Purdue University faculty members are expressing a range of views on Thursday's selection of Mitch Daniels, currently ending his second term as governor of Indiana, as the university's next president. Morris Levy, past chair of the Purdue University Senate, published an open letter to his faculty colleagues, both pledging support for Daniels and raising questions about his appointment. The letter noted that the search committee had requested help from an advisory committee of faculty, students and alumni -- and that that group has stressed that its first criterion for the next president was that he or she be someone with experience leading an academic institution (something Daniels lacks). Levy also mentioned "a cloud of conflict of interest," in that every member of the Purdue board was either appointed or re-appointed by Governor Daniels.
But two faculty members who were on the search committee wrote a column in The Journal and Courier in which they said that the search committee took faculty concerns seriously, tried hard to recruit the best possible academic candidates, and discussed in detail the issues related to picking someone from outside of academe. "This choice is a bold move because the governor does not have the academic credentials that university presidents traditionally have. U.S. research institutions, including Purdue, are the envy of the world, and typically it takes an insider to understand exactly how the process of academic freedom operates to enable us to lead the world in research and education. But there are rare exceptions. Public universities find themselves in exceptional times, and we found an exceptional candidate for these challenging times," they wrote.
Long gone are the days when academic humanists could sit like dragons astride their hoards of high culture. Today, we have become contrarians, for better or worse, battling adversity from without and uncertainty within. And yet, what we have to offer is needed now more than ever.
Today’s undergraduates are the first generation raised on the Internet and social media. Connected from early childhood to vast streams of information and entertainment, they flit freely among them and expect their technologies, mobile and omnipresent, to answer every question. They access a vast and exponentially increasing sea of "information," a term that seems to encompass anything and everything that can be expressed in words or images, true or false, momentous or momentary. Everything in their world seems to encourage speed, multitasking and perpetual connectivity. The vast proliferation of data only a click away invites surfing rather than digging deep, cutting and pasting rather than reflecting and evaluating.
My experience of more than 40 years in the humanities classroom tells me that many of even today’s brightest students are less prepared and willing than students a generation ago to wrestle with material that does not yield easy or immediate answers. It sounds like the widespread complaint about shortened attention spans, but I think something else is going on as well. We are bucking a zeitgeist that makes speed of the essence, makes focusing on one thing at a time seem lazy, and doing only one task for an extended period feel like wasting time. Students are eager to get to the "bottom line" and then go on to the next thing. Humanities education offers the opportunity to slow down, to savor, to feast the mind at leisure, but fewer young men and women want to take us up on it.
It is not easy today to imagine a role for the humanities that does not involve it becoming something else -- something faster, sexier, and more clearly connected to the perceived demands of the day. Indeed, much of the humanities curriculum has been moving in those directions. I would argue, however, that we stand to lose our claim to a central place in the curriculum if our only response is an attempt to catch up to our students’ speed or vie with them in coolness. Instead, we need to reassert more passionately and more effectively the principles and practices that distinguish humanistic teaching and learning.
In recent years, I have become more direct in explaining the goals and values of the kind of learning we undertake in my classes, and more explicit in explaining the choice of texts we are reading. Many students, even at a place like Duke, where I teach, have surprisingly slight acquaintance with cultures other than the ones in which they grew up, and need to be convinced of the value to them of learning about those cultures.
Their lack of familiarity with this material is not altogether a bad thing, however. For students with little or no prior knowledge, classes in the humanities offer the chance not merely to encounter but rather to live with texts, ideas and works of art. Close reading, creative reflection, cogent response, spoken and written: these are skills the humanities foster and our students need, even if they do not recognize it yet. Students in successful humanities classes learn not only to examine in detail the workings of a novel, painting, piece of music or film, but also to step back and frame that work in its cultural context and ask how it intersects with our own.
If we can just get them into our classrooms.
The student body’s current view of the humanities isn’t the only force contributing to uneasiness within the halls of academe. Liberal arts education is still buffeted by the winds of the economic crash that focused the attention of students and their parents ever more firmly on what might help one to land a job after college. Support of higher education at the state level has shrunk so dramatically that "elite" undergraduate education, long a major force in ensuring social mobility, not least through the great state universities and in an earlier generation through the GI Bill, is increasingly affordable only for young people from the financial and social elite. More students thus have to borrow more, and the amount Americans owe on their student loans has now outstripped credit card debt. How is reading Shakespeare or studying Chinese art going to help with that?
Add to all this attacks on the humanities from within higher education — like the recent threat of shutdown for “obscure departments” in classics and German at the University of Virginia — and it feels like the perfect storm. How to weather it? The humanistic answer, I suppose, is that humanists must be true to themselves while making the case for our centrality in higher education patiently, persistently, and more effectively.
We will not prosper in the long run by saying we offer better job training, though indeed many of the skills one can learn in the humanities classroom (clear writing, careful analysis, cogent argumentation) are crucial to success in the world outside. Nor can we claim to offer solutions to the world’s problems, though we can say they will hardly be solved without the help of the sort of critical, open-minded and open-hearted thought that the humanities uniquely promotes.
What we must do is insist — loudly and repeatedly — that liberal education aspires to make people not merely successful but also fulfilled, not merely autonomous thinkers but also contributing citizens, engaged and creative participants in the community. We must show how grounding in the humanities can put political and social issues into perspective and provide new perspectives on our values and beliefs.
Humanities can play a particularly important role today in countering certain strains of presentism and provincialism in American society by exploring other ways of understanding what it means to be human and alive in the cosmos. This can add particular value to the study of works that are chronologically or culturally remote from us, such as the epics and dramas of Mediterranean antiquity that have been at the center of my own activities as a teacher and scholar.
These works are examples of what my friend Robert Connor, a great humanist and a wonderful teacher, refers to as “extreme literature” because they deal with extreme situations and emotions. Such works puzzle and repel, fascinate and excite all at once, precisely because we can recognize the common human struggles and desires represented in them, and yet find the way they are represented, understood, and acted upon strange, uncanny, perverse, marvelous, repugnant, or any combination of such things.
To take but one example: the students with whom I have read Homer’s Iliad many times over the years tend initially to find the extreme emotions and destructive behavior of its hero, Achilles, repellent and hardly heroic. As they read on and take the measure of the world the poem portrays, they see that Achilles himself is struggling against the limitations of the value system that underlies the conventions of epic. They rethink the meaning of the whole poem when they reach the final, unexpected movement of the plot, where Achilles reconciles, not with the world of battle and heroic self-assertion, but with an acceptance of the bonds of common humanity. Priam has come to the Greek camp to beg for the release of his son’s corpse, the remains of Achilles’ great enemy Hector, whom he slew and whose body he desecrated in his wrath. Priam’s grief cuts through that rage, and Achilles, who knows his death will follow soon, grieves in turn for his own dead father.
In the final book of Homer’s Iliad, the circle of human connections is completed, and brings us to a new place from which to reflect on solidarity, forgiveness and love. Homer’s world, so different from our own, provides an experience of surprisingly intense emotion, of intellectual challenge, and even of self-recognition in ways we could hardly have expected. What might it mean to confront the premises by which you have learned to live and find them wanting? And who might you then become?
These are the kinds of questions that the study of humanities asks us to confront, and allows us to ponder and to answer for ourselves in our own ways. Getting to that point, however, requires exactly the kind of patient opening to the experience of the text that students today often seem unprepared and less than eager for. It is admittedly not an easy task: it involves a paradoxical combination of precision and imagination, analysis and empathy. The reward for making this effort is real, however, and substantial. It goes beyond the appreciation of a particular text, object, historical moment or culture. Students who engage seriously with works like the Iliad can expand their sensibilities and deepen their understanding of passions and aspirations that belong to all of us but are expressed in ways we could hardly have imagined. And that in turn can lead us to reflect on our own self-understanding, our ways of feeling, knowing and confronting the unknown.
Peter Burian is a professor of classical studies and dean of the humanities at Duke University.
While it may go against the grain for faculty members who aren't digital natives, Paula Dagnon and Karen Hoelscher explain how to find out whether creating an electronic portfolio of your work is right for you.
Weixing Li, a professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln who was detained in China while there with a student group, will be allowed to return to the United States, The Lincoln Journal Star reported. The professor contacted family members to tell them he will be able to leave.
Over the last 30 years, universities have become increasingly aggressive about securing the rights to faculty intellectual property (IP) that is patentable and thus potentially profitable. The operative distinction in many current policies is between faculty IP that can be protected by copyright, versus IP that is patentable.
In a major new 100,000-word report issued this month -- Recommended Principles & Practices to Guide Academy-Industry Relationships -- the American Association of University Professors argues that this distinction is not grounded in any rational analysis of the nature of faculty research and productivity. It is essentially an opportunistic maneuver to gain administrative control over IP that may be income producing. We urge that the administrative distinction between ownership of copyrightable and patentable intellectual property be abandoned. Faculty members should have primary authority over the disposition of all their IP, subject to legal and contractual restrictions and subject to principles articulated by campus faculty collectively.
This recommended IP Principle does not, I should make clear, apply to IP that is contractually negotiated as an additional individual faculty responsibility separate from the teaching and research that are encompassed by a faculty member's general appointment conditions. Universities can negotiate with faculty members over optional tasks specifically identified as work for hire, in which case rights and ownership are subject to mutual agreement. Unfortunately many universities are now claiming ownership of faculty IP that is a product of ordinary and continuing research and scholarship.
Since 2007, that approach has had assistance from the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA). That year Beth Cate (Indiana University), David Drooz (North Carolina State University), Pierre Hohenberg (New York University), and Kathy Schulz (New York University) presented a paper recommending IP policies at NACUA''s annual meeting.
A version of "Creating Intellectual Property Policies and Current Issues in Administering Online Courses" with numerous appendices is on the members' only section of NACUA’s web site. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the paper, which I have read, urges comprehensive university ownership of faculty IP whenever substantial use of university resources has been involved in its creation. (NACUA agreed to make this copy of the paper available, noting that while it reflected the authors' views at the time, some issues and some of their thinking may have changed since then.)
"Substantial resources," the paper argues, "might include specialized computer resources or other equipment and significant use of student or research support." A number of income-producing activities, including textbook authorship, could easily fall under that umbrella. The paper also stipulates that products of faculty consulting may not be transferable to third parties if "the faculty member is involved with university research in the same area as the consulting" or if the consulting implicated the faculty member’s teaching activities. The faculty right to make software they have created be freely available through open-source licensing is subject to review as to whether "the goals of the institution would be better served through commercialization."
In the AAUP’s view, we are now in the terrain of serious infringements on faculty academic freedom.
Interestingly enough, it was not always so. A look at the history of how IP has been handled at universities makes it clear that current policies in many cases diverge from foundational IP principles. Seattle-based IP authority Gerald Barnett recently posted a blog entry -- "Blasts from the Past" -- that highlights university IP policies from the mid-20th century. Some institutions at the time already sought comprehensive control over faculty IP. Stanford University had a patent review committee that could recommend the university president assert control over any "valuable invention."
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's 1932 policy was firm: "Inventions or other developments, whether or not subject to patent, resulting directly from a program of research financed entirely by the Institute shall be the exclusive property of the Institute, and the Institute shall be entitled to all benefits and rights accruing from such inventions or developments and may acquire the title to any patents based thereon."
On the other hand, the University of California’s 1943 policy was unambiguous in asserting faculty rights to control their IP: "Assignment to the regents of whatever rights the inventor or discoverer may possess in the patent or appointment of the board as the agent of the inventor or discoverer shall be optional on the part of the faculty member or employee."
The 1945 University of Texas policy similarly asserted that "the title to a patent for any discovery or invention made by an employee of the University of Texas belongs to the said employee and he is free to develop or handle it in any manner he sees fit." The University of Arizona in 1939 also declared that "no inventor shall be compelled to submit an invention to the Patent Committee." Both institutions did mandate modest profit-sharing, Arizona specifying that 10 percent of income derived from a patent go to the university and Texas established a tiered schedule for profit-sharing. Texas’s top level — at which 20 percent of profits were due the institution -- came after net royalties exceeded $5,000, which equals about $60,00 in today’s dollars. These policies certainly count as enlightened in the current scene.
The more restrictive policies assume a model of faculty appointment that conceives of faculty as very much comparable to corporate employees, where everything you create belongs to the employer. Since its founding 1915 Declaration, of course, the AAUP has argued that faculty are not employees in that narrow and restrictive sense. They are appointed to exercise independent judgment and carry out independent research. In fact the NACUA guidelines implicitly recognize that faculty are different. They dismiss the IP rights of non-faculty employees with a wave of policy assertion: "The intellectual property created by employees (other than faculty), acting within the scope of their employment (whether as administrators or as participants in research), should be owned by the university under applicable law." The rest of the lengthy document amounts to an effort to make it possible to treat faculty in the same way.
The AAUP's new report lays out carefully why this impulse is fundamentally misguided. The effort to control faculty IP relies on an unsupportable logic: faculty research and scholarship is guided by academic freedom up to the point when a faculty member creates a profitable invention. At that point the university steps in and takes over. Academic freedom apparently does not cover how patentable research is produced and disseminated, even though faculty publications about their inventions remain under their own control and can be disseminated as faculty see fit. The AAUP argues instead that inventions are a product of faculty research and scholarship and properly encompassed by it. There is no fair and reasonable distinction between the research and creative thinking that produces a plan for an invention and the invention itself.
There is no reason to suppose, moreover, that either administrators or university technology transfer offices are better suited to decide how an invention should be shared, marketed, or distributed. Certainly they are not better positioned to understand the research or technology involved. That is not to say any of the potential parties to a patent negotiation — a faculty member, an industry sponsor, a university office, or a university management agent — is necessarily enlightened. Greed, ignorance, or self-deception can distort any stakeholder’s perception and negotiating strategy.
That is partly why the AAUP’s Principles create a clear role for collective faculty governance in setting IP policy. Greed or indifference might, for example, lead any party to a negotiation to dismiss the social utility of assuring that a lifesaving technology be commercialized in such a way as to guarantee its availability and affordability in the developing world. A contract with a company might allow it sit on such a technology and delay its manufacture indefinitely. These and other risks can be minimized if the faculty senate mandates principles to guide IP management.
We are not assuming a university faculty will want to embrace progressive policies for distributing lifesaving medicines or technologies in the developing world, though we do recommend that practice, but we certainly recommend that the senate have the authority to debate and enforce such a policy if it chooses. Similarly, a senate might establish time frames for commercialization and time limits for exclusive licensing. It is much more difficult for responsible administrators to include such conditions in research contracts with industry sponsors without firm campus-wide policies.
As the AAUP has argued since its founding, research policy falls within the area of faculty professional responsibility and expertise. We have issued our report to help reassert that authority for the benefit of the common good.
Cary Nelson has just completed six years as president of the American Association of University Professors.