The discussion of the syllabus as intellectual property versus student (or even public) accessibility is not a new one. The most recent debate is between the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and several universities. The star of the show, NCTQ, has been getting a lot of press recently. From Minnesota to Missouri, and several states in-between, there have been court cases trying to determine the distribution and intellectual property rights related to syllabi.

But how much do you know about the NCTQ? Founded in 2000 and based in Washington, DC, the NCTQ prides itself on “working to ensure that every student has an effective teacher.” To look at it another way, they are an organization on a mission to raise the bar on teacher education using a number of new methodologies and measures, one of which happens to be syllabi.

So to begin building their case, the NCTQ has compiled a baseline study complete with a ranking system. As part of their ranking system they have been requesting and reviewing syllabi from education schools. Some schools have openly agreed to provide copies of their syllabi to the NCTQ. However others have taken a stand against this request on the basis of intellectual property (though from what we have heard, it also has to do with the burden of collecting and organizing them). Fast forward a few months and past repeated, “gentle” requests for syllabi and the NCTQ took the (to our knowledge) unprecedented step of suing schools for their syllabi.

The first example of this was the recent case between NCTQ and the University of Wisconsin system. This resulted in a ruling that all syllabi fall under Wisconsin’s Open Records Law and as a result the University of Wisconsin System had to comply with NCTQ’s demands. Further, in addition to having to turn over their syllabi they were forced to pay a $10,000 fine, the first of its kind related to syllabi!

The case with Minnesota provided even further evidence and direction about the complicated issues of syllabi and intellectual property. In short, the court ruled that syllabi ARE indeed intellectual property (of course they are!) but that fact doesn’t exclude them from disclosure through open records laws. Here is what the NCTQ had to say about the outcome.

The jury is still out – so to speak – in Missouri, though a similar ruling is soon expected.

Either way the precedent has been set, syllabi, while still intellectual property, will simply need be more transparent and accessible.