Last week, faculty leaders at two universities held emergency meetings to object to administration proposals that professors said were dangerous to their rights. At Idaho State University, a provisional senate complained about a faculty constitution that they said had been substantially revised to whittle down the powers of the faculty without any input from them, while faculty at Arkansas State University were upset about a new university interpretation of intellectual property that appears to say faculty members have no rights in this area.
Both universities have had significant jousting matches between administration and faculty in recent years. At Idaho State, the State Board of Education suspended the Faculty Senate last year as faculty members complained about increasing loss of shared governance. The American Association of University Professors criticized the actions, saying it was a violation of basic academic principles, while university officials called the AAUP’s report biased. Arkansas State has grappled with a controversy over relationships between top university officials and a for-profit online course provider, with the Faculty Senate passing a resolution in 2010 asking the university to hold off from developing any new programs with the company.
The Right to Petition
At Idaho State, university officials said that the administration received a draft of a proposed faculty constitution from the Faculty Senate in October. “In reviewing that, we provided detailed feedback that was of importance to the administration,” said Interim Provost Barbara Adamcik.
Some of the important issues included questions about what would be a reasonable percentage, in terms of faculty members, to pass a referendum or a resolution. “For real shared governance, it is the responsibility of every faculty member to participate,” Adamcik said. “We have reviewed the document, made some changes to reflect key issues and sent it back to the faculty. We are still open to negotiations,” she said.
It is these “key changes” that are bothering the members of the senate. In one change, administrators deleted a paragraph on academic freedom.
“These changes seems like a rather radical experiment in terms of faculty,” said Phil Cole, chairman of the provisional Faculty Senate. “We had the most middle-of-the-road constitution but they still did not seem to like it.” He said the faculty constitution as suggested by the administration would reduce faculty powers when it came to curriculum, instruction and standards for granting degrees. It would take signatures of one-third of the faculty members to initiate a petition to amend the constitution, another faculty member pointed out. “We are lacking leadership at this university. It is more of an autocracy,” said Robert Croker, a Faculty Senate member. “There are numerous things in the draft that are objectionable. Faculty at other colleges have a reasonable method of addressing these issues.” At many universities, faculty members rely on their elected representatives to represent them, and don't expect to be signing petitions about grievances on a regular basis. The new numerical requirements is seen as making it difficult for senate members to raise issues.
An official at the national office of the AAUP, which had censured Idaho State and the board of education last year after the Faculty Senate was suspended, said the organization would like to see genuine and meaningful consultation with faculty. “I’m certain that the constitution proposed by the provisional senate protected the responsibility of the faculty. If the revised version removes those, it would be inconsistent with sound standards,” said Greg Scholtz, director of the department of academic freedom, tenure and governance at the AAUP.
Who Owns Intellectual Property?
Sound standards are also being debated by the Faculty Senate at Arkansas State, which passed a resolution Friday against a move by the university to redefine how “intellectual property” is defined. “Under the proposed policy, the university has all the intellectual property rights instead of the author,” said Daniel Marburger, an economics professor at the university. He said the proposed policy, which aims to replace one from 2005, would give the sole legal title to the university for any work performed within the scope of a professors’ employment even if university resources were not used to produce it.
Marburger said he thinks the change is being suggested because universities increasingly see commercial value in licensing online courses and teaching materials, and this move, if successful, would give the university the rights to a trove of intellectual material. “This is potentially lucrative property,” he said.
University administrators and media relations staff did not comment on the issue Monday,
AAUP’s Scholtz said that according to the AAUP, the copyright on works produced by professors would seem to belong to the faculty member.
“If the faculty member is indeed the initial owner of copyright, then a unilateral institutional declaration cannot effect a transfer, nor is it likely that a valid transfer can be effected by the issuance of appointment letters to new faculty members requiring, as a condition of employment, that they abide by a faculty handbook that purports to vest in the institution the ownership of all works created by the faculty member for an indefinite future,” an AAUP document on the issue states.