With all of the different committee and administrative roles I have had in academia in the past 13 years, I have reviewed a whole LOTTA syllabi. Across multiple institutions and departments, the most dominant and lengthy prose that I have seen on these syllabi revolve around policy:
- if and what you can eat and drink in the room
- when and if you can go out and pee during class
- when and if your mobile devices can be used or seen
- how long your papers must be (with descriptions of their dullness— i.e., western styles of paragraphing, language, etc)
- how to make headings on the page (usually of the bad 8th grade variety)
- what happens if your body or your work is late or absent
- who to call for this and that and when to call them
- who to email for this and that and when to email them
- numbers of all kindsa offices on campus, including the professor’s, and anyone else students can be pushed off on if they have life-difficulties (i.e., leave your personal problems at the door)
- the horrors of plagiarism and the threats of what can happen
- the campus’s cut-and-paste language/legalese around disability (rather than genuine care)
- the department/program’s cut-and-paste list of learning objectives that a small group of faculty have gathered to write, usually for the purposes of assessment rather than a political investigation of what the hell we are teaching and how and why.
This bulleted list of PUREEEE boringness makes you wonder: who would actually want to read this mess? And what are students even learning? And you know what is significantly short? A discussion of the CONTENT STUDENTS ARE LEARNING! In fact, if you look at most syllabi, what students are mostly learning is the particular college’s and the classroom’s disciplining of their body movements. When you do get an actual course description, what you really see is the university’s neoliberalist discourse that appears in the course bulletin— more of a coded doctrine than any kind of readable prose because the course description is always really tight (in terms of words and characters allowed) and confined by the tastes and politics of the mostly white faculty who had to approve it. In fact, if you took a good look at most college syllabi across the country, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that any real student learning is happening at all… or that words mean and do anything but CONTROL students’ bodies.