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May 12, 2005

Should faculty be more careful about their web sites?

Should Pitt faculty be more careful about posting copyrighted material and personal data on their home web pages?

That question was discussed at Faculty Assembly last week, as part of a report from the Senate’s computer usage committee.

Committee chair John Close reported that a final draft of updated copyright policies and procedures (Policy 10-04-01, 1989) has been completed by a provost-appointed committee, and will go into effect following approval by Senate Council.

The policy covers copyright ownership issues and responsibilities for individual authors, “but not the use of copyrighted material in the classroom,” Close said. “A separate, CIDDE (Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education) committee is looking into the educational ‘fair use’ policy.”

In a related issue, Close said that officials at Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD) told his committee about the growing problem of units putting personal faculty and staff data on local servers.

“CSSD strongly discourages that because, first of all, it’s vulnerable to hacking,” Close said. “If staff and faculty personal data is being placed on local servers, CSSD at least would like to work with the [department[ IT people to explain their options and give them guidelines.”

Assembly member Lewis Jacobson said that Pitt should consider setting up an intranet system, which would be accessible to Pitt computer account holders only, to enhance security and help prevent copyright abuse.

“I suspect an overwhelming majority of the faculty have no idea that they are putting something out in international cyberspace, that is not simply accessible to people within the University,” Jacobson said. “This raises copyright issues in itself that would not be raised if we had an intranet to which access was restricted to Pitt computer accounts. Furthermore, that would solve some of the security issues that come about by putting things on web servers that effectively are open to indexers” and susceptible to abuse, he added.

There are specific sites that are password-protected, Jacobson noted, but no private networks for posting course web and other instructional materials.

Close agreed to add the topic of developing an intranet system to the computer usage committee’s agenda.

Regarding copyrighted material being posted on personal web pages, George Pike, director of the Barco Law Library, suggested that faculty first check the University Library System’s e-reserve collection.

(Instructions on accessing ULS’s e-reserve collections can be found at:

“There are copyright protections available in e-reserve that might not be available in an unrestricted individual faculty web page,” Pike said.

He noted that the issue has been in the news recently with a series of threatening letters between the Association of American Publishers and the University of California-San Diego over whether the materials placed on course web platforms are within the traditional guidelines for protected classroom use.

“That question is still under debate,” Pike said. “But the e-reserve system almost functions as a de facto intranet, in that only students registered for specific courses can access the documents that are being placed on e-reserve,” which is not the case with a web page.

“There are many, many documents that are being placed on web sites that we actually have a licensed copy of available electronically, for which there are no copyright issues because the license covers all University users,” Pike said.

(For related stories see Sept. 16, 2004, University Times.)

Close also reported that new anti-spyware software is available to the University community via the Pitt technology web site.

Spyware refers to software installed on a computer that collects and distributes information about the user.

CSSD recommends two anti-spyware software packages, Ad-Aware SE Professional, and Spybot Search and Destroy, Close said.

The packages are available free of charge, but must be downloaded by the user, he said.

Instructions for downloading the anti-spyware are available at

In another Faculty Assembly report, William Zamboni and Jay Irrgang, co-chairs of the Senate athletics committee, again recommended that Pitt decline an invitation to join the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA), a national coalition of faculty senates advocating comprehensive reform of NCAA Division IA athletics.

Pitt was invited to join the organization last spring, but Faculty Assembly voted against joining.

(See May 13, 2004, University Times.)

To date, 47 Division IA faculty senates — as opposed to the athletics departments or the institutions themselves — have joined COIA, Zamboni said. Among Big East Conference schools, only faculty groups at Rutgers and the University of Connecticut are members, he said.

Among the disincentives to joining COIA, Zamboni said, are:

• There is no formal structure governing COIA — no bylaws, and no formal policies governing its actions. “While there is a steering committee, it’s not clear how one becomes a member of the steering committee,” Zamboni said.

• Developing a formal structure is not on COIA’s agenda. “They describe themselves as ‘ad hoc,’” Zamboni said.

• While the COIA web site states the organization has close working relationships with the NCAA, Division IA faculty athletics representatives and the Division IA Athletics Directors Association, there is little evidence to support that claim.

• There also is scant evidence to suggest that COIA could play a meaningful role in athletics reform, according to Zamboni and Irrgang.

In addition, a report — “Academic Integrity in Intercollegiate Athletics: Principles, Proposed Rules and Guidelines” — recently adopted by COIA contains 82 proposals for reform, almost all of which Pitt already has in place, Zamboni reported. The Senate athletics committee, Pitt’s athletics department and the Provost’s office reviewed the report, he said. “The preliminary opinion is that the University of Pittsburgh meets or exceeds all of the best practice policies described in the COIA document,” Zamboni said.

Despite these objections, several Assembly members argued in favor of keeping the door open for Pitt to join COIA at a later date.

Some Assembly members suggested pressing COIA members for clarification of the coalition’s mission, structure and function; polling some athletics officials at institutions with faculty senate membership for what they see the role of COIA is in relation to their current policies, and joining COIA with the expectation of being a model among the group’s faculty senates because of faculty governance policies already in place at Pitt.

Zamboni said that the athletics committee would continue to look into the issue and report to Faculty Assembly in the fall.

—Peter Hart

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