When members of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT learned about their school’s contract with Pearson’s eCollege division to develop and manage online degree programs for 22,000 new students, they did more than raise their eyebrows. They organized, and they passed a resolution to block any further contracts from moving forward.
Their concerns over the contract were outlined by Rutgers AAUP-AFT President Lisa Klein in a letter to members:
- Pearson would pocket 50 percent of initial tuition revenue, taking away much-needed revenue from departments and units.
- Intellectual property rights would be compromised if Pearson chose to outsource courses without the consent of the faculty members who created them.
- Academic freedom would be diminished, as Pearson would determine how to define “obscene, threatening, indecent, libelous, slanderous, [or] defamatory content” or “material that is harmful to children.” In essence, Pearson could “arbitrarily censor course materials,” said Klein.
- Expanding online programming would increase the number of poorly paid, poorly supported contingent faculty: Courses developed by Rutgers professors could be taught by part-time employees anywhere in the world, for a fraction of the pay a Rutgers professor would get.
- Students could migrate from bricks-and-mortar classes to online courses perceived to be easier, resulting in lower enrollment for existing classes.
The bottom line is that growing enrollment should not be about profit. It should be about the educational mission, which should be driven by faculty.
The Rutgers resolution does not cancel the college’s existing contract with Pearson, but addresses any new agreements. And Rutgers AAUP-AFT has also suggested that faculty boycott teaching any of Pearson’s online courses themselves.
“We haven’t entirely closed the barn door, but we’ve made it a lot narrower,” said David Hughes, a member of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT executive council and an anthropology professor, quoted in an Inside Higher Ed article. “Symbolically what this signifies is that it’s a movement among faculty to boycott this Pearson agreement. None of it will work if faculty don’t teach under the limitations of the contract.”