Institutional Approaches
to Distance Learning:

Prepared by the Academic Council
2000-01 Committee on Research

Final draft
Sept 1, 2001


Distance learning is not new for Stanford. The ideas of Stanford faculty have always been available to those distant from the campus, through lectures, visits, and publication of research and texts. For the past quarter-century, Stanford has used video technology to offer courses at distant sites, through the Stanford Center for Professional Development (formerly the Stanford Instructional Television Network) and the Honors Cooperative Program. This is only the largest of many distance education projects aimed at alumni, executives, pre-college students, and others.

Nevertheless, internet-based technology provides Stanford the opportunity for involvement in distance learning on a vastly larger scale than in the past. Stanford faculty should be encouraged to make full use of these opportunities, in accord with Stanford's mission of developing and transmitting knowledge.

Given the resource-intensive nature of distance learning projects, departments, schools and the university will have to play a role in developing the expertise, facilities, and contractual arrangements with universities, publishers, and other external institutions necessary for distance education projects to thrive. With these new methods of generating projects, new structures of incentives and new models for recovering costs and distributing benefits will need to be developed.

While developments in distance learning represents an important opportunity for Stanford to better serve its educational and research missions, they may also create situations that do not fit easily into the fabric of policy and tradition that has developed to govern teaching, research, academic entrepreneurship and institutional fund-raising.

Based on a survey of issues that have developed at other institutions and at Stanford, the Committee on Research puts forward the following basic principles to guide decision-making and policy-formulation in this regard.



    The technologies of distance education and collaboration can put stress on familiar relationships on which Stanford University rests. There are already a variety of populations served by Stanford, and distance education could further expand the definition of "student." The centrality of the undergraduate and graduate students in residence at Stanford, paying tuition and pursuing degrees, must remain in clear focus. Similarly, the ease of sharing our research and collaborating with like-minded colleagues throughout the world may compete with sharing and collaborating with our departmental, school and university colleagues. Defining the Stanford community, and maintaining appropriate balance among the various constituencies within that community, will require institutional and individual attention.


    Insofar as the investment of resources into a particular distance education initiative may dictate university participation in decisions about dissemination and compensation, it must be in the context of recognizing the central role of individual faculty members carrying out Stanford's research and teaching missions.

    Distance education opportunities raise the possibility of institutional conflicts of interest, in which the possibilities of new sources of revenue may inappropriately influence the academic decisions of department chairs, deans, or other university officials. Whereas current Stanford policy requires individuals to disclose outside financial interests, no comparable policy requirement exists for a school or department, or for the University as a whole, to report financial interests in outside entities, so as to manage potential institutional conflicts. Nonetheless, such interests should be disclosed and managed in a manner similar to that for individual faculty members. Possible methods for handling such disclosures are described below.

    Situations that could create institutional conflicts should be disclosed to School Deans, or, in the case of school conflicts, to the Provost. Determination of strategies to manage inappropriate conflicts should be made by the Provost, upon consultation with others as appropriate. Where a situation presents a possible conflict for Stanford University, the issue could be brought to the faculty collectively. In the past, this has been done through the Committee on Research. Issues regarding institutional conflict of interests, as well as disputes over distribution or ownership of materials should be resolved within Schools and Departments wherever possible, with the Provost as final arbiter if needed.


    Stanford is an academic community engaged in a cooperative enterprise of research and teaching. Materials developed by faculty and students should be available for fair use throughout the university. Agreements with outside agencies, by faculty or the university, that interfere with this unfettered use within the university are inappropriate.

    Traditionally, the form and manner of the distribution of research results and teaching materials developed at Stanford has been a matter for individual faculty to arrange, constrained by Stanford's policies about secrecy, etc. Larger university structures have a role in these decisions in cases where the work reflects a large allocation of university time, effort and funds. Individual faculty and research groups should continue, however, to have the primary input in these decisions.


    Stanford faculty members owe their primary professional allegiance to the University, and their primary commitment of time and intellectual energies should be to the education, research and scholarship programs of the institution. Faculty should be cautious about arrangements that might put themselves into competition with Stanford, in either its research or teaching missions. As required by the Faculty Policy on Conflict of Commitment and Interest, faculty must disclose any such outside activities or financial interests that may constitute such competition, or could be perceived to do so, to their school.


    The name of Stanford University is a valuable resource and must be protected. Individuals may not trade unfairly on the Stanford name. The University must not enter into joint ventures that could in any way besmirch the name. The university has the duty and right to control the use of the Stanford name, both to ensure fair compensation for the use of the name and to assure the university's high standards are not eroded.

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