State Sanctioned

A clearinghouse for information, analysis, and resources related to state sanctioned violence in the United States

Ethical Practices and Syllabus Exchange

There has been considerable debate over the “sharing” of syllabi, with some educators arguing this is a valuable way for teachers to learn from each other and avoid ‘reinventing the wheel.’ Some have even begun creating massive databases of syllabi so that they can be studied as a primary resource on higher education.

However, many other educators have expressed their concern that syllabi are valuable work product and that plagiarism of syllabi is a common problem (copying, in whole or part, course descriptions, structure, and assignments without attribution). Especially in an environment where post-secondary teachers are devalued as contingent labor, sharing syllabi carries the risk of institutions or departments taking ownership of syllabi, and treating teachers/teaching as nothing more than fungible workers who lead students through a generic course plan.

Ideally, syllabus creation is an intellectual, academic, and even political process that (much like scholarship itself) synthesizes the most important contributions of others while also putting one’s own unique spin on a subject.  

In light of all this, please be advised that in collecting these syllabi and making them available I am NOT endorsing “syllabus plagiarism.”  Any syllabi here are either included with the permission of the author, or are already publicly available online, with my page simply linking to the public copy.  If you use portions of these syllabi, in whole or in part, please find a way to credit the author – or at least make a genuine effort to get their permission.

There is no consensus about whether citations (such as footnotes) are appropriate to include in a syllabus, many of which are already fairly long and complex documents. But, there are other ways to credit the teachers we have learned from – verbally in the classroom; in our teaching statements; at conferences or in academic articles that focus on pedagogy; in supplemental pages or appendices to the syllabus; in online course resources; the list goes on.  Get creative and find some way to value all the people whose work has made it possible for you to teach the way you do.

Based on my own experience with college-level instruction, I will also say that the best syllabi are the ones you are intimately familiar with, either because you made the syllabus yourself or have taught the course multiple times. The readings and lesson plans devised by one teacher may not work for another teacher. For that matter, your own readings and lesson plans that worked for one group of students may not work when you try to use them with others!

I always start my own syllabi by examining comparable courses other teachers have created.  Looking at other teachers’ syllabi can help give you a sense of a “typical” course (or reveal to you there is no such thing). It might help you identify particular texts that are considered crucial for students to read (or identify some texts as over-played).  It might help you achieve consistency across different departments or institutions, or across different sections of the same class.  It might also help spark some of your own ideas for unique approaches or activities.  But from there, you should create your own syllabus, based on your own expertise, preferences/familiarity, and experience with the needs of students at your specific institution.

Back to Curricula and Sample Syllabi page

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