Moving Beyond University Expropriation and Control of Faculty “Outside Business Activities” –a Proposal for a Rule that is Simple and Fair

In “Just Because it is Legal Doesn’t Make it Right–The Extension of University Control of Employee “Outside Business Activity”” I have been writing about the way that the most pernicious aspects of the master-servant relationship tolerated in U.S. law has been creeping into the relationship between the university and its faculty. Three distinct aspects were noted: (1) Many research 1 universities have begun to seek to claim for themselves not just the fruits of the labor they paid for in hiring staff, but also to control and exploit all faculty productive capacity even beyond contract term periods. (2) At the same time, the university has begun to see in their faculty an extension of their brand–the objectification of the human being who serve as a way that reduces them to factors in the production of university reputation ONLY, and thus amenable to control by the university at all times as if they were other sorts of property. (3) Lastly, the university sees in the aggregated work activities of faculty an enormous source of data that could be better exploited and thus view rules regulation work beyond that compensated through university contracts as a valuable information asset to be harvested.

These trends have not occurred in a vacuum. There is no disputing that individuals have taken advantage of the porous nature of the teaching-university relationship. These include multiple simultaneous full time teaching producing, in the most egregious cases multiple simultaneous tenured appointments. Outside consulting during the academic year can become so excessive that it interferes with compensated expectations for research, teaching and service. Outside activity might conflict with the interests of the university directly (I take as more hysterical, strategic, and overblown university efforts to create prophylactic rules that extend conflict beyond direct and substantial conflicts between faculty activity and university interests).

It has been in that context that universities have sought to protect their legitimate interests–and investment–in their faculty. And usually that has produced badly drafted and overblown regulatory efforts, usually drafted by lawyers or administrators with little experience regulatory drafting but enthusiastic to extend university authority to the full reach of the law. The result has been characterized by overreaching that at times might suggest that the now popular university ethics rules do not apply to its own regulatory activities. Worse, these regulatory efforts tend to become complex baroque affairs to collapse into incoherence by weight of their own overwrought cleverness–none of which provides real substantive benefit to the university. Compare typical variations on the conflict of interest, conflict of commitment and outside teaching and consulting policies: University of Georgia; University of Washington; University of Texas; University of Utah; University of Maryland; and Purdue University.

That is regrettable. But fairly easy to fix IF (the university is willing to take a reasonable position and faculty are willing to engage in outside activities judiciously and in good faith. To that end a simple rule that is easy to understand and easy to implement, a rule that is easy to monitor and apply might be the most useful mechanism to balance the interests of university and faculty- That simple rule ought to be respectful of the faculty’s right to employ his own productive forces when he is not rendering service to the university, while protecting the university in its legitimate expectation that its employees will not shirk. The easiest approach is to provide a simple safe harbor rule for faculty consulting and teaching outside the university, one that is entirely focused on those time periods when the faculty member is employed by the university (usually under a 9 month contract), but relinquishes control when the university does not pay its faculty for services. At the same time, such a simple rule ought to be generous in permitting the university to harvest data about such activity–to the extent that such data is shared with those contributing information.

I have produced a model that is geared for Penn State but is easily applicable to other major research universities. It follows. Comments and reactions welcome. For a variation See Michigan State University. For an alternative consider Harvard’s Statement.

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