UT Austin and Online Learning: Faculty Should Own Copyrights for Content They Create

The president of the University of Texas at Austin has developed five guiding principles for blended and online education, two of which bear directly on the critical question about the nature and extent of faculty ownership of the curriculum and faculty rewards for contributing to online learning.

The concerns of faculty are that online learning might have an adverse impact on the residential college experience, thereby affecting employment prospects, and that faculty involvement in developing content for online learning might not serve career aspirations as well as, say, book authorship, patents, or the publication of articles.

“Virtually all innovations in society are made by those doing the daily work,” said UT Austin President Bill Powers. “Put another way, they can be supported from the top, but they are developed from the bottom up. In our case, that means by the faculty. Our incentive structures need to encourage faculty innovation in this area. Just as faculty members who write textbooks or create devices benefit from their work, we should ensure that faculty who create online content can benefit, as well as their departments, colleges, and the University. Even when the University sponsors the creation of these resources, our general position should be that faculty own the copyrights for the content they create and grant licenses to the University to use and adapt their content, consistent with Regents’ Rules and the law.”

Powers endorses faculty and academic departmental control of the curriculum.  “Our faculty and academic units are responsible for ensuring that online resources, courses, certificates, and degrees reflect the content and rigor appropriate for a leading national university. Without compromising our deep commitment to the academic freedom of a world-class faculty, we should recognize that these technologies amplify the visibility and impact of individual faculty and staff as representatives of the University on a global scale. Our online curriculum should mirror the rigor of our traditional curriculum, and our online courses should feature the same high-caliber faculty.”

The other guiding principles include implementing online learning in a way that is financially sustainable; sharing content with university partners; and continuing to be innovative amid the rapid changes affecting pedagogy.