Syllabi Set in Stone?

Students at North Dakota State University are familiar with syllabi. The document, released at the beginning of the semester, can be an essential component for achieving the desired grade.

NDSU Policy Manual Section 331.1 states a syllabus is to provide specific class information for students and fulfill federal and other legal requirements, must be included with each course taught by NDSU.

Course prefix, credits, objectives, schedule, the American with Disabilities Act and the approved academic honesty statement are examples of items required by NDSU policy to be printed on each syllabus.

Additional factors to be addressed include required materials, evaluation procedures and criteria and course objectives.

But how binding are syllabi, and are instructors at liberty to change information throughout the semester? What rights do students have?

Charlene Wolf-Hall, NDSU’s vice provost for academic affairs, said changes to course policies midway through the semester are not common, though may occur if there is need.

Instructors maintain the right to make changes to syllabus policy, within reason, and are expected to clearly communicate changes to students prior to implementation.

Institutional level policies, as described in policy 331.1, cannot be changed.

While faculty members also have the right to change grading policies, Wolf-Hall said that this is most often in the students’ favor.

If a student believes an instructor has violated an NDSU policy, such as the Dead Week policy or has utilized unfair practice, they are to first discuss their concerns with the instructor.

If the conversation yields unsatisfactory results, reaching out to the faculty member’s supervisor, such as a chair, head or director, would be the next step.

Subsequent contacts would be the dean of the college offering the course, or finally, if still unsatisfied, a grievance can be submitted to the Provost’s Office. Grievance forms can be found on the NDSU website.

Wolf-Hall said that it is in the best interest of the student to be proactive when resolving issues. “It is better to confront such issues as soon as possible rather than waiting until after grades are assigned.”

Students can also express concerns by the rating the instruction on feedback forms provided at the end of the course.

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