This is the sort of squabble this place excels in. Both sides agree on the basic goal of the Provost's memo: final exams should be given, as scheduled, during finals week. There would never have been any debate if the Provost had simply written a memo telling chairs to remind faculty of this university policy. Not every university policy requires a cumbersome and intrusive enforcement mechanism. If faculty giving early finals are and continue to be a problem, that problem will come to light from student complaints--especially if not only faculty but students are informed of the university policy. Most faculty offenders, if there are such, would be sensible enough to clean up their acts.
Instead the Provost intervened in a heavy-handed manner, by attempting to impose a whole new level of administrative scrutiny of syllabi, scrutiny which would extend not only to the timing of final exams (where there is no disagreement), but to an individual faculty member's decision about whether or not to give a final exam (where there may well be disagreement). Vague language about "final unit exams" also interfered with a faculty member's ability to do any evaluative work during the last week of the semester. It didn't help matters that the Provost sent out his memo on January 3rd, during a break and just two weeks before the spring semester began, and tried to establish an enforcement mechanism that would begin during the first two weeks of the semester. The result was predictable--especially predictable had anyone remembered the similar brouhaha when Provost Dunn attempted to require "final cumulative experiences" (vel sim.) on scheduled final exam dates. Chaos and dissension: Happy New Year.
The FA for its part has reacted with a maximal interpretation of Faculty intellectual property, one in which the administration does not even have the right to see Faculty syllabi. I agree with the FA that on any rational reading syllabi are, in accordance with the FA contract (Addendum C, on Intellectual Property), intellectual property of instructors. I suppose it follows that I have the right not to share my property with you. The Chancellor is thus wrong to say, as she is reported to say in the DE story, that syllabi aren't intellectual property as they are only "outlines of the semester". Those of us who write ambitious syllabi lay out much of our own approach to a given class in those syllabi; they thus reflect a good deal of intellectual labor and hence intellectual property (at least, again, for those of us who do more than outline readings from the textbook and an exam schedule--perhaps a hint about the Chancellor's syllabi from back in the day?).
Rather like our friend Tony Williams, who is quoted in the DE (look out for what happens if you post named comments on this blog!), I myself don't have a problem with sharing my syllabi with my department when I share them with my students, so long as the department doesn't abuse this by giving my syllabus to another instructor or demanding to make my pedagogical choices for me. There are reasonable motives for a department to collect syllabi: the contract itself calls for certain commonsensical information to be included in syllabi, which the department can check (I have in the past been reminded by our office staff that I had forgotten to include rather important things like texts for the course--oops). A department can also facilitate the sharing of syllabi with students interested in taking the course. But given the administration's effort during the strike to gather syllabi to aid substitutes and their effort now to impinge on faculty academic freedom by forcing faculty to defend the choice not to give a final exam, FA leaders have some good reason to fear a slippery slope, in which administration approval of syllabi becomes an increasingly burdensome intrusion on faculty prerogatives in designing and shaping their own courses.
How would we handle this if the union and administration had a functioning relationship? The Provost would consult with the FA , which would be happy to back his call for finals to be given as scheduled. If he feels that syllabi need to be scrutinized for adherence to university policy as outlined in or assumed by the contract, he could work to secure FA agreement about how to do so. While the FA's current position is that faculty need not share syllabi at all, it is not hard to imagine some possible middle ground here.* Faculty could be asked to provide a copy of their syllabi, should their chairs believe that was a good idea, but the administration would make it clear that the only things administrators should check or demand explanations for would be deviations from the criteria outlined in the contract, and any further university policies (as that regarding final exams) the FA signs off on. Here, finally, is what the contract says about syllabi:
The course syllabus is a document that must be provided to all students at the beginning of each semester (if possible at the first class meeting). Its contents must include, at minimum, course goals and topics, types of assignments (e.g., readings, types of oral and written exercises, term papers, etc.), and the means to be used in the evaluation of students. Additionally, the instructor is to provide his/her office hours, office location, and office telephone number as well as, if available, a University e-mail address. [From article 10.2]-----
* As that sentence should make clear, this is blogger Dave speaking, not FA spokesman Dave. I'm done with that job, and though I remain a member of the union leadership, the union doesn't pay me well enough for me to forgo uttering my own views (not that they've tried to stop me).