Syllabus Policies Up for Grabs

Image of file folders with various labels. The label on the folder in focus says "Policies."

Wow. I knew I was likely going to take a break from posts once the semester ended, but I did not intend for that break to be a month and a half long! Have you missed me? I hope so!

I’m still processing how ungrading went this past semester and I’ll return to those posts soon. Today, I thought I’d do a post that’s a bit more concrete. A few weeks ago, I participated in an online forum on anti-racism in academia and I mentioned a section in my syllabi (syllabuses?) on “productive discomfort” and a few folks stated they’d like to see it. It got me thinking of a few other sections I have in my syllabi, a few of which are taken from others who have also graciously shared their language, so I thought I’d compile them here in case it’s useful to others.

So, here are some of the policies I have in my syllabi, either written by me or others (who I will link to when possible), that you are welcome to use yourself and modify as appropriate. And if you have any suggestions for edits or any policies of your own you’d be happy to share, let me know and I’ll either add them in or do another compilation post!

Productive discomfort and Title IX—I put these two paragraphs together towards at the end of the policies and also talk about them in class. The idea of productive discomfort is not mine. I stole it from someone else, but I cannot find the emails about this and thus cannot remember who was kind enough to share this with me. My apologies to that individual that I cannot give you the credit you deserve.

Because of the nature of this course, we will be discussing sensitive topics such as rape, violence, and death. These topics may be distressing or painful and I will do my best do provide advanced warning, but please know it is likely these topics will come up weekly. Some of what we read, view, or discuss may leave you feeling anxious, sad, or uncomfortable. These feelings are normal and healthy responses and some of these moments may lead to what I like to call productive discomfort. Productive because the goal is for you to challenge yourself, what you think, and what you believe. Discomfort because such rethinking (even when you reaffirm your views and beliefs) can be uncomfortable, sometimes even frightening. Hopefully, through this class, such moments will become a part of the learning process and not a hindrance. I will do my best to foster a friendly environment in which these feelings can be discussed openly and honestly if necessary. You are also welcome to speak with me privately.

Given the topics covered in class, you may experience the need or desire to process some of your own personal experiences with violence. This is also a normal and health response and I am available outside of the classroom to provide resources and referrals as necessary. Please keep in mind, however, that as an EMU faculty member, Title IX of the federal code and college police require that I, along with other faculty members, serve as a responsible employer of incidents involving sexual misconduct and relationship violence. This includes sexual assault/rape, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking involving EMU students, faculty, or staff, whether they occur on or off campus. If you provide information about these types of incidents in class, in a written assignment, in discussion in my office, in an email, or in other forms of communication, it is important that you know that I may be required to report it. Title IX requires reporting to ensure that colleges protect and accommodate victims/survivors as well as hold perpetrators accountable for their behavior. If you wish to discuss these feelings or report incidents of sexual misconduct or relationship violence in a confidential manner, you may contact any of the following individuals: (here I list the Title IX coordinator and the campus mental health services and link to the Title IX website)

Email Policy—I often hear folks say they aren’t sure how to put up barriers around emails, so I thought I’d add this in so you can see how I’ve done it within my syllabus. (I’m sure there are better links to include for professional email writing, but I haven’t had a chance to update mine.)

I expect you to check email at least once a day to ensure you are aware of any announcements or changes to the course schedule. You can usually expect a response within 48 hours. When emailing, please follow the guidelines described here:

NOTE: I do not answer emails between the hours of 5pm and 8am or on weekends. I also do not respond to emails 24 hours before an assignment is due.

Children in the Classroom—I stole this wonderful policy from Dr. Melissa Cheyney. The very first semester I had this in my syllabi, a student took me up on the policy. Given that I’m sure other students in prior semesters likely needed this option, but did not feel comfortable bringing their child to class, I’m glad I’ve now added this policy. (You should probably check your uni policy to make sure this doesn’t conflict, but I’m also fan of asking forgiveness later.)

It is my belief that if we want women in academia, that we should also expect children to be present in some form. Currently, the university does not have a formal policy on children in the classroom. The policy described here is thus, a reflection of my own beliefs and commitments to student, staff, and faculty parents. 

1) All exclusively breastfeeding babies are welcome in class as often as is necessary to support the breastfeeding relationship. Because not all women can pump sufficient milk, and not all babies will take a bottle reliably, I never want students to feel like they have to choose between feeding their baby and continuing their education. You and your nursing baby are welcome in class anytime.

2) For older children and babies, I understand that minor illnesses and unforeseen disruptions in childcare often put parents in the position of having to choose between missing class to stay home with a child and leaving him or her with someone you or the child does not feel comfortable with. While this is not meant to be a long-term childcare solution, occasionally bringing a child to class in order to cover gaps in care is perfectly acceptable.

3) I ask that all students work with me to create a welcoming environment that is respectful of all forms of diversity, including diversity in parenting status.

4) In all cases where babies and children come to class, I ask that you sit close to the door so that if your little one needs special attention and is disrupting learning for other students, you may step outside until their need has been met. Non-parents in the class, please reserve seats near the door for your parenting classmates.

5) Finally, I understand that often the largest barrier to completing your coursework once you become a parent is the tiredness many parents feel in the evening once children have finally gone to sleep. The struggles of balancing school, childcare, and often another job are exhausting! I hope that you will feel comfortable disclosing your student-parent status to me. This is the first step in my being able to accommodate any special needs that arise. While I maintain the same high expectations for all student in my classes regardless of parenting status, I am happy to problem solve with you in a way that makes you feel supported as you strive for school-parenting balance. Thank you for the diversity you bring to our classroom!

New Grading Policies—These are still a work in progress, but here’s what I have so far regarding grading policies after I switched to ungrading. The introduction material is stolen from Jesse Stommel.

This course will focus on qualitative not quantitative assessment and will be based on your own work and the works we’re studying. While you will get a final grade at the end of the term, I will not be grading individual assignments. Instead, I will be asking questions and making comments that engage your work rather than simply evaluate it. You will also be reflecting carefully on your own work and the work of your peers. The goal here is to help you focus on working in a way that supports your education, as opposed to working as you think you’re expected to. If this process causes more anxiety than it alleviates, see me at any point to reflect on and discuss your progress in the course to date. If you are worried about your grade, your best strategy should be to join the discussions, do the readings, and complete the assignments. You should consider this course a “busy-work-free zone.” If an assignment does not feel productive, we can find ways to modify, remix, or repurpose the instructions. You may also want to read Alfie Kohn’s, “The Case Against Grades”:

Grading scale: The University requires that I submit a final grade at the end of the semester. Your final grade will be based on the Graduate School scale, which includes A, B, C, and F (note, no D grades). Please note, however, that as assignments will not receive traditional points, our focus will be the totality of your work in the class, your progress throughout the semester, how well you met the standards for the final paper, and your self-reflections. Note: I will be submitting whole letters only, not + or – unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

Missed assignment policy: While assignments will not be “graded” in the traditional sense, I encourage you to keep up with due dates to ensure you are engaging with the course material and making progress throughout the semester. That said, if you are having trouble meeting a deadline or have an emergency, contact me immediately. We can discuss making-up assignments on a case-by-case basis as needed.

I hope you find these policies helpful! As I said, if there are others you’d like to share and make available to others, please let me know and I’ll put together another compilation.

2 thoughts on “Syllabus Policies Up for Grabs

  1. This is absolutely great.
    I am so grateful I ma subscribed to your blog. This is absolutely amazing and I be sure to adopt/adapt some of it with credits to you in my syllabic nd I will forward this to colleagues. You ROCK.
    Thank you.

    Daniela Jauk, Ph.D. (she/her/hers) I am first gen!
    Assistant Professor
    Certified Clinical Sociologist (C.C.S.)
    The University of Akron
    Department of Sociology & Department of Criminal Justice
    Olin Hall 231 – Akron, OH 44325-1920
    office: 330 972 8267
    mobile: 330 780 3039

    “What makes critical social theory “critical” is its commitment to justice, for one’s own group and for other groups.” Patricia Hill Collins


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