Monday, March 18, 2013

UC’s Failure to Respect Shared Governance and Union Contracts Concerning Online Education

UC Santa Cruz is the only campus with union representation for its senate members, and since the faculty association (SCFA) has the right to bargain over local employment issues, it has determined that the university failed to meet its basic contractual obligations when it signed off on an online program without union approval. Meanwhile, UC-AFT is also in the process of filing grievances over a similar set of issues, and now we are moving to a confrontation that could have national implications.

In the SCFA Request for Information letter to the university, the Faculty Association points out that the recent deal with Coursera conflicts with several legal and contractual requirements. The first issue concerns who owns the intellectual property of a faculty lecture or class: “In 2000, CUCFA successfully lobbied for legislation establishing that individual professors, and not the University, own the intellectual property in their live performances and course materials. . . Viewed within this legal framework the contract template that faculty will be expected to sign before their courses can become available on Coursera appears to put the UCSC campus in the position of becoming the publisher of this material on Coursera and other platforms.” In other words, UC is asking faculty to sign away their intellectual property rights.

The faculty contract with Coursera states the following: "I hereby irrevocably grant the University the absolute right and permission to use, store, host, publicly broadcast, publicly display, public[sic] perform, distribute, reproduce and digitize any Content that I upload, share or otherwise provide in connection with the Course or my use of the Platform, including the full and absolute right to use my name, voice, image or likeness (whether still, photograph or video) in connection therewith, and to edit, modify, translate or adapt any such Content.” So UC is using Coursera to get faculty to sign over their courses, intellectual property, and their IDENTITIES. Forgive me for being paranoid, but does this mean that if a faculty member signs this deal, they no longer own their own name, face, or image?

As the SCFA argues in its letter to the university, the UC should have first bargained with the union before it signed a contract with Coursera that changed the terms and conditions of UCSC senate faculty. This same problem is currently facing lecturers, where the UC has also failed to bargain with UC-AFT before it started several online programs affecting the terms and conditions of lecturers’ employment.

SCFA has asked the university the following important questions: “Was there a confidentiality agreement between Coursera and the campus? If so, at whose initiative was such an agreement undertaken? Who were the parties to this agreement on UCSCs side? If any Senate faculty were parties to the agreement, does the administration consider them to have been acting on behalf of the Senate? Was there any other form, official or unofficial, in which the Senate was consulted prior to signing the contract with Coursera? Has any member of SCFA's bargaining unit, other than administrators, signed the agreement needed to post their classes on Coursera?” The implication of these questions is that the university administration circumvented both the academic senate and the faculty union by making a deal with Coursera, and this deal may include a confidentiality agreement that would force the university to hide the details from its own faculty.

In light of Senator Steinberg’s recent push to have UC students take courses with online providers, everyone should be concerned about the level of secrecy in the current deals with Coursera.