• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Ask the Administrator: Can They Take My Stuff?

How best to stick up for your rights.


June 10, 2015

A new correspondent writes:

I’ve taught in nursing program at a nearby CC in an interim position in the department PT/FT for the last 3 years. They hired a FT person for the fall. On the last day of class, the person they hired -- who was team teaching with me -- asked the students for copies of my PPTX etc.  

Any input or experience with this?

That’s ... odd.  My guess is that the newbie was improvising.

Different colleges have different policies about the ownership of instructional materials. At CCM, for example, syllabi were considered to be owned jointly by the instructor and the college, since they were works-for-hire, but handouts, notes, and presentations were considered the property of the instructor. At HCC, even the syllabus is considered the property of the instructor. (That sometimes creates issues when destination colleges call to check on a particular course, but that’s another matter.) Departments create “generic” syllabi to outline instructional objectives, student learning outcomes, sample assignments, and the like for a given class, but section syllabi vary from one instructor to the next. The goals of a given course are set by the department, but the way an individual instructor wants to achieve those goals can vary.

Whatever permutation of the policy exists on your campus, though, it would not involve going through students to get your materials. If the college has a right to review your materials, however defined, and it wants to exercise that right, it should ask you for them. That would most likely come from a dean or a department chair, depending on local policy and structure.

In this case, the newbie was almost certainly acting alone. Otherwise, why go through the students?

I could imagine a few motivations for going it alone. S/he could be overwhelmed, and looking to save time on course preparation without asking someone she might see a competitor. S/he might be concerned that asking for materials would look weak or incompetent. S/he might simply be curious, and naive in the ways of academe.  

Whether you want to make an issue of it, I think, depends on local culture, your relationship with the chair/dean, and your goals at the college.  

The most graceful way to do it would be to ask the newbie directly. S/he might not realize the degree to which that violates academic norms. Assume goodwill first; if it’s true, then you’ve avoided making yourself the bad guy. If it’s false, and there really is malice or something similar involved, you’ll know soon enough.

If the newbie isn’t available or forthcoming, then you need to decide whether to report. That’s where your goals and communication style matter. If you do report, again, present it as a confusing misunderstanding, rather than a conscious offense; even if you’re wrong, you come off well.  

It’s common practice for faculty to share materials with each other as a professional courtesy. But going through the students, behind your back, is neither professional nor courteous.  

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, what would you suggest?

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.


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