Harvard may tighten conflict of interest rules; Guidelines could limit faculty Internet ventures


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- A Harvard University committee has proposed a set of new, Internet-minded guidelines that, if adopted, will subtly tighten rules regulating the faculty's outside teaching, research and consulting.

Some professors view the proposed conflict of interest rules as a necessary step to define the boundaries broadened by cyberspace. Others see them as a potential violation of their academic freedom.

Once unimaginable educational opportunities, such as distributing lectures over the Internet or setting up Web-based firms dispensing advice, are not covered under the existing rules. The current policy, adopted in 1948, allows professors to consult, teach or research outside Harvard if the work doesn't consume more than 20 percent of their time, compromise the university or conflict with their obligations to students, colleagues or Harvard.

Time is not the overriding factor under the proposed guidelines.

Under them, faculty members would probably be prohibited from teaching courses over the Internet for other institutions and doing certain other forms of free-lance work, even if it is done on their own time -- after hours, during vacation or over the summer.

The proposal follows the administration's decision in the fall to force law professor Arthur Miller to give up an online course he produced last summer for Concord University School of Law.

The recommended guidelines would further limit academic freedom, Miller said. "Before this proposal, I would say Harvard owned a part of my body; now they have my heart and soul," he said.

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