Editorial: The collision of academic freedom and public accountability

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By Julie Greenberg, Senior Policy Director

Facebook's official statement on privacy is that "you should have control over what you share." It's also the line of many faculty at Texas' public universities, who are going ballistic over a new law requiring them to post online their course syllabi, curriculum vitae, department budgets and students' end-of-course evaluations of faculty. One biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin said that the legislation would provide "zero public good."

The legislation may be a bit heavy-handed, but it addresses an issue about which the faculty of many universities appear to have a blind spot: the public support upon which their institution rests compels a greater degree of public transparency.

How does this blind spot connect to teacher quality? NCTQ has experienced first-hand the cold shoulder from many public universities as we have tried to obtain course syllabi from their education schools, often having to resort to formal "open records" requests. These universities feel that the prerogatives of their faculty's personal privacy and academic freedom extends to publicly regulated and supported programs producing public school teachers.

Some universities (about 10 percent on average, we find) already post all course syllabi on the web, so the process is hardly antithetical to academic norms. Nonetheless, it is obviously antithetical to some academics' sensibilities. It would be very refreshing to get wind of at least some upstart faculty who argue for setting all public university privacy settings where they should be: as much information as possible available to anyone. As Facebook also counsels, "your privacy settings should be simple and easy to understand" and what is simpler and easier to understand than public transparency?