Purdue Global Drops Requirement That Professors Sign Nondisclosure...

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Purdue Global Drops Requirement That Professors Sign Nondisclosure Agreements

By Jeffrey R. Young     Sep 6, 2018

Purdue Global Drops Requirement That Professors Sign Nondisclosure Agreements

Since Purdue University purchased for-profit Kaplan University last year to create what is now Purdue University Global, faculty members have raised questions and concerns about how these two very different models of higher education would fit together.

On Thursday, Purdue University Global decided to end a practice that had drawn particular ire from Purdue faculty and from national faculty groups, saying that it would no longer require Purdue Global professors to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

In a letter to Purdue Global faculty Wednesday, the university’s chancellor, Betty Vandenbosch, said that “effective immediately, the practice of requiring a standalone agreement on these matters will be discontinued at Purdue Global.”

The four-page nondisclosure agreement reads like something by a big corporation rather than a university, forbidding employees from sharing any trade secrets about how the university operated, including information about “course materials, methods of instruction, research reports, marketing programs,” and a long list of other aspects.

Officials from the American Association of University Professors were among those who criticized the practice, calling it a “sweeping gag clause” and saying it was incompatible with the spirit of higher education, which usually encourages sharing of information among professors about their teaching and research.

Greg Scholtz, director of the academic-freedom, tenure, and governance department, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that it was unlike anything he had ever seen in nonprofit higher education. Other provisions of the agreement he and other critics objected to was that instructional materials created by Purdue Global faculty members would be owned by the university.

In her letter to faculty, Vandenbosch said that a committee had already begun reconsidering the use of the agreement even before media reports about the controversy, and that it was a 10-year-old policy inherited from Kaplan University. She also downplayed the importance of the practice, writing: “There has never been a case where the agreement had to be enforced, so its removal shouldn’t affect you in any way.”

David Sanders, an associate professor of biological sciences at Purdue and past chair of the university’s Faculty Senate who has been a critic of Purdue Global, called the move a step in the right direction. “I hope that it signifies more willingness on the part of the administration to exame what’s going on at Purdue Global,” he said in an interview.

Sanders argued other practices still violate norms of academic institutions, noting that he still objects to the university’s practice of requiring its students to use arbitration to settle disputes with the university and waive all rights to a jury trial in such cases. Such arbitration clauses are part of the typical playbook at for-profit colleges, but are not typically used by nonprofit colleges.

Purdue University Global may be unlike any other university in the country. It is technically a public benefit corporation that is operated as part of the Purdue University System, and legislation exempts Purdue Global from public records disclosures that are required of other public universities in the state.

“We have a different approach than most institutions in how we create our curriculum and how that gets moved into the classroom,” said Vandenbosch, in a previous interview with EdSurge.

Disclosure: Graham Holdings, which previously owned Kaplan University and continues to share revenue from Purdue Global University, was an early investor in EdSurge.

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