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Harvard Tightens Faculty Policy

A Matter of Freedom?: The University is cracking down on professors who want to work outside of Harvard. Some say they're justified. Others say their freedom is being restricted.

By Erica B. Levy, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard is reining in even its most famous. Despite the increasing temptation to expand their playing field through the Internet, University faculty must abide by rules set by the center that determine what outside activities--like academic web sites and online lectures--are and are not acceptable.

Offering some free online information is fine; giving periodic guest lectures at other universities is also fine; offering an online course is not.

The University is now in the process of revising and clarifying the regulations written over half a century ago in what some faculty members call "The Gray Book," updating them to modern trends in technology.

The University hopes that the Harvard Corporation will approve a revised copy of the draft by the end of May.

But Bromley Professor of Law Arthur R. Miller at Harvard Law School (HLS)--who was forced to remove his online lectures from the web-based Concord University School of Law late last fall-- is not pleased with the new policies. He says the new policy will further restrict professor's academic freedom.

"I've been on their faculty for over 29 years, and I've never had to ask permission to go speaking or to give lectures to any organizations, for profit or non profit," Miller says.

And even the current revision of the old rules leaves some questions unanswered.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Jeremy R. Knowles calls the draft, which is intended to apply to the entire university, an "umbrella statement." Some specific decisions have been deferred to the deans, others will be determined through "case law."

A Due Process

Associate Provost Dennis F. Thompson, who chairs the Advisory Group on Outside Activities that drafted the new rules, says, in their current form, the laws governing faculty conduct are worded sparingly enough to sound a bit like the Ten Commandments.

The thirteen rules of "Extra Salaries and Teaching, Research or Administrative Obligations of Holders of Academic Appointments" stretch across just over two pages, without much explanation.

The new ten-page draft, obtained by The Crimson last week, will fill in the gaps, according to Dean for Research and Technology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Paul C. Martin, who says it is intended to be a "clarification of guidelines."

"The principles are unaltered and the specifics unchanged in most respects," Martin says.

But according to Thompson, while some members of the drafting advisory committee consider the rules virtually unchanged, others see new and larger implications.

"You could say that all we're doing is explaining what the stipulations mean," Thompson says. "I think it is a bit more than that--technology has changed, the world has changed."

Miller, too, sees a bigger trend emerging.

"I do believe that this is a radical change in policy that restricts our freedom," he says.

The new regulations, for example, attempt to tackle how the University differentiates teaching outside of Harvard, which is forbidden, from the distribution of academic material, which is permitted.

Both the old stipulations and the revised draft say that anyone at the University with an academic appointment "shall not engage in teaching or research activities or serve as salaried consultant at any other educational institution during the academic year" unless approved by the both the dean of the Faculty and the advisory group.

Pforzheimer University Professor Sidney H. Verba, a member of the advisory group, says Harvard faculty members must be committed to the institution.

"People working for the University owe an allegiance of time to the University," Verba says. "If you're offered to teach at Harvard, that should be your main occupation."

He adds,"there is the specific extent to which one is engaged in an act which would be, in some sense, in competition with what goes on at Harvard."

Filling In Between the Lines

According to Provost Harvey V. Fineberg '67, technology is the big factor in making the University check some of the implications of its policies.

"It forces you to come to grips with questions that were never necessary," Fineberg says.

Knowles says that the revised version of the stipulations offers a broader sense of what teaching can mean to accommodate changes brought by the Internet.

"The substantive changes in the statement do bring us more up-to-date, in the sense that years ago there were text books at one end of the spectrum, and professors lecturing in the classroom, at the other," he says. "Now, the new technologies bridge this gap."

Which materials can be put online and which cannot are among the biggest gray areas for administrators--things the advisory group hopes to clarify.

If it is free and available to everyone--not exclusive to one curriculum at another school--then it might be permissible, Thompson says.

The closer something is to being an exclusive "course" for credit, the less likely it is to be allowed.

Thompson also says that professors are not permitted to make deals with information and online distributors.

Martin, however, says the advisory group wants to draw the line not at the distribution level, but when professors themselves become accessible to non-Harvard students, or when online materials can be used for a non-Harvard degree program.

"The gray areas involve interaction and certification, both of which are characteristics of courses and not of publications," Martin says.

Miller says that the draft's restrictions on online education may stem from fear that the University is behind in its distance learning initiatives.

"I think Harvard may have realized that this phenomenon was getting away from it," he says. "[Faculty venturing out on their own] might dilute Harvard's ability to be a unique institution--which I think is a little like Chicken Little fearing that the sky was falling."

The amount of time spent on an outside project will be another factor in determining whether an outside activity is inappropriate, according to Thompson.

He says the advisory group wants to make sure professors "don't spend so much time [on outside activities] that they neglect students here."

President Neil L. Rudenstine says professors should always remember their "duties and obligations while they are at Harvard to their students, colleagues, and curriculum and what activities will take away that commitment."

Proof of a Burden

Whether or not the new stipulations, if the Corporation passes them, will be constraining to professors remains to be seen.

Miller, who was among the first professors to appear on a regular television show as well as the first to offer lectures online, told The Crimson that rules about how professors can distribute knowledge may limit their ability to educate with new venues like the Internet.

But Weld Professor of Law Charles R. Nesson says he is confident that the deans of Harvard's schools will keep professors' academic freedom in mind when deciding, on a case by case basis, what will be permissible.

Harvard is simply trying to regain control over what it sees as a rapidly expanding operational field, Nesson says.

He says he expects the University to be open to new educational opportunities online, especially where other institutions would use shared information in the same way they would use a textbook published by a Harvard professor to teach one of their courses.

But if Harvard begins to use its new drafted stipulations to enforce "work for hire,"--where the University asserts its rights over professors' intellectual property--Nesson says, "there will be trouble."

Nesson adds that while HLS embraces new online technologies and plans to offer ways for professors to use them, "at the same time there is a real interest in assuring quality and assuring against what you might call brand disillusion."

Miller's name as a Harvard professor being used at a "not particularly high quality" law school like Concord was a form of "brand disillusion," Nesson says.

Change Up

According to Thompson, the controversy surrounding Miller's online course was not the reason the University decided to revise its rules.

Instead, Thompson says, the need became obvious a few years ago after a similar kind of review by a University faculty committee on intellectual property.

That committee was formed to decide what rights Harvard faculty members should have to materials and information they develop while at the University.

"At that time, we rejected what some universities were doing to claim ownership of faculty lectures and courses if they were put on the web," Thompson says.

In most cases, lectures, materials and websites for courses still belong to the professor.

But, according to Thompson, owning materials does not mean that faculty members can distribute them at will. The current review of the old stipulations was set up to clarify this distinction.

President Rudenstine says Harvard's process for revision is unique in that the University does not claim to have rights over individual materials.

"We're not particularly interested in trying to own people's courses," Rudenstine says.

"We approach this not as a matter of intellectual property, but commitment and broaches of commitment," he says. "I think this is the right approach."

Provost Fineberg set up the advisory group to begin revision of the old stipulations in December, says Thompson. The other members of the group include Faculty from the University Research Policy Committee and the University Academic Computing Committee.

While Thompson says he initially planned on simply reworking the current set of rules, the committee felt it necessary to rewrite them altogether, even if leaving much of their content the same.

In the next few weeks, the schools will submit their drafts with revisions. Most likely, the president and Corporation will approve some form of the stipulations. However, whether or not the revised rules will affect faculty members' academic freedom will ultimately be decided by how each individual dean interprets them.

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