
Online education, especially as it has been implemented in the past year, isn’t for everyone. But it has had one unexpected benefit: transparency. Across the country, parents have had a chance to see for themselves what their children are learning. At the K-12 level, it’s been eye-opening.
But college students need less supervision. So, even though many of them have been learning from home, parents haven’t been hovering over their shoulders during class. But the same transparency is sorely needed. Parents—and taxpayers—should know what their hard-earned money is paying for.
But it’s not always easy to find out what students are actually learning. The Martin Center recently received this response to a public records request for education school curricula at NC State:
“NC State University faculty own the copyright to their course syllabi, not the university (see Copyright regulation, as a Traditional Work: https://policies.ncsu.edu/regulation/reg-01-25-03/). These faculty have declined the opportunity to provide their syllabi in response to your request. Therefore, NC State University has no public records responsive to your request.”
Despite NC State’s claim, it’s not at all clear that professors’ syllabi are protected from examination and transparency. Indeed, a review of Federal law and UNC system policy suggests that NC State incorrectly cites copyright as a way to shield professors from scrutiny. (It’s also worth noting that syllabi are not included in the university’s list of generally accepted “traditional works.”) …
… [M]any faculty members—at NC State and across the country—cite copyright protection to keep their syllabi secret and shielded from scrutiny. The American Association of University Professors, a membership organization dedicated to faculty rights, embraces this position.
North Carolina policymakers should step in to ensure that syllabi are publicly available. Professors at public institutions shouldn’t have the option to withhold basic instructional materials from the public.