I hardly know where to start with U.C. Berkeley’s new campus policy on Course Note-Taking and Materials. Perhaps with “Why We Have This Policy”:
The Course Note-Taking and Materials policy is intended to (1) protect instructors’ copyrights and the integrity of their intellectual property in the context of twenty-first century learning, commercial, regulatory, and technological environments; (2) restrict commercial note-taking services to those authorized by the campus; and (3) hold members of the campus community and commercial vendors responsible for complying with the policy.
I would have thought that the most important goals of a policy on course notes would be to facilitate good teaching and effective learning. And then, in that context, perhaps copyright might come up as a way to encourage professors to develop good course materials, or to help enforce the policy. But no. The copyrights come first, and the pedagogy not at all. It appears that the university cares more about the “integrity of [professors’] intellectual property” than about academic integrity.
The actual substantive policy is about what you would expect, given this framing. Students may not share notes with anyone except their classmates without the instructor’s permission. They may not record a class without the instructor’s written permission. And commercial uses of course notes are strictly prohibited.
There are reasonable enough principles behind these rules. Indeed, there are strong legal reasons, as well: California state law prohibits the sale of course recordings and course notes without the university’s permission. But the absoluteness of the actual policy is chilling. There is no recognition that fair use and other legal doctrines will sometimes give students every legal right to take notes and share them.
Worse, there’s no consideration of the moral principles that ought to limit these limits on course notes. Here’s what the policy has to say for itself about the educational process:
The University of California, Berkeley encourages students to take notes in class and other instructional settings as part of their education. Note-taking is a means of recording information and helps students absorb and integrate what they learn. Note-taking or other recording of an instructor’s presentation can also facilitate further discussion of the material with students and the instructor.
What a sadly impoverished view of the mission of the university this is! What happened to creating an academic community whose members debate matters of truth, beauty, and justice outside the classroom as well as inside? What happened to the transmission of knowledge through society? And what happened to creating a well-informed citizenry whose engagement with learning makes them effective participants in our democracy? These are the kinds of values that are served by the flow of wisdom, and they are values that Berkeley’s new policy simply ignores.
This is not to say that course materials are fair game for free reuse by anyone, or that course notes must always flow freely. Far from it. As a casebook author, I know from personal experience just how much work goes into making useful course materials. An outline bank in the hands of an exclusive student group can become a tool of inequality. And recording a class — especially in secret — can be terribly disruptive to what is supposed to be a safe and welcoming space for discussion.
These are not the concerns at work in Berkeley’s new course notes policy. It is driven by intellectual property, pure and simple. Berkeley could perhaps give an account of itself that provides academically responsible justifications for its rules. But this it has not done. Consider the responsibilities of individual faculty members:
- Accept responsibility for knowing, disseminating, and following this policy and its procedures.
- Take appropriate steps to protect their intellectual property rights.
I would have thought that a teacher’s first duty would be to set an appropriate policy on class notes for her class in light of her learning objectives. Instead, it’s her job to tell students about the dire consequences of sharing what they’ve learned with others. And the language of that second bullet is unfortunate: it verges on telling professors they’re doing something actionable if they don’t copyright their lectures to the hilt.
And then there is this:
Policy Issued: November 21, 2011
Effective Date: September 1, 2011
There’s nothing like a little retroactive lawmaking to set a good example for students.
The policy is accompanied by an educational site for instructors. It is both better and worse than the policy itself. On the “better” side of the ledger, it has a clear and straightforward explanation of Creative Commons licenses. On the “worse” side, there is this suggested text to share with students:
You are a member of an academic community at one of the world’s leading research universities. Universities like Berkeley create knowledge that has a lasting impact in the world of ideas and on the lives of others; such knowledge can come from an undergraduate paper as well as the lab of an internationally known professor. One of the most important values of an academic community is the balance between the free flow of ideas and the respect for the intellectual property of others. Researchers don’t use one another’s research without permission; scholars and students always use proper citations in papers; professors may not circulate or publish student papers without the writer’s permission; and students may not circulate or post materials (handouts, exams, syllabi—any class materials) from their classes without the written permission of the instructor.
The paean to research is admirable, if slightly misplaced: the university is as much about the dissemination of knowledge as its creation, and it is the former that the policy concerns itself with. And even the “balance” metaphor is reasonable enough: peer review, for example, acts as a serious but eminently justifiable check on the “free flow of ideas.” But then there is the conflation of the norms of academic integrity with the law of intellectual property, and the utter confusion that follows. This is not how one teaches students to understand either the norms or the law: they will leave Berkeley with a muddled sense of both.
This is not a large issue, in the scheme of things. Berkeley’s educational mission is under far more threat from California’s budget crunch than from the course-notes policy. Indeed, this is a university that has wrestled with much larger issues of academic freedom. But this ought to have been an easy case, one in which adverting to academic principles was both obvious and obviously right. Their absence is telling. A university that cannot articulate its basic values is a university in trouble.