Phi Beta Cons

Do Profs Hold Copyrights on Their Syllabi?

Over the last several years, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has been engaged in a project to evaluate the nation’s education schools. One big part of that was to get syllabi from courses. Most colleges and universities cooperated, at least grudgingly, but not the University of Missouri. Mizzou dug in its heels, arguing that it could not give NCTQ copies of course syllabi without violating copyright. The university said it would allow NCTQ people to look at the documents, but that they couldn’t make copies. A Missouri court recently sided with the University.

Does this stance make sense, either legally or from the standpoint of institutional openness and accountability?

One professor who argues that it doesn’t is Michael Podgursky, former chairman of the Economics Department at Missouri. Here is an op-ed he wrote for the Columbia Daily Tribune. He writes, “UM is trying its best to block what is an important inquiry based on an absurd fiction that syllabi distributed to 35,000 students cannot be disclosed to an organization making use of the state’s Sunshine laws.”

I take a dim view of copyright to begin with, a position recently buttressed by my reading of Professor Tom Bell’s book Intellectual Privilege, and think that Missouri’s stance is nonsensical.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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