(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)
Intellectual property has become an increasingly contentious issue across the academy as universities struggle to extract as much value form its faculty as the law permits--and to change the law to permit greater exploitation to the extent that universities can assert the political power to do so. This movement represents a larger movement in which universities seek greater productivity gains from faculty resources. In this case, universities are increasingly asserting ownership rights over faculty that may at its limit suggest that faculty are essentially property of the university -- and that such a property transaction is made legally palatable through the medium of the salaries and support paid therefor by the university.
It is in this context that the American Association of University Professors has released a draft report for comment: "Defending the Freedom to Innovate: Faculty Intellectual Property (IP) Rights After Stanford v. Roche." Particularly worth reading is Part III, pages 10-28 of the draft report.
In releasing this draft the subcommittee of the Association's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure issued a statement that follows below. The committee welcomes comments on the report from Association members and other interested parties. Comments should be addressed to email@example.com.
Tensions over faculty control of the fruits of their scholarship have been slowly building since the 1980s, but they have also intensified since late 2011. There have long been differences of opinion over ownership of patentable inventions, but over the last two years a number of universities have categorically asserted that they own these products of faculty research. And there is increasing evidence of institutional interest in declaring ownership of faculty intellectual property (IP) subject to copyright as well. The most notable example of the latter is those universities that demand full ownership of online courses and other instructional materials, a trend that did not begin escalating until the 2012-13 academic year.
This report is being issued in the midst of these fundamental changes in the character of faculty rights and academic freedom. The purpose of this report is to put the dialog on intellectual property on a new foundation, one that leads to a principle-based restoration of faculty leadership in setting policy in this increasingly important area of university activity. Administration efforts to control the fruits of faculty scholarship augur a sea change in faculty employment conditions, one too often imposed without negotiation or consent. Indeed the underlying logic behind these developments is an administrative conviction that faculty are not independent scholars, teachers, and researchers, but rather employees no different from those working in for-profit corporations that exist for the benefit of investors.