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Harvard University is proposing changes in faculty outside-work policies that reflect concern that Harvard professors may be giving too much of their time and resources to Internet-based “distance learning” ventures, sources at the school said late last month. Although university officials say a revision in the school’s conflict-of-interest policy toward such ventures has been in the works for a while, there is no disputing that Harvard law professor Arthur Miller’s affiliation with the all-online Concord School of Law has been a triggering event, making the perceived need to put an Internet-savvy policy in place more urgent. Last fall, Miller was forced to give up an online course he was conducting for the Concord law school, a degree-granting institution that is owned by the The Washington Post Co. The new policy, which marks Harvard University’s first major revision of its conflict-of-interest policy since 1948, is currently in the proposal stage. The old policy, which is still in effect, permits a faculty member to engage in outside teaching, consulting, or research, so long as the outside work takes up no more than 20 percent of the faculty member’s time. That policy also prohibits professors from engaging in outside enterprises that would compromise Harvard University or that would interfere with the professors’ obligations to students, other Harvard faculty, or to the university as a whole. But because Internet-based courses might take relatively little time to set up, the 20 percent rule may no longer be a very effective way of preventing conflicts of interest, sources at Harvard say. MILLER SAYS HARVARD NOW OWNS HEART AND SOUL Instead of imposing a time limitation, the new policy would obligate professors who might want to distribute their lectures over the Internet, or to found a Web-based instructional service, to seek permission from the dean of their respective schools and from Harvard’s top administrative decision-making body, the Corporation. Part of Harvard’s concern is competition. The ease and lack of expense with which lecture content, for example, can be distributed worldwide by Harvard-affiliated faculty may undercut demand for Harvard. The proposed new policy expressly reflects this concern, according to sources who have reviewed it. Miller, who is still listed at the Concord Web site as a member of the law school’s board of advisers, pitches the school less as competition to Harvard than as an opportunity for “providing legal education to those who thought a law degree out of reach.” Miller’s reaction to the proposed guidelines has been one of disappointment and outrage. “Before this proposal, I would say Harvard owned a part of my body; now they have my heart and soul,” Miller said, arguing that the new policy restricts his academic freedom. “I think it’s very graphic in demonstrating the expanded control Harvard is trying to exert over the faculty,” Miller said. But Harvard law professor Bob Mnookin, who is one of the drafters of the new policy, said he does not believe the new policy necessarily poses a threat to professors’ freedom or independence. The new policy is “not a flat prohibition,” Mnookin said. “Whether or not someone is hemmed in depends on the reaction of their dean to what is being proposed, and we can’t really know that yet,” he said, adding that, “My own hunch is that deans are certainly sensitive to issues of academic freedom.” Miller, who along with other faculty members at the Concord law school has been a faculty member for bar-review courses and has made commercially offered audiotapes and videotapes for the law-school aftermarket, sees no fundamental difference between those more traditional offerings and the content offered by the online law school. “The focus of all of these projects has been to assist people in all walks of life, including those who do not have access to a legal education because of time or other reasons but, who would like to understand some of the principles of American jurisprudence so that they can better conduct their everyday lives,” Miller said in a statement published on the Concord Web site. Charles Nesson, a Harvard law professor who also heads the law school’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said he does not see the new policy as necessarily posing a threat to academic freedom. Part of the problem addressed by the new policy, Nesson and others say, is that need to ensure that those who do coursework or receive content from a moonlighting Harvard professor are not under the impression that they are getting a Harvard course offering. In other words, it is a branding issue. “The proposal does crimp freedom, but I respect it,” Nesson said. The Concord School of Law originally touted Miller’s affiliation with Harvard Law School in its Web site materials but has removed most references to Harvard on the Web site since the controversy over Miller’s teaching through Concord arose. Another online legal offering that makes use of Miller’s services, http://www.americounsel.com/, lists Miller’s Harvard affiliation prominently. OVERBLOWN PREDICTION? It is unclear whether Harvard’s attempt to grapple with the conflict-of-interest questions posed by Internet offerings represent a serious problem or just a problem in perception. The Washington Post, although self-admittedly not a disinterested bystander, editorialized in response to the Miller dispute that perhaps the competitive threat posed by online law-course offerings is overblown. “We can’t help thinking, though, that the likelihood of videotaped lectures’ becoming a competitive threat is just another of those fervid, mostly overblown predictions of how the Internet will alter human behavior,” the paper said, adding that, “Professors’ wisdom has been available off-the-shelf for centuries in book form and on screen for nearly a decade, and full-time enrollment has continued, at least so far, to strike most as a better way to absorb the wisdom fully.” Under the new rules, faculty members would likely be barred from teaching courses over the Internet for other institutions, in most cases. They also might be barred from doing other kinds of freelance work, even if the work is conducted after hours, during vacation time, or outside the normal academic year. Under most circumstances, the new policy would, in the absence of express administrative approval: Prohibit professors from teaching, consulting, or doing research at or for another educational institution or for-profit organization at any time, rather than merely during the academic year. Prohibit professors from conducting “virtual courses” over the Internet. Prohibit professors from holding academic appointments at other institutions. Require professors to be careful in how they use or refer to their academic affiliation, or use Harvard academic insigniae, in approved outside work. Require professors to take steps to prevent any outside organization from seeming to suggest a formal affiliation with Harvard that doesn’t exist. The next step in approval of the new policy is a review by the Harvard deans, which is currently taking place. After receiving the feedback from that review, the Harvard Corporation is expected to vote on the new policy at the end of this month.

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