Is a College Syllabus a Public Document?

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – The University of Missouri System’s course syllabi are public documents, a national teacher advocacy group told the Missouri Supreme Court.
     The National Council for Teacher Quality requested the documents as part of a nationwide effort to rate the college programs that train teachers.
     The NCTQ asked the state’s high court to compel the University of Missouri System to hand over the documents.
     The University of Missouri System argued that the documents are copyrighted and are therefore not subject to open records law.
     NCTQ President Kate Walsh, however, says syllabi are not private documents, because colleges across the country routinely post them on the Internet for students. She said that copyright law shouldn’t apply, because her organization is using the syllabi strictly in an academic sense and won’t be making money off of them.
     “We continue to believe our position is the right one,” Walsh told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “But there is also a principle at stake for any group seeking to get public information from public institutions.”
     This is the third attempt by the NCTQ to obtain the syllabi. It lost two previous challenges, in 2012 and 2014.
     Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri put up the biggest legal fights against the NCTQ. Wisconsin settled and handed over the syllabi. Minnesota lost in court and had to hand over the syllabi. Missouri remains the lone holdout.
     UM System spokesman John Fougere said the Missouri system is trying to respect the rights of faculty members who wrote the syllabi.

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