Policy bans online notes

by Liz Bogut

Although a University faculty committee passed a policy Thursday restricting the distribution of class notes on the Internet, the debate over its constitutionality might be far from over.
The Twin Cities Assembly Committee passed the policy, prohibiting students from distributing lecture notes for commercial purposes without prior consent from professors. The policy will take effect fall semester 2000.
Judith Martin, chairwoman of the senate educational policy committee, said the policy was formed in response to the growing number of Web sites that pay students to post lecture notes online.
“The policy was created to protect the intellectual property of faculty members as they teach their courses,” Martin said.
But some feel the policy is a violation of First Amendment rights.
“Prohibiting students from posting notes online is a violation of free speech and the spirit of academic freedom,” said Ronald Siegel, University professor and pharmaceutics department head.
Siegel adamantly opposed the policy, saying he plans to take action against it.
“I will notify the American Civil Liberties Union and see if this policy could be challenged in court,” Siegel said.
Martin said the University General Counsel gave no indication the policy would limit free speech.
Michael Miller, a College of Liberal Arts student and senator of the assembly, said there is no need for the policy because the number of students who post lecture notes online is very insignificant.
“This is like putting a birthday candle out with a fire hose,” Miller said.
Under the new policy:
ù Students may not distribute class notes, handouts or other instructor-provided materials for commercial purposes without the written consent of the instructor.
ù The policy is enforceable under the University of Minnesota Statement of Standards of Student Conduct. Violations could range anywhere from a warning to expulsion.
ù If an individual faculty member or the faculty of a department authorizes the distribution of class notes, the policy would not be violated.
Len Kuhi, an astronomy professor, was surprised to find notes for one of his courses posted on the Web.
Although Kuhi said he did not object to students taking notes and sharing them with others, he does not want students selling notes taken in secret.
Kuhi said he found three major problems with students posting class notes.
“First of all, there is a permission issue. Second, the notes are not reviewed by the instructor before they are posted online,” Kuhi said. “Finally, there is really no replacement for the visual aids that enhance the lectures.”
Kuhi said the policy recognizes that anyone can take notes, but also makes clear the permission issue involved.
But Siegel said it is wrong to require students to get permission to post notes online.
“The instructor does not have any right to intervene,” Siegel said.
Oran Wolf, founder of StudentU.com, said he does not think the University policy is unfair.
“If it was up to me, I would work with every professor at every University. But at this point, it is just not feasible,” Wolf said.
Wolf said the Web site gives students the chance to do better in school by preparing their notes to post online.
Even though the University has adopted a policy involving instructor consent, Wolf said he would not require it for his Web site.
“We’d post it, anyway, whether or not we have the professor’s permission,” Wolf said.

Liz Bogut covers faculty and welcomes comments at [email protected].