Department of Economics

By Professor Robert McNown, the author is indebted to John McIver of Political Science for many of the ideas in this document.


The Purpose of this Guidebook

Most of us enter university teaching with little or no formal instruction on how to teach or about the specific rules and institutions governing teaching at CU. The purpose of this document is to summarize some of the most important principles of teaching at CU and to provide a guide to resources in the Ddepartment and the university that are useful to instructors. It is intended for new instructors at all levels: graduate students, honorarium instructors, and tenure-line faculty. Continuing instructors will also find information here that is new to them, in part because rules and institutions are continually changing. All instructors are urged to at least read the "Highlights" following.

This is a work in progress, and you are encouraged to suggest changes to the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies, Jeffrey Zax

Highlights: A few points that have caused problems in recent years.

  1. Know the prerequisites for your course and enforce them rigorously.
  2. Do not add students in excess of the space limitations of your classroom.
  3. Provide our website manager with a copy of your syllabus for posting two weeks prior to the start of classes.
  4. The syllabus must contain explicit information on the content of the course, not simply a listing of chapters in the textbook.
  5. In our four credit hour courses, recitations (or lab sessions) are mandatory.
  6. Final exams of some form (take home, in class, oral, written, etc.) are mandatory in all classes at the University. The final exam should be given as scheduled and not at other times even if the faculty member and all students in a course agree to such a change.
  7. No hourly examinations are to be given during the 7 days preceding the start of the examination period.
  8. You must be available during examinations to answer student questions and to respond to problems. Final examinations are not to be left to the Teaching Assistants to administer without your supervision.
  9. If you grant a request for an incomplete, you must complete an "Incomplete Contract" and have it approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The only incomplete grade allowed in Arts & Sciences is an IF.

Administrative Details



Most classes have established prerequisites. You should know the prerequisites for your course and enforce them rigorously. You are not doing students a favor by allowing them to enroll in courses for which they are not prepared. If the presence of unprepared students in your class forces you to teach at a lower level than is appropriate, then the well-prepared students will suffer. Many of our courses in Economics are at capacity, and this is one important means for controlling enrollments. You may allow a student to enroll without the specific prerequisite if you have determined that they have comparable preparation.


Students can make schedule adjustments through the drop/add process on myCUinfo. After the add deadline, students need instructor approval to add a course. Instructors can get a Special Action Form from the department office to "late add" a student. Complete and sign the form, then give it to the student to take to the Registrar for processing. Arts and Sciences students can drop a course online during the first 10 weeks of the term without the instructor's signature. Students from other colleges might need Instructor's signature after February 1, 2012. Those students must get instructions from their college. 

Wait List

The university computers maintain wait lists for your class. Students are automatically prioritized so that certain types of students (depending on the class) are more likely to be added as other students drop the course. For example, majors have priority over non-majors. Seniors in their last semester have priority so they can graduate. These priorities override the order in which students placed their names on the wait list. It is possible to override this list and add students with lower priorities. Resist the temptation to add those students who "beg" you to add them over those who don't. You will feel as if you are doing a student a favor by adding him or her to your class. But you are probably hurting another student.

You should also avoid adding students in excess of the space limitations of your classroom. Over-enrolling a room can leave students without desks - especially when it's important like during an exam–and can leave the university out of compliance with fire safety codes.


Administrative Drops. The instructor can "administratively drop" non-attenders for non-appearance at the first three sessions of the course. Dropping non-attenders will allow others on the waitlist to be enrolled. In order to implement this policy, you will need to announce your intentions to do so, state your policy both on the syllabus and in front of the class, and then take roll for three consecutive days (don't start with day 1 which is always chaotic). Taking roll at the beginning of the term may send a useful signal about attendance in addition to helping you administer drops.

Course Planning and Structure

The Syllabus

This document is your "contract" with your students. It outlines your expectations of them and lets them know the consequences of failing to respond to these expectations. Your syllabus also provides valuable information to prospective students and advisors about the content of your course. To make this information widely available, all syllabi for courses in our Department are posted on our internet site. You must send our website manager a copy of your syllabus for posting two weeks prior to the start of classes.

There are two essential components to a syllabus: (1) contractual and administrative information (the rules of the course), and (2) details on course content. This latter component is very important, and we will come back to it later.

Administrative Components

  1. Basic Contract Information:
    Students need to know how to contact you. Be certain to include your office number, office hours, telephone number, and e-mail address on the front page of your syllabus. Please be responsive to their attempts to contact you. It is not necessary to put your home telephone on the syllabus. If you do not want students to have access to your home number please, let the office staff know that this information should not be made available.
  2. Grading Policies
    Be explicit about what counts toward the final grade. Identify the components of the grade and the percentages associated with each. Be clear as to the due date and due time of all assignments and examinations.
    Students often wonder how they are graded on individual assignments. It helps to be explicit about your expectation for "good answers". Samples of good answers from previous examinations, obtained with permission from former students, are useful to current students.
  3. Attendance Policies
    If attendance is a component of the grade, make it explicit in the syllabus. If you take attendance, make certain the student knows he or she will be penalized for failing to attend class.
  4. Makeup Exams and Papers
    Let the students know in your syllabus how you will handle missed exams or late assignments. It will define how you handle the inevitable problems that will arise later in the semester. For example, you may need to establish policies to accommodate students wishes to observe religious holidays. Make sure you identify all due dates and exam times in the syllabus. It is not your obligation to offer makeup exams for students who chose to buy plane tickets for the week before a holiday. It is the student's responsibility to find out the critical dates in the semester. (But at the same time, you are asking for trouble if you try to schedule an exam during the last two days before spring break or the week of Thanksgiving.) The best strategy is to have a general policy, stated on the syllabus, that applies to all students equally, rather than trying to deal with special circumstances and sad stories that strain credibility.
  5. Office Hours
    Standard practice is to hold 3-4 office hours per week. According to department policy, instructors teaching one course must have two hours of office hours per week. Instructors teaching more than one course must have 1.5 weekly office hours per course. Office hours should be scheduled during regular business hours, 8am to 5pm. Make sure the department has your correct office location, phone number and office hours before classes begin. Email Kimberly van Mourik.
    Whenever possible, office hours should be scheduled to give students the opportunity to find you on a day during the week other than your normal teaching schedule. That is, if you teach MWF, at least one hour should be T or Th. It's important not simply to post office hours but also to keep them. Finally, it is important to have your door open during your office hours. It invites students in. It is also important to keep your door open while you meet with students to avoid an appearance of impropriety. There may be exceptions to this when you are discussing something confidential; use your judgment
  6. Cheating/Plagiarism
    Statistics tell us college students cheat far more often than we catch them. It's important to be clear what the penalties are. And to enforce those penalties when students are found to violate them.
    To avoid ambiguities, particularly when it comes to plagiarism, it is important to be clear about what your standards are for research, citation and reference. The CU Catalog (2011-12) defines "academic integrity", "cheating", "plagiarism" and "unauthorized possession of disposition of academic materials" as well as the variety of consequences. (Also see "Grading Problems" below.)
  7. Disabilities Statement
    In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, University faculty are required to make "reasonable and timely accommodations" for students with disabilities. In order to communicate your understanding of the situation and to allow students the opportunity to signal any problems they may have in completing your course, please add a statement (the text that follows is an example) to your syllabus:
    If you have specific disabilities that require accommodation, please let me know early in the semester so that your learning needs may be appropriately met. You will be required to provide documentation of your disability to the Disability Services Office in N200 Center for Community (telephone: 303-492-8671). Additional information can be found in the Disability Services Faculty and Staff Handbook. Information can be found on the Disability Services website at


Course Content. Most important, the syllabus must contain explicit information on the content of the course. This is more than simply a listing of the chapters in the book. This section should provide in outline or narrative form a thorough description of the material that will be covered in the course. This information is extremely useful to prospective students, advisors trying to help students find appropriate courses, and anyone trying to match course content from different universities for transfer of credits. Most instructors present this information as part of an outline of weekly topics and assignments. Be sure to include required texts and optional readings.

Working with a TA

Work Expectations

Teaching assistants are compensated for working 20 hours per week for 50% appointments. Rarely is this a constant. Grading usually defines the peak workload periods.

Lectures and Recitations

Recitations are mandatory. In our four credit hour courses, the fourth contact hour is provided by the recitation (or lab session). Therefore, students should be advised that attendance is expected, and recitation participation should be a component of the student's final grade. Some instructors enforce this by having quizzes or other assignments administered in recitations.

One aspect of your job as supervisor of TAs is to provide them with instruction and experience as instructors. You should consult with your TAs about the content of their recitations, being explicit about their responsibilities in these sections. You will do your TA a great service by attending at least one of their recitations during the term, to give them feedback on their performance. You are also encouraged to give your TAs experience lecturing to the entire class. If a TA lectures for you, it is important to be there to ensure the TA covers the material and to signal to the students that this individual's words are as important as the primary instructor's. A TA lecture is not an excuse to skip class.

The TA may reasonably be expected to attend class so that he or she is fully conversant in the material presented by the primary instructor. If schedule conflicts exist between the TA's graduate classwork and the undergraduate class to which the TA is assigned, please inform the staff responsible for scheduling (Karen Kelly).

Grading with TAs

Instructors teaching the large introductory courses will work with teams of teaching assistants. "Team teaching" also requires "team grading". Team grading is difficult because (inevitably) different standards will be applied by different Teaching Assistants. Various techniques to standardize grades across discussion sections and teaching assistants can be used. It is critical to be clear about how this process works. Any ambiguity will be seen as creating an unfair process. As an instructor, you are ultimately responsible for the grade assigned to individual students, so it is essential that you supervise the grading process carefully, giving detailed guidelines concerning grading criteria for the essay, short answer, and problem questions.

Procedures (Department, College and University)

Department Operations

The departmental staff will assist you with a number of tasks:

Copying of examinations

Instructors working with TAs should have their TAs copy examinations. TAs get instructions and the copy code from their instructors. Other instructors can leave a work order form in the "To Be Copied" basket located in the main office specifying exactly what, how and by when the copying needs to be done. The exam original is to be placed in the exam drawer in the main office, where the copies will also be placed upon completion. Give the staff 24-48 hours to make these copies (48-72 hours during final exam periods).


If you need a room for a review session notify Karen Kelly. If you wish to reserve a computer lab for your class, contact Karen Kelly (The earlier you make this reservation the better your chances are of getting a room.)

Change of Grade/Drop-Add requests

See staff persons in the front office for copies of these forms and information on how they are processed. 

College/University Rules


Student records are confidential. This restriction affects instructional faculty in several ways:

  1. Grades. In order to protect each student's privacy, final grades may not be posted. Grades will be available to the student via the internet shortly after they are recorded by the Registrar's Office at the end of each semester. If they would like to find out their grade sooner and you are willing to provide it, you must make individual arrangements with each student to safeguard their grades from being seen by others.
    Do not leave papers in the hallway for students to pick up. Graded documents must be returned directly to the student. Please do not rely on the office staff for accepting student papers, except in unusual circumstances. Do not tell students to put papers in your mailbox. We do not allow students access to the mailbox area for security reasons. Instructors are expected to retain final examinations for one year. At the end of one year these old materials should be shredded. You may take them to the main office for shredding.
  2. Parents. Student records are confidential even from their parents. It is not uncommon for parents to call and complain about their son's or daughter's performance. You cannot speak to them unless their child has explicitly waived his or her privacy rights. "Explicitly" means they must file a written petition that is kept with the student's record in the department office. Copies of this petition are available from one of the Undergraduate Advisors. The student cannot verbally tell you it's OK to speak with their father or mother.
  3. Medical. Health records are not part of the university record. While many students receive medical care through the Wardenburg Health Center on campus, Wardenburg does not comment on the reasons why a student may have been seen by a doctor or nurse. They will give the student a piece of paper indicating simply that they have been to see a doctor or nurse. Only the student can get additional records to supplement this note if you want evidence explaining why for example the student did not attend a test or complete an assignment.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is defined as conduct that is unwelcome and consists of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when

  1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment or academic work,
  2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment or academic decisions affecting that individual, or
  3. Such conduct has the purpose, or effect, of interfering with that individual's work or academic performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or educational environment.

Sexual harassment may occur between persons of the same gender or of different genders.

University policies require that all instructors attend a workshop dealing with sexual harassment policy.

Reporting responsibilities: Any allegation must be reported. It is not your job to investigate and decide whether the complaint is accurate.

Plain and Simple:

You cannot date a student in your class. Do not even think about it.

Failure to report harassment that has been reported to you is a violation of university policy that can get you in serious trouble.

If you suspect any possible conflict of interest, you are advised to err on the side of caution and full disclosure. Report any potential conflict to the Department Chair.

The Details:

See the University Policy on Sexual Harassment on the CU-System web pages at
and the CU-Boulder web pages of the Office of Discrimination and Harassment at

Classroom Attendance (Sick Leave)

Instructors are expected to meet all of their classes. If you expect to be out of town for professional purposes, you should arrange to have your course covered by a colleague. The university sick leave policy is outlined in the faculty handbook. An electronic version of the faculty handbook is available at

FCQs (Faculty Course Questionnaires)

The Board of Regents requires that students be given the opportunity to evaluate your course near the end of each semester. The method used to conduct this evaluation is the Faculty Course Questionnaire (FCQ).

Administrating the FCQs

Karen Kelly oversees the distribution of the FCQ forms. In classes with TAs they will administer the FCQs for the main lecture. These evaluations must be administered without the faculty member present. For recitations, the TAs should ask one of the students to supervise and to collect the completed forms. This individual should return the FCQs to the Economics department office at the end of class. The instructors being evaluated are not permitted to handle these forms.

All FCQ results are published on the university web at so that students may use this information in their planning for future coursework. All continuing instructors are evaluated on the basis of their teaching, one component of which is the FCQ rating.

If you would like special questions added to the standard set of FCQ items, you must respond to the mid-semester solicitation requesting such additions.

Some instructors find it useful to conduct their own informal survey of the class to solicit feedback before it is too late in the term to change anything. You may design and implement this survey as you choose.

Examination Policies

College/University Rules

The CU Catalog (2011-12, pp. 46) lists university rules governing final exams. Below is a summary of many of the key elements of those rules as they relate to undergraduate courses:

  • The final exam should be given as scheduled and not at other times even if the faculty member and all students in a course agree to such a change. The final exam schedule is given in the schedule of courses, which is available on the CU internet site. You should adhere to this schedule and include the information on your syllabus. Final exams of some form (take home, in class, oral, written, etc.) are mandatory in all classes at the University.
  • The week of classes preceding the scheduled final exam period should be used for continued instruction.
  • No hourly examinations are to be given during the 7 days preceding the start of the examination period.
  • Individual students may be granted a variance–at the instructor's discretion–provided it does not prejudice the interests of the other students in the class. "I bought a plane ticket already" is not an excuse for missing an exam announced at the beginning of the semester.
  • When students have 3 (or more) examinations scheduled on the same day, they are entitled to arrange an alternative examination time for the last exam (or exams) scheduled that day. Such arrangements must be made no later than the end of the 6th week of the semester. Students must prove to you that you are the 3rd, 4th or 5th exam of the day (by showing you both their registration showing the classes they are enrolled in and their syllabi that indicate they are taking exams on the date in question).

Department Expectations

You must be available during examinations to answer student questions and to respond to problems. Final examinations are not to be left to the Teaching Assistants to administer without your supervision.

Examinations may be interrupted by an "emergency" such as a fire alarm. A reasonable strategy to handle this situation is to tell the students to leave their exams face down on their desks and exit the room. The exam can resume when the emergency is over. If necessary you may have to extend the time for the exam to compensate, but this becomes complicated if some students have other exams immediately following yours. You will have to use your judgment in dealing with these special cases.


The Pass/Fail Grade

Students may take your course Pass/Fail. These students are not identified on your class roster or grade sheet. The instructor assigns a letter grade. The registrar's office will convert that letter grade to P or F. Grades of D- or above are considered passing grades. None of our required courses may be taken pass/fail by our majors.


The CU Catalog (2011-12, pp. 17) lists university rules governing incompletes. Below is a summary of many of the key elements of those rules:

  • An IF is given only when the student, for reasons beyond his or her control, is unable to complete the course requirements.
  • A substantial amount of work must have been completed satisfactorily before approval for such a grade is given.
  • Students must ask for an incomplete grade.
  • If an instructor grants a request for an incomplete, the instructor sets the conditions under which coursework can be completed and the time limit for its completion. (If the entire course is to be retaken, it must be completed on the Boulder campus or in Boulder evening classes. A retaken course requires that the student register and pay tuition.) You must complete an "Academic Contract" which becomes part of the student's department file. Copies of this form are available in the Main Office. This form must be returned to the main office with your final gradesheet.
    IW or IF? Per Arts and Sciences policy, the only acceptable incomplete grade is IF. At the end of one year an IF becomes an F if the student has not completed all required coursework.
    Nonattendance. If the student did not attend class despite appearing in your enrollment roster, you are not supposed to give the student an incomplete on the final grade sheet. Rather you grade the student "F". Specific instructions accompany the official grade sheets.

Grading—The Sovereignty of the Primary Instructor

The instructor has the final word on grades. No one will "second guess" you. You have the right to assign the grade you believe to be an accurate representation of student performance. There is one exception. If the student can prove that you have behaved in discriminatory manner in assigning grades, it is possible an appeal can be sustained.

Current procedures for student appeal of a grade require the student to speak with the instructor first to correct any misconceptions either party has about the grade. Sometimes students will appeal to the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies or the University Ombudsman for help. This individual may act as a go-between for students but will not and cannot make you change a grade.

Grading Problems—What to do about academic dishonesty

Every instructor encounters cheating. Young instructors probably encounter it more than older instructors because they are often perceived to be more like the student and hence understanding of the situation. Multiple paths are open to the instructor who believes one or more students has cheated on a graded task.

  1. Do nothing.
  2. Fail the student on the assignment.
  3. Fail the student for the course.
  4. Pursue additional penalties against the student (e.g., suspension or expulsion).

The first option is an abdication of responsibility but a practical solution if you cannot "prove" the cheating has taken place. Often, in these cases, the material that the student has provided to you is sufficient to allow you to give the student the grade he or she "deserves".

To take any of the other steps, evidence of cheating is essential in any decision you make. How do you know someone cheated? How do you prove it? Sometimes it is obvious from the quality of the writing. But to prove that a paper or test has been plagiarized is often quite difficult.

If you decide to fail the student in the course or impose other sanctions, you will need to confront the student with your intentions and/or choose to delegate that responsibility to the Honor Council. Policies governing honor code violations can be found at

The Internet is a problem for faculty. In the "old days" we only had to worry about fraternity and sorority test banks. Today, papers are available for sale at the click of a mouse button.

A few strategies:

  • Ask for the paper as hardcopy and also on CD. Sometimes students will not realize they've handled you a dated file that was created months or even years ago (by someone else). It may not be possible to prove anything with this knowledge but this information gives you leverage in a discussion with the student about whether or not they actually wrote the paper. Confession is the best evidence.
  • To minimize cheating, change your assignments annually. If you give the same assignments every year, students will find a source in your prior students. If you give the same test year after year, students will find your old tests in campus test banks. If you fail to change your assignments and tests, you are more likely measuring the connectedness of students than what they have learned in your class.
  • Be very clear about what you mean by the standards for documenting a "research" paper and the procedures for citing materials and ideas produced by others. Make certain the assignment requires student input and not simply the collection of materials (often spliced from Internet and other electronic resources.)



The Main Library (Norlin Library)

Reserve Reading

You can place a library or personal materials on reserve for use by your students. The Reserve is part of the Circulation Desk found on the first floor of the library to the left of the main entrance. At your discretion, students may borrow these materials for 2 hours, overnight or for 3 days. It is important to have materials you wish to place on reserve in the hands of the reserve librarians well in advance of when they are needed. "Well in advance" means one week–more at the beginning of the semester.) Some instructors like to place a copy of the primary text on reserve to those students who cannot afford to purchase their own copy. No more than 6 copies of one title may be placed on reserve for a single course.

The library cannot guarantee the condition (or even the survival) of personal copies placed on reserve. You will get all of your material back at the end of the semester.

To place materials on reserve, you need to fill out a form, which is available at the Reserve Desk. The Economics office may also have these forms (ask at the front desk).

The Economics Bibliographer

Gabrielle Wiersma (X24316) is the Economics Bibliographer at Norlin Library. Should you need a book or journal ordered, let her know. The Government Publications Library is available at Norlin. Click here for a wide array of services to support students and faculty including in class instruction. 

Information Technology (OIT)

OIT maintains instructional computing sites, media, smart classrooms, and internet access on the Boulder campus ( Services most relevant to instruction include (see the OIT webpage for further information):

Workshops on various aspects of computing and internet usage.

Desire2Learn (D2L): University of Colorado Boulder’s new learning management system. Many CU-Boulder faculty use D2L to enhance face-to-face classroom instruction with 24/7 access to course-related materials, electronic dropboxes for assignments, on-line quizzes, e-portfolios, grades, and more. Faculty interested in using Desire2Learn can request a course in the faculty and staff portal MyCUInfo. The course request form is available in the Faculty Course Toolkit. More information:

Media Services

  • Audio/Video
  • Conferencing
  • Technology Classrooms
  • Television Services

Teaching Support

  • ATLAS (Alliance for Technology Learning and Society)
  • Tech help
  • Presentations
  • Videotaping 

Working on Becoming a Better Teacher: The Faculty Teaching Excellence Program

The FTEP is directed by Mary Ann Shea and is located on the 4th floor of Norlin Library.

The Faculty Teaching Excellence Program (FTEP) is designed to help you develop as a teacher. They will set up a teaching portfolio for you. The FTEP will also videotape your class and review the tape with you to help identify problems.

For graduate instructors, the Graduate Teacher Program, run by Laura Border (2-4902) offers workshops and other programs designed to improve your teaching.

Useful Contact Information

  • Academic Advising Center
    Woodbury 109
  • Counseling and Psychological Services
    S440 Center for Community
  • Information Technology Services
  • Faculty Teaching Excellence Program
    Norlin Library M400
    303-492-4985 (General Information)
  • Ombuds Office
    N440 Center for Community
  • Crime/Crises
    CU Police Department
    911 (emergencies)
    303-492-6666 (on-campus/non-emergencies)
  • Environmental Health and Safety
    911 (emergencies)
    303-492-6025 (on-campus/non-emergencies)