Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Feb. 20, 1998

Tanaka answers legal questions during Faculty Forum

by Anne Dolan

Faculty obligations to find accommodations for students with disabilities, the changing role of student as consumer, and class notes for retail sale were some of the topics touched on during discussion at the February Faculty Forum and Dinner. Paul Tanaka, director of University Legal Services, participated in the discussion.

Following are some of the highlights.

Note-selling services. Tanaka said surveys show that faculty nationwide are split between the opinion that their work can't be sold and the belief that any way students learn is OK with them. The ISU faculty handbook regards class content as the property of faculty. Tanaka said students paid to take notes that later will be sold should be clearing this in advance with the faculty affected. But he noted that the University of Florida recently filed suit against a Gainesville copy center and lost its claim of copyright violation.

Accommodating students. When students bring up a physical or learning disability or a schedule that conflicts with their religious beliefs, faculty are compelled to give them some kind of help, Tanaka said. The key to accommodation is "leveling the playing field" without altering the evaluation scale, he said.

Classroom speech. Even if there were no tenure, faculty would have "academic freedom and freedom of speech," Tanaka said. "Faculty have rights in the classroom, and discussion (by teacher or students) should be relevant to the subject matter and to teaching methods."

Students as consumers. Faculty don't always view their students as consumers, but students approach ISU with a consumer attitude, Tanaka said. One positive effect is that students are more aggressive about their educations; one down side is that some students are less respectful of their teachers.

Use of student evaluations. Tanaka noted that the use of student evaluations differs across campus by department. The key, he said, is fair disclosure; faculty should know from the time they are hired how their own evaluations will be used.

Is a syllabus binding? Tanaka said syllabi aren't binding contracts, but they do give students expectations. Students should receive "fair warning" when a teacher makes changes to a syllabus, particularly in light of the diversity of today's students and their previous experiences.

The last faculty forum of the year will be Monday, April 13, in the Memorial Union Cardinal Room. Landscape architecture professor Bill Boon will lead a discussion on helping students think "outside the box."

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