Monday, September 8, 2008

An Open Letter to the Syllabus Writers

Dear Professors,

Welcome back! The first hint of fall is in the air, campus is teeming with meticulously coiffed freshmen, and it's time to distribute that syllabus you've been agonizing over all week summer. I know that this is a busy time of year for you, so I will keep my request short and simple.

When listing the articles that you would like your graduate students to track down and read, you must, at bare minimum, provide the full title and author's name. Citations such as "Smith, 'In Defense of . . .'" help no one. This goes double if the "article" in question has not been reprinted since it originally appeared in a 1927 edition of The New Masses (see also: Updating Your Syllabus).

I do not mind tracking down the obscure journals and hopelessly arcane essays of which you are so fond. Sometimes it's even fun — like a treasure hunt, except that instead of gold bullion, you get a treatise by Lionel Trilling. All I ask is that you give me the author's name, the full title, and (if you are feeling magnanimous) the name and/or date of the periodical in which each piece was published.

Looking forward to an interesting semester,

Your Grad Students

P.S. If you are going to assign an obscure article that is primarily concerned with refuting another obscure article, just assign both articles. I mean, I'm going to go track down the other one anyway because I am a good little student and it's early in the semester, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm the only one.

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