The University of Hawaii has a goal of a closer link between research and teaching. Many faculty members enjoy teaching undergrads and most of us teach graduate students, but teaching and independent thought may become harder if a bill in the state Senate sees the light of day.

The Senate Higher Education chair will be hearing Senate Bill 2328 this Tuesday at 1:15 pm. The bill states (with bold added):

Beginning with the 2020-2021 school year, all courses at all campuses within the University of Hawai’i system that require the use of instructional materials, including textbooks, shall use instructional materials from the open educational resources at the University of Hawaii; provided that the use of instructional materials, including textbooks, that requires a student to purchase or pay a subscription for the materials shall be prohibited; provided further that if open educational resources does not have relevant instructional materials available for a course, the faculty member or lecturer responsible with providing instruction for the course shall create the instructional materials and offer those materials free of charge to students through open educational resources.

UH Manoa Quad. 2 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Quad at the University of Hawaii Manoa. A professor warns of new legislation that he argues will curtail academic freedom.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The bill raises many questions:

  1. Who decides what material will be available and of sufficient quality to be included in “the open educational resources at the University of Hawaii”? 
  2. Who pays to collect and maintain/update such material?
  3. This offers a ripe opportunity for special interest groups to advance their agendas by producing material that is “free.”
  4. This “prohibits” the faculty from having our students subscribe to Hawaii’s press as part of their courses.
  5. This takes away the right of instructors to choose their own material and forces us to use material we may know is shoddy, misleading and just plain wrong, but is all there is because it is “free”.
  6. Many of us teach courses where there is not much relevant “open educational material.” We are expected to produce such material for free? With what help and what free time?

This bill is a very strong disincentive to teach. It will politicize the university and the control of course content will go to those external forces with the deepest pockets.

Academic excellence? Not so much. Probably not at all.

Availability of course material will be determined by people who don’t have to teach and who are likely to have too much to curate to delve deeply into content or to consult with those who do teach.

I am sure this is all a misunderstanding and I will awaken Thursday with the bill dead and the Legislature asking how they can help UH, not bury it.

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About the Author

  • David Duffy
    David Duffy runs the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit and is a professor in the Botany Department at the University of Hawaii Manoa. He has worked on the ecology of diseases including Lyme Disease, avian flu, and avian malaria in such places as Peru, Alaska, southern Africa, eastern Long Island, southern Africa and here in Hawaii. He received his Ph.D. in population biology from Princeton University.