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The case against assigned reading during syllabus week

It’s the basic understanding of college students and professors alike that once courses start, they’re already running at full speed. However, when asked, students and professors give very different answers on the importance of syllabus week. To professors, it’s the beginning of a new semester and time to start setting the pace for the next fifteen weeks to follow. To students, syllabus week is free week. Other than picking your seat for the rest of the semester and figuring out if you know other classmates, nothing serious is supposed to happen.

It can feel like an understandable betrayal when professors buckle down right from the gate, sometimes assigning homework on the first day. Anger and frustration can seem justified, prompting fresh complaints between friends and roommates about the inconvenience of it. There is a real unfairness to assignments during the first week — specifically textbook reading or online content.

Technical troubles plague students, particularly freshmen, attempting to set up and adjust to all different accounts: FirstClass, BlackBoard, MaineStreet and various branch-offs or private online components to in-person sessions. While the university is constantly advertising affordable prices at the bookstore and accessibility of its online store, students are stuck waiting for preordered textbooks or find themselves out of luck if copies run out. If you’re fortunate enough to have an online service like Amazon Prime to get the class materials needed quickly, you’re still behind if a professor assigns reading or responses to text you don’t have.

On top of this, the money troubles students face contributes to the rush to get textbooks right after financial aid kicks in. Some professors are thoughtful enough to supply the first few readings to give you a bit of time, and yet some forget that the assigned textbook runs anywhere between $50 to $400 and often comes out of our own pockets if we buy it too soon. Refunds are all well and good when September hits, but some students can’t afford the wait.

Certain students enter Add-Drop week knowing exactly what their game plan is for the semester. They didn’t buy the book because they’re switching out of one or more of the classes they thought would work for them last spring but changed their mind over the summer. For others, Add-Drop week is relatively stable with a plan to stick with the classes you have.

A small group, however, have no idea what their plan is. Some might change their mind after finding out a professor teaches in a way that doesn’t suit them, or the class material is too difficult. If professors demand we buy the textbook before we’ve even been to class once, we lose substantial money when we go to return it a week later. If we join a class late and work is already assigned or even turned in, we’re behind.

In the whirlwind of the first week of school, it is tempting to jump right in. But often times, it is unfair to students. Professors should put serious thought into what they can do to make the transition of summer break to school easier for their new students: either physically, mentally or financially. They should also consider whether or not that $200 textbook and online access code is really worth it to students enrolled in five classes at a time.

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