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Senate approves changes in copyright policy, earth sciences programs

STANFORD -- Members of the Faculty Senate were bemused, and somewhat incredulous. In what may rank as the shortest meeting on record - a little less than 45 minutes - the senate on Thursday, April 16:

  • Voted to give faculty and students copyright ownership on independently produced (non-sponsored) computer software and courseware.
  • Approved a proposal for a master's degree in Earth Systems.
  • Gave the new department of Geological and Environmental Sciences authority to recommend degree candidates.

The meeting went so quickly, in fact, that a group of Earth Sciences faculty - invited as guests to answer questions - arrived barely in time for the vote on their request.

Software, courseware copyright policy approved

Continuing a discussion started at the April 8 meeting, civil engineering Professor Boyd Paulson asked for approval of a "sense-of-the-senate" resolution supporting the concept of allowing faculty and students to retain copyright for independently produced computer software and courseware. Paulson chairs the Academic Council's Committee on Academic Computing and Information Systems, which sought the change.

Specific language is yet to be worked out in conjunction with the Legal Office.

Electrical engineering Professor Tony Siegman said he had no quarrel with the proposed policy, but wanted to raise a side issue. He questioned the disposition of income from research projects that succeed commercially, especially if students play a large role.

Paulson responded that the policy change would not affect copyright provisions in sponsored research. "We're talking about independent scholarly work on copyrightable, not patentable works," Paulson said. The proposal also would not apply to work- for-hire by staff.

Last week, Paulson told the senate that it no longer made sense for the university to claim copyright just because some university equipment may have been used in creation of the software or courseware.

The existing policy dates from the 1950s and 1960s, when creation of computer-based products involved use of expensive, university-owned computing resources.

Now, most faculty and students have in their homes or offices computer equipment more powerful and far less expensive than the early mainframes, Paulson told the senate on April 8.

Under the proposal, computer software and courseware would be treated the same as books, articles, poems, musical compositions and other creative works, where the university does not claim ownership.

Charles Kruger, vice provost and dean of research and graduate policy, told the senate that the Committee on Research is discussing a possible recommendation regarding ownership of inventions created using university resources.

Although the outcome is uncertain, it "can be construed as going in a different direction" from the copyright recommendation, Kruger said. He was raising the issue now for information purposes only, he said.

Paulson's request passed the senate with three nay votes.

Departmental merger in Earth Sciences

As part of its budget cut, the School of Earth Sciences last year announced its intention to merge its departments of Geology and Applied Earth Sciences. The faculty Advisory Board previously approved the concept of the new combined department, which is called Geological and Environmental Sciences.

Now, it was up to the senate to authorize the department to recommend candidates for degrees, effective next September.

Civil engineering Professor David Freyberg, chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Studies, said his committee studied the department's curriculum and advising plans and "concluded that the new department was well prepared" to offer what it proposed.

He said the proposals "take advantage of the strength of the faculty" and "play nicely with other departments that share similar interests." He recommended that the department be allowed to grant the degree of bachelor of science, effective September 1993.

Political science Professor Judith Goldstein, chair of the Committee on Graduate Studies, said her committee also supported the change. The merger puts together existing graduate programs in a more efficient form, she said.

She recommended that the department have authority to recommend candidates for the degrees of master of science, engineer and doctor of philosophy.

Noting that more and more programs at Stanford have "environmental" in their name, industrial engineering Professor Jim Adams asked whether anyone was concerned that people would no longer be able to distinguish among disciplines.

"We have to be careful not to turn the things that have the word 'environment' into disciplines," Freyberg said.

"I think it quite straightforward to justify a variety of intellectual and analytical tools that can be brought to bear on problems of the environment." But he said he did not foresee the word "environment" in every department.

Goldstein said that use of the word was appropriate in this case, but she acknowledged that the graduate studies committee might want to monitor that in the future.

Existing students in geology and applied earth sciences will have the option of having the old titles on their degrees when they graduate.

Starting next year, new students will have the option of listing their specialty as a second line on a diploma that reads "Geological and Environmental Sciences."

For bachelor's students, the program specialties are geological sciences, environmental sciences, land resources, and engineering geology and hydrogeology. For advanced students, the specialties are geomathematics, geostatistics in the earth sciences, and hydrogeology.

The proposals passed unanimously.

Earth Systems master's program

In other matters, the senate unanimously approved a request to expand the interdisciplinary program in Earth Systems so that students enrolled in the bachelor's degree program could qualify for a coterminal master's degree.

Goldstein, speaking for the Committee on Graduate Studies, said Earth Systems has "lots of vitality" and is a "rigorous" program.

She said her committee supported the concept of a master's degree in Earth Sciences, but not as a stand-alone program. Because the program would be approved only for three years - to coincide with the undergraduate program authorized in June 1992 - the committee thought it best not to bring in outside students, she said.

Business dispensed with, faculty members eagerly rushed out at 4:01 p.m. Meetings usually end at 5 p.m., and often much later.

Trish Del Pozzo, longtime assistant academic secretary, said she could not remember such a short meeting.



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