Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Ask the Administrator: Can They Take My Stuff?

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.

A question:
If you don't keep a file copy of the actual instructor's syllabus, how do you prove to your accrediting agency that a given instructor actually does teach a course designed to achieve those goals?

And how do you handle a grade appeal? Rely on a copy provided by the student making the appeal when some people are foolish enough to distribute it electronically as a docx file that could changed and then printed?
It's not professional, but if the presentation has been given to the students, then it would seem to belong to them. Was a non-distribution clause stated when it was given to the students?

There could be copyright issues for material that originated with the interim instructor or if the arrangement of the material was original.
Extra note: Material that comes from other sources contained in the powerpoint is not original to the interim instructor. So, I can imagine that most, if not all, of what is in the powerpoint (apart from its arrangement) doesn't belong to the instructor.
The question of who owns what can be a difficult problem in academe. Here at Proprietary Art School, the school owns the intellectual property rights to the course syllabi, but the individual faculty members own the intellectual property rights to their PowerPoint presentations, their handouts, and any supplementary materials that they create. But other schools may treat these matters quite differently, arguing that since their faculty members are employees, any materials that they create that is related to the courses that they teach are “works-for-hire” and are therefore owned by the school or college. You need to check the by-laws of your institution quite carefully before you proceed, just to be sure about who owns what.

Legal questions about intellectual property rights are especially relevant for online courses. Suppose you create a new online course at your college. Who owns it? If your college administration regards the online course that you created as a “work-for-hire”, you do not own your own course. The college may be able to hire a part-timer to teach your online course for a lot less money. You may not be able to take it to another institution if you change jobs. You may not even be able to alter or change your online course without begging permission from your administration. You need to check your contract very carefully before you agree to start creating your own online course. If the words “work-for-hire” appear anywhere in there, this is an automatic red flag. You want to make sure that everything is spelled out in writing before you start, just in case there is a disagreement at a later time as to who owns what.

Once you do start creating your own online course, you need to make sure that whatever you create is truly original with you. It should really be your own work and not borrowed from somewhere else. Sooner or later, someone might notice that you incorporated someone else’s copyrighted material into your online course without permission or acknowledgment, and you could find yourself in court. If you do want to borrow something from somewhere else, make sure you have permission to do so—this is true for any photographs, videos, or extensive textual materials that you use. Use public domain materials wherever possible—examples of such materials are works created by the federal government or works for which the copyright has already expired.

Being overwhelmed is no excuse for covert plagiarism. Just ask.

I don't buy the remark by Charles Nelson @2:43AM. If the bulk of the ppt comes from the ancillary materials for a text, just contact the book rep and get your own copy, and add your own notes or just comment live. No need to get someone's embellishment of same. (Often those materials are just the images from the text, not a full presentation suitable for use by anyone, expert or not.) Unless you can't do it, and thus need the modern version of a film strip plus a 33 rpm record: ppt slides with notes to be read off of the side bar.

We have some ppt slides that one prof used and that we hand off to adjuncts for some gen ed courses. Ditto for sample exams and daily course outlines. They can take it from there.

I like your advice to take the "confusing misunderstanding" approach. Very professional. Works even if the person doing the borrowing won a t-t job over your correspondent and now needs help.
Meh, the PTBs are willing to string LW along for 3 years and then dump them. So . . . yeah.

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