Opposition to a deal with Pearson to provide online degree program at Rutgers University at New Brunswick swelled on Thursday as faculty members in the School of Arts and Sciences voted to block any programs managed by the education company.
The vote comes two months after faculty in the Graduate School passed a similar resolution. In response to that vote, Jerome Kukor, dean of the Graduate School, said the rest of the university would proceed with the partnership, but that faculty wishes would be respected with regard to the graduate division. With the School of Arts and Sciences now joining the boycott, an additional 20,000 students and more than 1,600 faculty members will be banned from working with eCollege.com, a Pearson division. The school makes up about 60 percent of the New Brunswick campus, and the resolution affects about 70 majors and minors.
“This is the big faculty, to put it bluntly,” said Rudolph M. Bell, distinguished professor of history, who described the message of the resolution as “ ‘You must consult the faculty.’ It’s not ‘please’ anymore.” He estimated about 70 faculty members voted for the resolution, while “a handful” voted against. In comparison, the Graduate School vote passed 39-22.
Faculty members organized the boycott of the Pearson contract in response to what they say is a lack of faculty involvement. The contract was reviewed by a panel of administrators, faculty members and staff, but faculty leaders said that the consultation did not sufficiently adhere to shared governance principles or collective bargaining agreements. In a previous statement, Kukor said “Faculty unions are not part of the university's contract negotiations with vendors, but Rutgers faculty were represented and consulted throughout the entire process.”
The university's response to the vote resembled the statement released after the Graduate School passed the original resolution -- the institution will proceed with the partnership even as individual schools opt out.
"Today's vote by 70 members of the nearly 800-member faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) runs counter to the generally positive response to this technology by faculty across the university," a spokesman said. "The university respects the vote by the faculty SAS, but it is not binding upon the university. Rutgers will move forward with the online program and the partnership with Pearson."
In addition to the contract the university signed with Pearson, faculty members who wish to create an online course have to sign a separate contract that has raised questions about intellectual property rights. “Due to the particular requirements of an online program, this license specifically includes the right to have the course taught by others,” the contract reads.
“The lack of faculty input in the initial contract, its incursions into academic freedom and intellectual property rights as well as the deal's implicit threat to expand an army of poorly paid faculty are what's driving opposition to this online learning contract,” Sherry Wolf, a contract campaign coordinator, said in an email. The AAUP-AFT represents more than 6,600 faculty members at the university.
“The faculty's concern is with the quality of its product, and unless it has control over who is doing the teaching, it doesn’t have control over its own product,” Bell said.
Faculty members have also objected to an “obscenity clause” included in the contract. The clause, which Pearson has said is a safeguard, states “obscene, threatening, indecent, libelous, slanderous, defamatory or otherwise unlawful or tortious material, including material that is harmful to children” can’t be included in online courses.
“There is much concern about academic freedom with the ‘no obscenity’ clause, and stating that while Pearson doesn’t intend to enforce that doesn’t change the reality that faculty don’t support signing on to a contract of anyone else defining what is obscene,” Bell said.
A spokeswoman for Pearson declined to give any further comments beyond the statement the company released when the Graduate School began the boycott.
“In the spirit of academic freedom, faculty are free to choose the content they want for their course, including Pearson content,” Susan Aspey, Pearson’s vice president of media relations, then wrote. “All academic decisions have and continue to be made by the university.”