When your professor is dead, but teaches anyway

After-lifetime tenure. Death does not release you…


That’s why I asked. I was hoping you would answer if the contracts break out any of that stuff that’s created along the way? For either either adjuct or tenure models, or if there’s a difference.

Much like a “work for hire” scenario where the buyer owns the rights afterwards instead of the producer. Which model is education using?

Without someone who knows, we’re all just assuming that it’s probably not defined in older contacts making it all unknown, but that future contracts will start to call it out.

In your specific example, if you don’t mind sharing, since you’re paid by the class. If you create some content, say a study guide for the class. Something you create, not provided by the institution. Who owns that after the class is over? Can the institution just make copies of it forever and hand it out to students in the next class that you’re not teaching? Can you take it to another institution if you teach the same class there?

PS: I also don’t know what class you teach. But, based on your long history of comments, I’m still going to assume those are lucky students.


A “class” though is ephemeral. What this professor produced and what the university is using is static content.

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That’s one helluva paywall


It will indeed, yes. For me, as I said, I get paid by the class. The contract is simple, one page, and doesn’t deal with anything else other than what classes I’m assigned and what they’re paying me for the semester. Someone who is either a full time lecturer is going to have a different contract that will spell out the expectations for teaching and research (with, most likely, rights retained by the prof). For tenure track, especially at research unis, you’re going to have a number of classes you’re expected to teach for a full academic year, the details of getting tenure (including what you’re expected to publish to get tenure, which will vary), and other responsibilities that are generally up to the department (service work, mentoring grad students, etc).

I do own the lecture materials I create, which means I have all the rights of taking materials with me.

US history and ancient world this semester.

I hope they feel that way.

Knowledge isn’t. We’re expected to up date content with new scholarship on occasion.


I’m grading the exams and term papers. I’m the instructor of record for this course. It’s unnerving seeing this twitter thread blow up over the internet.

(Longtime BoingBoing reader, first time commenter.)

Let me give you folks some info about the situation.

This is an online course offered through the university and a 3rd party company as part of an online education partnership started 10 years ago. The professor in the lectures was an illustrious expert and beloved teacher at my university. He worked with the company to create and develop this course. The whole organization, readings, assignments–everything is what he put together.

There are two TAs along with myself (Ph.D. art historian) to grade the assignments and exams and give feedback to the students. Although it is online, this is a completely standard kind of survey class with standard forms of assessment in my field. Nothing out of the ordinary in that regard.

My name appears in the first sentence of the first line of the course outline. The second sentence explains that the late professor is the one in the recorded lectures. It’s a shame that this student appears to be upset about the passing of the professor, but they missed the parts of the syllabus and registration that list me as the person on the other end of the email address for the course.

By the way, one of my colleagues tells me that a member of our department reached out to the online learning company and told them that the original professor had passed away. They didn’t don’t seem to have done anything with that info.

I’ve worked at universities where the upper admin would have loved to create recordings of professors and replace us all with underpaid adjuncts or TAs. This is not that kind of school. I’m really fortunate to work here now.

There’s plenty in the world to get outraged about these days. This is not one of those situations.


You got it. The situation is pretty much as you describe it here.

I’m the instructor of record for the course in question, so I know the real story. Thanks for your helpful perspective.


Twitter thread blows up over issue that doesn’t exist and is misrepresentation of reality.

Sounds like Twitter working as usual.


Sort of, though, right? You get paid by the 3-credit class. If it was 2 (a variable credit seminar), or 4 (embedded lab) the scale would be different?


True, but it’s not directly by the class, like how they compensate (HA! HA! HA!) me. It’s a difference in salary, yeah? And that will vary by university, by type of institution, and by how long you’ve been around and how close you are to making tenure, much like other salaried jobs.


Welcome to the comments section!


We are expected to maintain a certain average course load though, so if we rack up a deficit in instructional hours we either have to pay those hours back when we retire or keep teaching for free until we’re out of hock.

It never occurred to me that I might be expected to keep working off an instructional deficit after death.


Wait, what? Tenured/tenure track at an accredited public university/college? Huh?


That’s how it works at my community college anyway. Which can be a problem when the department doesn’t have the budget to offer all the classes it would take to give all tenured faculty a full-time course load every semester.


Yes, welcome!

So it sounds like the 3rd party company dropped the ball a bit? In the official course listing at your university you are listed as the professor? It’s a toughy, I guess, since creating it was the hard work of the professor that passed away. Credit where it is due vs credit where it is due, so to speak.



ETA: Yeah, sometimes it feels like the point of academics is to subsidize football, and yeah, not everyone should need a college degree to get a decent job, and yeah, the gatekeeping should be about who wants to spend some years in intense pursuit of knowledge (not everyone does) rather than who can afford it…

There are a lot of problems, but most of them aren’t with the motivations of professors.


So, they mostly work in farming…er, artificial intelligence?


Heh. As the department reminds us any chance they can, 98% employment upon graduation, in their field.

Kind of like crossfitters or vegans, that way.




Exactly. This is nothing but prejudice against the metabolically-challenged.