open software, cont. (73)

Fri, 17 Feb 89 22:04:06 EST

Humanist Mailing List, Vol. 2, No. 623. Friday, 17 Feb 1989.

Date: Thu, 16 Feb 89 22:29:41 EST
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@YORKVM2>
Subject: Re: open software, cont. (146)

A recent correspondent (THARPOLD@PENNDRLS) has suggested that one of the
pressures that inclines academics, particularly untenured professors, to
augment their financial security by charging for their software is the
realization that their computer work may not contribute directly to either
tenure or promotion. This is indeed a serious problem. It is certainly clear
to anyone coming up for tenure, or hiring for that matter, that any "real"
(that is, traditional) publication will count for much more than a
substantial piece of work put out via desk top publishing, even though a
book published through a conventional academic press is almost certain to
be a year or two out of date before it reaches the bookstores, and the
economics of traditional publishing have made it less and less feasible to
bring out a new edition of a textbook every two years in just about any of
the areas related to the humanities.

On the other hand, there is another problem which is at least as serious in
stifling some types of research, and this problem is fed in part by the
campus-based software sellers. There is more and more pressure from
university presidents and deans who publicly rate departments according
to the number of dollars they bring into the university in grants from
businesses. These grants in turn are often tied to agreements by the
academics to guard the proprietary rights and hence commercial marketability
of whatever programs or databases they produce. Once this trend has begun in a
university, it is very difficult for the job applicant or the tenure candidate
who has written a fine study of Catullus or the Niebelungenlied that will
be required reading for all (both?) of the major scholars in the field
to compete with someone who has brought hundreds of thousands of dollars
in hardware, graduate research assistantships and post-doctoral fellowships
into the university for developing a massive database... even if it's on
Catullus or the Niebelungenlied.

Once again, my thoughts on this subject are random probes rather than
arguments in support of a parti pris. In this spirit of probing the subject,
I shall close with a provocative but true story:

A few years ago a young assistant professor came up for promotion and
tenure in a department that was one of the leaders not only in its
university but in the country for pulling in funding and free equipment
from outside sources. Moreover, most of the faculty members in this
department augmented their salaries (already larger than in most departments
of the university) by means of consulting fees. Fortunately, the young
candidate had drawn in an impressive amount of grant money, all of which
he had distributed among graduate research assistants, including the part
the granting sounce had originally wanted to use to relieve him of his
teaching load. He had also published a very successful textbook that had
done quite well, both academically and financially. He had an interview with
the promotion and tenure committee of his department. He looked around the
room at his colleagues, each of whom made much more in consulting fees than
in their salaries as full professors. They awaited his speech of self-
justification. Instead he presented a cheque for the full royalties from
his already famous textbook, made out to the university, which was in some
financial difficulties at the time, and said only that he felt that since he
been a full-time employee of the university for the last few years, and had
been paid an honest salary during that time, he felt it would be not merely
unethical but dishonest to draw a second income for work done on university
time, in university facilities, with support from the departmental secretary,
who was also being paid by the university.

Brian Whittaker
Atkinson College, York University