Faculty Senate passes resolutions on course intellectual property, research infrastructure

Media Credit: Grace Hromin | Assistant Photo Editor

Phil Wirtz said senators received an “enormous amount” of feedback on the “insufficiency” of the University’s current copyright policy and said the senate will need to commission a review of the policy in the spring 2021 semester.

The Faculty Senate passed two resolutions Friday clarifying faculty members’ intellectual property rights in light of the upcoming online fall semester and calling on officials to maintain support for research infrastructure.

The resolution on intellectual property states that faculty members will maintain the same intellectual property rights that they had for their course materials before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resolution on research identifies different methods for officials to support existing research infrastructure. Senators also voted to send a third resolution on maintaining salary increases for promoted faculty back to committee to be revised and proposed again at a later date.

Phil Wirtz, a faculty senator and professor of decision sciences and psychology who sponsored the resolution on intellectual property, said the resolution is not an attempt to revise the University’s existing copyright policy, which currently states that lectures, audio and video recordings and other lecture-based material “may be subject to copyright protection.”

“The intent of this resolution is simply to say ‘look, whatever intellectual property rights you had before the University directed that courses are to go online, you still hold those same intellectual property rights now,’” Wirtz said.

He said in the process of vetting this resolution, senators received an “enormous amount” of feedback on the “insufficiency” of the University’s current copyright policy and said the senate will need to commission a review of the policy in the spring 2021 semester. With no amendments, the senate approved the resolution by unanimous consent.

The resolution on research states that administrators should consult with the senate’s research committee to identify resources for research and that officials should only change “funding mechanisms” for graduate students only if there isn’t a more “effective” option. It states that any future changes in research support should allow for existing proposals and awards to continue, particularly for graduate student tuition support and research costs.

The resolution also states that officials should “maintain and reaffirm” their commitment to research and adopt a policy of “do no harm” to the existing research infrastructure. The resolution passed without opposition.

Kausik Sarkar, a faculty senator and co-chair of the research committee, said members of the committee wanted to ensure that officials do not “lose sight” of the University’s goals and “critical mission” of research in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Provost Brian Blake proposed amendments, introduced by Wirtz and passed by the senate, to emphasize that research administrators should be determined through “University-wide, rigorous assessments,” and officials should develop a plan to provide “school-based” resources for research.

Officials announced a change to the research infrastructure last week, moving to a decentralized research model that will consolidate projects by subject area and provide staff members to guide the production of grant proposals.

Harald Griesshammer, a faculty senator and professor of physics, said administrators’ decision to implement the new research model “broke something that didn’t need fixing” and said rather than decentralizing the process, the change “centralized” it by grouping various schools together.

“If you call it decentralization, then I think there is a serious mix up of words here,” he said.

Jamie Cohen-Cole, a faculty senator and associate professor of American studies, also proposed an amendment to include a resolving clause that states any future actions in the area of research should first be discussed by the senate’s research committee, associate deans for research, deans of the schools and administrators from the Office of the Vice President for Research. Cohen-Cole’s amendment passed overwhelmingly.

The resolution on salary increases for promoted faculty called for officials to continue to reward faculty who are promoted this academic year with the appropriate salary increases.

Murli Gupta, a faculty senator who is also chair of the committee on appointments, salary and promotion policies, said senators have heard instances of officials denying salary increases for promoted faculty, which has saved $500,000 for the University. As a result, senators included a clause in the resolution calling for officials to inform promoted faculty that their salary increases would be “forthcoming as soon as possible” in the event that raises cannot be provided, he said.

Sarah Wagner, a faculty senator and professor of anthropology, moved to recommit the resolution on salary increases back to committee, which eventually passed by a 17-to-10 vote. She said the resolution is “obviously important,” but she did not want senators to “rush” the process of drafting it.

University President Thomas LeBlanc also delivered a statement on behalf of the senate parliamentarian, Steve Charnovitz, and the executive committee, condemning motions to close debate, saying it had the potential to be “disrespectful” to the ideals of shared governance. The motion to close debate calls for senators to end debate on a resolution and move directly to a vote, even if some senators wish to continue debate.

LeBlanc said motions to close debate on pending resolutions should be “withheld” if possible until all senators have had the opportunity to engage in debate on the matter.

“In the opinion of the executive committee, the motion to close debate should not become a regular part of the senate’s practice in considering resolutions,” he said.

LeBlanc also introduced several administrators to the Faculty Senate during their first times attending a senate meeting, including Barbara Lee Bass, the dean of the School of Medicine and Health Science; Dayna Matthew, the dean of GW Law; Ilana Feldman, the interim dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs; Melissa Feuer, the incoming interim dean of the College of Professional Studies; and Jay Goff, the vice provost of enrollment and student success.

The meeting’s agenda also included the nomination of Majeda El-Banna, the chair of the community of acute and chronic care department in the School of Nursing, to serve on the fiscal planning and budgeting committee. But after more than five and a half hours, senators lost quorum with less than half of the senate present and were no longer able to hold a vote.

Arthur Wilson, the chair of the executive committee and an associate professor of finance, said executive committee members will vote on El-Banna’s nomination at their upcoming meeting.

Goff, the vice provost of enrollment and student success, also provided an update on enrollment, saying that more than 150 incoming students currently plan to defer their enrollment for the fall semester. He said officials are meeting daily to identify microtrends in enrollment and monitor the plans of individual students.

Officials also provided an update on the campus master plan, after the Strategic Campus and Facilities Master Plan Committee held a series of workshops in May to receive input from students, faculty and staff.

Mike Aziz, the director of urban design for Cooper Robertson – the architecture and planning firm partnering with the University to develop the plan – said after speaking with students, faculty and administrators, officials are looking to respond to observations that the Foggy Bottom Campus lacks a “coherent, cohesive identity” and that Kogan Plaza and the student facilities surrounding it “really do need attention.” He also said officials are looking to address the “lack of space for synergies and collaboration across academic partnerships” on campus.

LeBlanc said officials have “no plans” to spend money on these projects in the immediate future but wanted to provide an update on the status of the planning process.

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