How Is Your Administration Spying on You?


The administration at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has been secretly video-recording at least one of its professor’s courses.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the university told Larry Chavis, Clinical Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship in the university’s business school that, after having received some “reports concerning class content and conduct within your class over the past few months” it had, without notice or permission, made video recordings of four of his classes.

The associate dean, Christian T. Lundblad, who informed Chavis of the surveillance in a letter, said in it: “Notice is not required to record classes, and we do record classes without notice in response to concerns raised by students… We wanted to let you know that we will continue recording your class as part of a formal review.”

The recordings had been made using the Panopto camera system in the classroom, which had been installed several years ago for the purposes of facilitating remote education. Professors looking for an example of surveillance creep apparently need look no further than the camera installed in their classroom.

IHE reports that Beth Moracco, associate professor of public health and chair of the faculty at UNC Chapel Hill, says that it is “not clear what our current institutional policies are about classroom recording.” IHE also says:

Multiple lines in the IT policy for the Kenan-Flagler Business School… appear to prohibit faculty members from being recorded without their consent. “Recordings are to be accessed and used only as directed by the faculty member(s) teaching the course” and “classes are only recorded with the expressed permission of faculty,” the policy says.

Has something like this happened at your university? What policies does your university have in place regarding the use of classroom recording systems? Has the faculty body at your school raised concerns about the risk classroom technologies will be used in this way? What other forms of techno-surveillance are faculty subject to? How does such surveillance fit with our conceptions of academic freedom? Discussion of these and related questions are welcome.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

69 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Justin Caouette
Justin Caouette
1 month ago

Surveillance in the classroom (especially in courses being taught by unprotected faculty) is not compatible with any meaningful understanding of academic freedom.

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
Reply to  Justin Caouette
1 month ago

Turns out this is illegal in Massachusetts.

akreider
akreider
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
1 month ago

In Florida, at public schools, students have a statutory right to record classes, even without instructor approval.

Kaila Draper
1 month ago

Despicable behavior by the University. If reason does not prevail, and the practice is not officially abandoned, the faculty should begin disabling the relevant equipment.

SCM
SCM
1 month ago

Discipline and punish errant and deviant professors by all means, but “panopto” is really just a little too on the nose …

Buddy
Buddy
Reply to  SCM
1 month ago

“Orwelyan Solutions presents Panopto.”

Sara
Sara
1 month ago

I actually wish I could record all my classes for my own protection. Sometimes, I am at a loss at how some students can so badly misinterpret what is said in class, that I wish there was an actual record instead of having to rely on other students or my TA to back me up if there were ever a real concern. I do not think recording without notice, however, is ideal, unless both the university and the instructor ultimately have full access to the recordings. There is nothing I say in a classroom that I wouldn’t say in public. And if multiple students were claiming I said something I didn’t, I would definitely want a record.

Wen
Wen
Reply to  Sara
1 month ago

I also record all my lectures for self-protection in case students misinterpret my words. This happened to a colleague in the past and I had to help them clarify the situation. If universities wish to record the lectures, then they must let everyone in the classroom know–professors as well as the students; otherwise people might accidentally mention their passwords or say things that they need to remain confidential when speaking near the microphone.

Louis Zapst
Reply to  Sara
1 month ago

For many years now I have used a small digital recorder to make audio recordings of my classes just in case some student were to claim I said something racist or otherwise unacceptable in class. I include a statement in my syllabus to the effect that classes may be recorded by me “to improve the quality of the course.” Thankfully I have never had to use those recordings. I have never had a student request access to these recordings, either. I also allow students to make their own recordings if they want (I could not stop them from clandestinely doing that with their phones, anyway). It’s particularly important for contingent faculty to record their classes since this may be the only chance they have to defend themselves against accusations that could lead to non-renewal without recourse.

Sara
Sara
Reply to  Louis Zapst
1 month ago

My only concern with having students record, which is why I do not permit recordings, is that they could take things I or other students said out of context and post them online. Context is everything.

Louis Zapst
Reply to  Sara
1 month ago

Your concern is warranted, but with the ubiquity of smart phones, I don’t think forbidding recordings is enforceable (plus, some students really benefit from revisiting a class session afterwards). If a student did post compromising speech out of context, your complaint that it wasn’t permitted would not help your case and any attempt to discipline such a student would look like retaliation. What might help (at least with chairs/deans) would be having your own recording that includes the full context.

Meme
Meme
1 month ago

The Administrative Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.

Dr. Lothar Leidernicht
Dr. Lothar Leidernicht
1 month ago

I now simply ask AI to write my lectures and then record them with my face speaking it in my voice. At the end of the semester, I have AI write as many papers as I have registered students and also grade them. If anyone complains about the grade, I have AI handle the responses and all.

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Dr. Lothar Leidernicht
1 month ago

That sounds like a lot of work. Why not simply ask AI to ask AI to do those things?

Dr. Lothar Leidernicht
Dr. Lothar Leidernicht
Reply to  Meme
1 month ago

I just love teaching, so I can’t help myself.

Louis Zapst
1 month ago

The majority of academics (in the US, anyway) are contingent faculty who do not enjoy academic freedom in any meaningful sense. While it’s a good idea for these contingent faculty to record their own classes, when administrators/chairpersons do so and when they object to any aspect of the classroom performance, these contingent faculty can be denied renewal without explanation or recourse. This surely already happens in some places when a chairperson objects to syllabus content which may be perfectly acceptable to a different chairperson. Tenured faculty, by contrast, have significant protections in this regard. While it’s helpful to object to any administrative surveillance of faculty, the plight of contingent faculty should be of particular concern.

David Wallace
David Wallace
1 month ago

Obviously it’s bad for admin to record classes without letting faculty know that they might be recorded, just on honesty grounds. But what is actually wrong with administration openly telling me that they might be recording my classes? Am I supposed to be keeping secrets from them? Academic freedom doesn’t protect my right to do *that*. Monitoring teaching quality is a perfectly legitimate practice for a university, and doing it via recordings that can be viewed by peers looks a lot better than relying on student hearsay.

T.J.
T.J.
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Sure, lots of practices with a high potential for abuse aren’t bad if they aren’t abused. That’s not surprising.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  T.J.
1 month ago

I’m not seeing what the ‘high potential for abuse’ is. (There might be one, but no-one has so far stated it.)

Blue Prof in a Red State
Blue Prof in a Red State
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Some of us are employed in states with specifically political criteria for tenure, promotion, and post-tenure review. And legislatures and their employees aren’t exactly known for their discernment or honesty when it comes to grabbing clips of interactions between professors and students…

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Blue Prof in a Red State
1 month ago

But that seems an advantage in having the *whole* thing recorded – it guards against “clip-grabbing.”

I agree that political criteria for promotion are terrible, but I’m very skeptical that they can effectively be fought by objecting to the means used to enforce them, rather than to the criteria themselves.

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Whether or not this is an issue of academic freedom, it seems to me that knowing that every single word in class can be scrutinized by admin (who might not be in the best position to know what is appropriate to discuss in you classes or how one should approach the material) can certainly discourage free discussion of more controversial material. Moreover, if there is any chance that such recordings can become subject of FOI requests (I have no idea how plausible this is), this would create a rather stifling atmosphere in the classroom (if for no other reason as no one wants to become the next Fox news target).

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
1 month ago

it seems to me that knowing that every single word in class can be scrutinized by admin (who might not be in the best position to know what is appropriate to discuss in you classes or how one should approach the material) can certainly discourage free discussion of more controversial material.

But this seems equally true for any form of teaching observation. Part of why I’m pushing back a little on the consensus here is that I think we monitor and provide feedback on academic teaching way too little – especially in an era where increasingly people say we can’t trust student feedback either – and that’s tied to a really widespread idea that you have an expectation of privacy when teaching a class, so that even peer observation is rare and needs to be flagged in advance.

Moreover, if there is any chance that such recordings can become subject of FOI requests (I have no idea how plausible this is), this would create a rather stifling atmosphere in the classroom (if for no other reason as no one wants to become the next Fox news target).

Again, I’m inclined to think having the whole thing recorded is if anything some protection against this – it provides a response to out-of-context clips. It’s not as if you can realistically prevent clandestine recording by students.

Kaila Draper
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Suppose the administration wants to punish or get rid of me for political reasons. They can carefully examine my published research to look for plagiarism and such. That wouldn’t work. But if they could listen to everything I have said in class, I guarantee they could find a pretext for suspending me or disciplining me or possibly even firing me.

Setting that aside, I would find that kind of oversight really damaging to my teaching simply because it would be difficult for me to perform as well with evaluators always looking over my shoulder. It’s the same reason I wouldn’t even want some of my colleagues in my department observing all of my classes. I don’t trust them, and they could use things against me, and it would make me too nervous to do a good job.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Kaila Draper
1 month ago

Put aside the first point, where I don’t have much to add to things I’ve already said.

The second is my main reason to engage on this subject. I think the position you’re stating here is really common, but I think it’s a problem. Teaching is one of the main things we do, but we have so little mechanism to select for it being done well, to feed back on how it can be improved, to incentivize making changes to address problems, and ultimately to identify unacceptably-bad teaching and try to sort it out and if unavoidable, remove people who aren’t doing their job acceptably. And a lot of the reason we have so little is because there is so much fear of observation (and even more so given people object to student feedback being used as evidence too).

I think people should be observing my teaching more and giving me feedback on it; I think this should be ingrained in HE teaching culture so that we all get used to it. It shocks me how little my teaching has been observed and assessed throughout my career.

Kaila Draper
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

I appreciate what you’re saying. I do think the first point is the most important one. I literally would have to change some of the topics I teach if I were under surveillance and, even then, I suspect that I would be easily disposed of by administrators of bad faith if they wanted to get rid of me. The second point strikes me as a bit of a false dichotomy. There could be way, way more peer evaluation of my teaching (I have nothing against student or peer evaluations) without administrators without the relevant pedagogical expertise and who may act in bad faith for “the good of the college or university” doing the evaluating. The evaluating can even be done by members of other departments, for example, or by teams of pedagogical experts. I think the latter could be very useful to me. Constant surveillance strikes me as a very bad approach.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Kaila Draper
1 month ago

There seems to be a widespread view that administrators “lack the relevant pedagogical experience”. I’m wondering if there’s a difference between how different universities are organized that I’m missing – at US universities where I’ve interacted with senior administrators, they’ve pretty much always been academics.

Kaila Draper
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Two points. Merely being an academic doesn’t confer expertise in pedagogy and it especially doesn’t confer any expertise in pedagogy for any particular subject matter. Second, administrators will probably be looking at teaching when they have some agenda. That’s the scary part. We had a provost, for example, who wanted to eliminate the use of the chalkboard. Doing Logic problems on the chalkboard like I do was seen as old-fashioned. I hate to sound like a political libertarian, but when administrations meddle too much, things tend to go wrong.

Ben
Ben
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Sometimes administrators at certain institutions have a background in something like “educational leadership” without any experience as a faculty member or teaching classes.

oxan
oxan
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

“I think people should be observing my teaching more and giving me feedback on it … It shocks me how little my teaching has been observed and assessed throughout my career.”

Hi David, I wonder: did you think to ask colleagues to give you extra teaching observations over the years? You could have offered to do the same for them in return. Seems like a win-win. But it sounds from what you say as if either you didn’t, which seems odd given how much of a concern under-observation is to you, or you did but sadly they refused. What seems obvious is that you wouldn’t have kept this pressing concern to yourself until classroom surveillance by University administrations needed defending.

David Wallace
Reply to  oxan
1 month ago

“ What seems obvious is that you wouldn’t have kept this pressing concern to yourself until classroom surveillance by University administrations needed defending.”

Correct. I’m not going to go into details of what I have done about it at various points, though, since this is fairly obviously not in good faith.

oxan
oxan
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Bad faith? That’s a little hurtful. I’m genuinely sorry that all the things you’ve done about this difficult problem have resulted in failure. I generally find, myself, that when I ask colleagues to voluntarily observe my classroom teaching they’re only too happy to oblige, especially if I offer the same in return. I guess I’m blessed with unusually generous colleagues.

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Kaila Draper
1 month ago

I’m with Kaila Draper on this one.

Those who are conspicuously out of step with the dominant political pressures at the university (or maybe outside of the university) are the most indispensable in a genuine college environment, but those people are at significantly greater risk under surveilance.

It’s an error, I think, to imagine that you would be fine if you simply avoid saying things you wouldn’t say more publicly, and if you are prepared to defend what you do say by providing context and argument. The people who pose the greatest threat do not have the patience, the interest, or (in many cases) the intelligence needed for that to matter.

All it would take at some colleges or universities is for a high-level administrator to be contacted in a threatening tone by a group of people who have persuaded themselves, however implausibly, that you have some unacceptable or ‘problematic’ views. Many administrators err on the side of cowardice — that’s typically where their interests lie — and will promise to look into it.

The people who might ‘look into it’ for the administrator by combing through the transcript or video of your lecture or exchange with the students will typically understand that their mission is to see whether anything was said that, taken out of context, might make the school look bad in the eyes of angry and not-very-thoughtful people looking for something to take offense at. If they find anything on the edge, they’ll report back to the administrator that there’s something to the complaints. Who would want to be in the position of the instructor then, especially when one cannot rely on one’s colleagues, or perhaps anyone else, to back one up?

Knowing that one’s lectures will be recorded would dampen the courage of all but the bravest professors, — except, that is, for professors who conform to the prevailing ideology and therefore have nothing much to fear.

Grad Student #223
Grad Student #223
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago
  1. On grounds of trust: Similar to your honesty point, if the school now distrusts your teaching quality, for whatever reason, but don’t let you know that they do but act as if they do covertly, that undermines overall trust between teaching staff and admin.
  2. Intellectual property: There are already schools that have taken instructors’ teaching materials to then use for future classes that have either no instructor or a less involved, less paid quasi-instructor. Although some teaching contracts might straightforwardly state that the school can gather and use your IP as they please, you can probably see how that’s bad, or even illegal in instances where there’s no contractual clauses about it.
  3. Homogeneity in teaching: for reasons you’re probably familiar with as a philosopher of science, it’s often good to have multiple styles of doing things within a field, for both instrumental and non-instrumental reasons. I’d bet teaching is also this way. When random surveillance is normal, instructors have at least a moderate incentive to teach the way that the admin want, which may reasonably result in less variety in teaching styles, and sometimes more stifling to the enjoyment of the instructors and students, to some degree.
David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Grad Student #223
1 month ago
  1. absolutely agreed, as I’ve already said. I’d be totally fine if Pitt said ‘we record everything’ or even ‘we record some things at random’; secretly targeting someone is bad.
  2. If the IP in your lectures is your university’s property, you don’t have grounds to complain. If it is your property, then it would be illegal for them to use it. I’m not seeing why this is about recording per se. You might equally say that it’s wrong for universities to want copies of your syllabus.
  3. I don’t really see the incentive. If admin has particular ways they want things to be taught, that might or might not be okay, depending on the details, but in any case they have to communicate those ways. I can’t think of any way in which a class I teach would be changed in the slightest by being monitored – except maybe on occasion it would make me put more effort in!
Grad Student #223
Grad Student #223
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Re: IP: It’s kind of clear that schools have more leverage in contract negotiations with respect to IP and the cost for schools to steal IP from employees is lower than the cost for employees to defend their IP from schools. Even though there’s case law about employee IP in higher ed and often IP clauses in employment contracts, the law does not settle what universities out to be doing. And, in addition, there’s a decent chance significant chances in IP law and IP law interpretation are coming down the pipe. Schools recording and using employee lectures for their own enrichment is nowhere close to a legally settled matter or a generally normatively settled matter. I’ll leave it up to you to come up with reasonable conditions under which schools claiming your syllabi as their property is either illegal or legal but wrong.

Re: homogeneity: There are already non-direct communication incentives schools set up that make impacts on the way instructors teach and assess. For example, grade inflation (or whatever term you prefer) largely happened across many schools via either informal communication from admins or non-direct communication. I’d be willing to bet that the transition from overhead projector use to digital slide use was caused by a mix of direct and non-direct communication from admins, among other causes. You using yourself as the heuristic is not very representative here because, as far as I know, you’re tenured, have a named professorship, and probably have more wiggle room to teach how you see fit than the average non-TT or junior TT instructor. I encourage you to cultivate trusting relationships with the non-TT instructors in your geographic area to get candid answers from them about how deptartmental, college, and school-wide admin impact their teaching choices.

David Wallace
Reply to  Grad Student #223
1 month ago

“ You using yourself as the heuristic is not very representative here because, as far as I know, you’re tenured, have a named professorship, and probably have more wiggle room to teach how you see fit than the average non-TT or junior TT instructor.”

Sure – but I have been teaching for over twenty years, long before I had those protections. And right since I started teaching I thought it was weird how underobserved it was.

An adjunct
An adjunct
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

‘monitoring’ is perhaps, perhaps, a permissible activity for guards to perform w.r.t. prison laborers, or perhaps supervisors overseeing trainees, or perhaps superiors overseeing any work done in close connection with highly vulnerable subjects, like the young or disabled.

absent perhaps such exceptional circumstances, as in assessing quality of university teaching, it is disciplinary peers, and more broadly educator colleagues, who are in any position to evaluate teaching. administrators are not in general in this relationship with us. what’s wrong with empowering them to surveil us at will is that it freely cèdes our autonomy over our own disciplinary practice, to the uncontrollable and probably irreversible heteronomy of managerial authority.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  An adjunct
1 month ago

There’s a distinction being made here between ‘educator colleagues’ and ‘administrators’ that I find confusing. In what sense are ‘senior administrators’, at least on the academic side, not ‘educator colleagues’? University deans generally speaking start off in the academic track, at least in institutions I’m familiar with, and often return to it.

Nick
Nick
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Daily Nous 2028: An professor has reported that their university is secretly monitoring instructor cortisol levels via micro-injected nanobots.

David Wallace: Now hold on here folks, let’s not rush to judgment. Let’s really think this one through.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Nick
1 month ago

I hope that in 2028 I am still objecting on Daily Nous whenever people do not give good reasons for things that they say are bad.

Ian
Ian
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

It feels like your objections here are predicated on the presumption that people in power would be somehow be obligated to use such recordings in a way that that is generous and doesn’t misrepresent what is recorded on them.

I will say that in the U.S. in particular this seems hopeless naive in light of the recent Congressional hearings of university presidents, of the ways in which ‘troublesome’ faculty *are* misrepresented again and again, and where as was noted above many faculty are contingent.

The problem with the objection David makes is one that seems to boil down to de facto vs. de jure. In the best case scenario, such recordings would allow faculty to defend themselves against spurious claims. In reality, and we have plenty of evidence of this, they would be used to remove or make life miserable for ‘troublesome’ faculty of all stripes.

Let us recall Plessy in which it was ruled 7-1 that legal segregation (“separate but equal”) based on race was not in violation of the equal protection clause. Whether segregation did or didn’t violate the clause is something about which we can disagree. What we can’t disagree about is the de facto use of that decision and that way in which it supposed best case scenarios in which equality would be assured. But as Justice Harlan wrote,

It was said in argument that the statute of Louisiana does not discriminate against either race but prescribes a rule applicable alike to white and colored citizens. But this argument does not meet
the difficulty. Everyone knows that the statues in question had its origin in the purpose, not so much to exclude white persons from railroad cars occupied by blacks, as to exclude colored people from coaches occupied by or assigned to white persons. Railroad corporations of Louisiana did not make discrimination among whites in the matter of accommodation for travellers. The thing to accomplish was, under the guise of giving equal accommodations for
whites and blacks, to compel the latter to keep to themselves while travelling in railroad passenger coaches. No one would be so wanting in candor as to assert the contrary… What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation.

An adjunct
An adjunct
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

that’s fine, but does every thread have to turn into the david wallace show where david wallace states all of david wallace’s reasons for not accepting everything each other poster says?

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  An adjunct
1 month ago

Take it up with Justin.

Bill
Bill
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

In the spirit of the comment, perhaps you could say a bit more about why you think it’s ‘obviously bad’ for administrators to be recording instructors without informing them. I’m not sure I’m persuaded by the appeal to honesty – I don’t think I’ve ever discussed with an administrator whether they are recording my classes, so I don’t see why it would be dishonest of them to do so.

Andy Stroble
Reply to  Bill
1 month ago

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that I were to say, in a class or “publicly” (as if there were a difference), that the chickens have come home to roost. I am sure everyone here is familiar with the case. If not, look it up. Afraid I have to go with William of Ockham on this one, not his razor so much, but more his excommunication.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Nick
1 month ago

(And, at the risk of spoiling what is tbf a quite funny joke):

I obviously do have a privacy right over my blood chemistry (to say nothing of the fact that secret nanobot injection is probably criminal assault) – note that my students don’t have access to it either. I don’t have any privacy right over things I’m saying publicly in the class.

V. Alan White
1 month ago

My fear is that imposed recordings guarantee that courses will be completely devoid of any genuine personality of impromptu display or wit. But I guess vanilla is a popular political flavor these days.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  V. Alan White
1 month ago

“My fear is that imposed recordings guarantee that courses will be completely devoid of any genuine personality of impromptu display or wit.”

I’m not clear why. I can see that it might discourage certain inappropriate jokes, but that sounds like a good thing.

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

I would make fewer dad jokes, that sounds like a bad thing.

Caspar
Caspar
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
1 month ago

That sounds like a dad thing

V. Alan White
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

I used to remark in class that I was torn between being a stand-up comic or a professor, until I realized that the latter might just merge both. Humor was essential to my career. But edginess was too–forceful confrontation of ideas was my daily program. It had to be always put impersonally though, as not to alienate particular students. Still, that sense of confrontation in philosophy runs all the way back to Socratic dialogue–students who do not feel–and I mean feel–challenged will lack some motivation to try to learn on their own. Feelings about ideas are important that way. Yeah, Mr. Rogers’ approach is great for leading folks into civility–but I doubt it can yield anything like the insight of the Euthyphro.

TF79
TF79
1 month ago

Seems like some sort of academic analog of a warrant would be, uh, warranted.

Daniel Weltman
1 month ago

I wouldn’t particularly care about being recorded, since I wouldn’t say anything in front of students that I wouldn’t happily say anywhere else. (This of course does not mean I would want my university to secretly record me or anyone else. This example at UNC is depraved.) But I would care very much if my students were recorded, or potentially recorded. I teach moral and political philosophy and especially in those sorts of classes students need to feel free to talk about important and controversial topics, and it’s much harder to make them feel this way if they know they are being recorded or are maybe being recorded (at least insofar as the recording is going to be shared outside the class).

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Daniel Weltman
1 month ago

“I wouldn’t particularly care about being recorded, since I wouldn’t say anything in front of students that I wouldn’t happily say anywhere else.”

Agreed 100%.

“But I would care very much if my students were recorded, or potentially recorded. I teach moral and political philosophy and especially in those sorts of classes students need to feel free to talk about important and controversial topics, and it’s much harder to make them feel this way if they know they are being recorded or are maybe being recorded (at least insofar as the recording is going to be shared outside the class).”

This is the first really persuasive concern I’ve seen. Yes, I agree that’s an issue that needs some care to be handled (likewise with peer observation).

Candle
Candle
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Isn’t this the obvious concern with recordings. In philosophy classes we often teach students to “follow the arguments where they lead” and consider counterintuitive, unpopular, etc. positions. Anarchism is a poor approach to politics, in my view, but if someone wants to defend it OK. But the discussion of views like this (not to mention abortion, war ethics, etc.) can be seen as problematic to outsiders and recordings would serve to chill students’ speech I would think. I don’t want to rely on the “whole recording” to explain what’s going on to administrators. One might also think about faculty at Catholic colleges and universities who aren’t Catholic; do we really want the administration to be listening to every argument faculty or students might make on various topics? Is there not a concern that well meaning discussions in class could be misinterpreted or worse by others at the university?

DoubleA
DoubleA
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

I don’t think recording is remotely close to the same as peer observation. A student knowing that whatever they say will be recorded for posterity and watched by potentially bunches of people is not the same as a student knowing that one new person is in the room watching the teacher.

Fwiw, recording of faculty will absolutely be weaponized against faculty in the U.S. I have seen my own interdepartmental emails reviewed at a committee hearing by my state’s very conservative legislature. Most students are not trying to record lessons to comb look for anything that might excite anti-academic voters, but many states have legislators that would love to do just that if they could get the recordings.

Matt L
1 month ago

For what it’s worth, the lectures at both universities I’ve worked at in Australia are _all_ recorded, and we don’t have a choice about this. (Attendance at lectures can’t be compelled, and I’m sure you can guess what this does to actual attendance.) (Recording happens for at least some seminars, but not for “tutorials”, which are a bit like recitations at US universities that use those.) This makes me think that the worries about recording as such are at least a bit over-stated. I don’t think I do my lectures very differently with recording than when I worked at places where recording was not normal. What seems pretty clearly problematic to me in this case is the surreptitious nature of the recording, not the mere fact of recording. (Although, as noted, I think there are other good reasons to not making recording the default, at least not if attendance and participation cannot be used in evaluation.)

academic migrant
academic migrant
Reply to  Matt L
1 month ago

Adding a bit to Matt L, when teaching in Australia, we could in principle see whether students do watch the recordings via the statistics. The outcome would lead us reflect upon the possibility that recordings in fact decrease student engagement with lectures in any form.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Matt L
1 month ago

I don’t think I do my lectures very differently with recording than when I worked at places where recording was not normal.

That was my expectation, but it’s good to have evidence.

What seems pretty clearly problematic to me in this case is the surreptitious nature of the recording, not the mere fact of recording.

Agreed 100%.

On the Market Too
On the Market Too
1 month ago

Will the apparent consensus against what UNC did hold if it comes out that the professor was accused of sexual harassment? Should it?

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  On the Market Too
1 month ago

I think it would still have been wrong to have a secret recording policy.

Luis Martinez
Luis Martinez
1 month ago

I am an undergraduate/IT member at UNC-CH poised to join the Student Technology Council in the next semester, and I hope to bring up episodes like this to scrutinize how our IT systems are being used.

One thing that stuck out to me when I read the initial article, and when reading the comments now, is the element of non-repudiation, that someone does not have the grounds to deny or misrepresent our speech or action.

I think that if both students and professors desire non-repudiation in the classroom, then recordings ought to be handled with more procedural legitimacy and respect than being a “Hail Mary” solution pulled out by the business school when a professor declines to “do them a favor”. In his own words from the article: “they asked me to ‘do them a favor’ so that the school would not get in trouble with ‘conservatives.’”

Non-repudiation can and should be handled better. Recordings ought to be available to staff and students in a timely fashion after each class session rather than being kept hidden for when conflicts arise.

One wonders if the University is being compelled to produce/retrieve classroom footage of students that were protesting on campus recently. It seems the prudent thing to be doing from the University’s perspective if the overriding consideration here in Chapel Hill is to “not get in trouble with [STAKEHOLDER GROUP]”, as their action here seems to suggest.

Yes, Panopto is an awful name for this system. They knew what they were doing, especially given their target audience.

Gorm
1 month ago

Like David Wallace, I think we should be observing each others’ classes more frequently – and not remotely. When I was on the market, at least twice colleagues observed my teaching – in one case, in order to write me a letter, and in the other because I was teaching something interesting. Of course, I was a little nervous, but all went fine. And pre-tenure, I was observed annually, followed up by a report of sorts which I could use in my tenure file (this was NOT optional). I had a very funny experience in one of these sessions. The students noticed my senior colleague at the back of the room, and they tried extra hard to impress him (I think on my behalf). They WERE impressive, connecting things that I was teaching then with things I had taught them in a previous course! Unbelievable. This is one reason why I still have faith in the goodness of humans.

David Wallace
David Wallace
1 month ago

Distilling a few themes from the discussion so far, I think it might be helpful to ask: what are the concerns about recording that might plausibly be persuadable *to university leadership*? Some that I think might (and where in each case there might be a constructive policy response):

“We think it’s wrong to secretly surveil faculty”.
“We are worried about recording students.”
“We are worried that parties hostile to the university might FOIA the recordings.”
“We think it’s important to have a policy that judgements of teaching quality made from the recording (or indeed at all) conform to due process, normally involving peer review”.

Some that probably won’t (along with a probable admin response):
“You shouldn’t spy on us”. (You’re an employee and a public servant; it’s not spying to monitor your job performance, especially if concerns have been raised by students.)

“What if we want to say or teach something you don’t approve of?” (Even given academic freedom, there are things you might say or do in class that violate university policy. We have a right to take action if this happens, and to follow up reports of it happening.)

“You might use this to enforce state law in this red state.” (Whatever you or I think about the state’s policy, the university has a duty to comply with the law, and ‘we want to avoid being able to enforce the law’ isn’t a good justification for our actions.)

“You might steal our IP.” (We’re not going to do that – though [depending on university] a lot of what you’re calling ‘your IP’ is in any case work product, done on our time, so ‘steal’ isn’t correct.)

“You will take this out of context or otherwise abuse it.” (We aren’t going to do that.) [Whether you believe them isn’t the point. Though if they say this, it is a lever to ask for some kind of formal policy, which again I think *is* a realistic ask.]

Luis Martinez
Luis Martinez
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

“Improperly stored, modified, or accessed recordings of classroom sessions are a security concern that can generate liability for the University and harm individuals. Please tell us how this data is being kept confidential, secure, and available only when needed.”

ECD
ECD
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Eh, for a state university, I’d start with ‘what are the state laws around creation/retention/production of records?’ Because usually you’re required to retain state records for a set period, and for a broader program of recording, the space and organizational demands of recording every course, organizing and storing those recordings (along with all the electronic infrastructure) is likely to be expensive and a pain in the butt.

I think a more likely system would be some sort of ‘recording in response to complaint’ in order to investigate, which would presumably want to be surreptitious. There I’d argue for some sort of due process/warrant review process both on actual justice grounds and to ensure that they cannot be accused of targeting minorities or political groups.

ETA: I should also say, as a federal employee who works in the FOIA area, the number of times I’ve had to tell people ‘nope, you sent this from your work email, it’s a federal record and the public is entitled to see it unless it fits into one of these very narrow exceptions,’ is sort of embarrassing. Especially as we warn them about that in their orientation.

Last edited 1 month ago by ECD
Candle
Candle
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

The point about being worried with recording students should be explained more. It is not simply the point that students may not want to be recorded or something, it concerns the fact that recordings will likely “chill speech” and, thus, interfere with the learning environment in the classroom by undermining discussion. Notice that students merely worrying about what would happen with recordings is enough to cause the the problem (i.e., the policy response that says “we administrators won’t abuse it” doesn’t change this, because it’s students’ perceptions that matter and they will likely just stay quiet in class due to their worries.) So their speech has been chilled by the administrators.

David Wallace
Reply to  Candle
1 month ago

I think this is a reasonable concern. That said, it is an empirical matter to what extent a given recording policy would chill student speech, and not one I’d want to make a priori assumptions about.