I am taking a graduate class which is based on "notes" written by former students of the course years earlier.

This notes are a bad translation of a published book by a renowned author, and the class consists entirely on expositions from the students based on this notes and the book.

At the beginning of the course, the lecturer suggested that his idea was to collaboratively write some notes of the material covered in class, but so far, he has not given a single lecture, nor any help, insight or even references for the gaps found in the notes, everything has been done by the students. Now he is asking us to write all the expositions of the material we have found to fill the gaps in the notes.

I don't want to contribute to the notes because there is no guarantee that they will be published as a collaborative project instead of as something of the lecturer's authorship, but it might hurt my grades if I refuse to write something.

I am thinking in writing something to be included in the notes but posting it with me as an author in my blog first. Do you have any suggestions?

  • 5
    If you don't sign anything, the notes are yours, at least in most sane legislation systems. If anyone publishes them with their name without your consent, that's grounds for a lawsuit. Nov 6 '13 at 7:42
  • @FedericoPoloni Are you suggesting that someone sue one of their professors over an unrefereed expository publication? Nov 6 '13 at 20:25
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    @Ben not as a first option. But if the professor should falsely claim authorship, the OP is legally in a very sound position. This should be reassuring that his/her fear is not a likely outcome and he/she should collaborate writing the notes. Nov 7 '13 at 7:57
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    Maybe this is a better way to put it: "don't worry, the professor will not be so crazy do it: it would open himself up to accusations of plagiarism, which are possibly a career-ending mistake. He could end up not only in front of a university committee, but even in front of a judge". Nov 7 '13 at 8:08

I guess my suggestion is to think carefully about what you want to achieve in this situation. It doesn't feel especially righteous to suggest that you do a competent job of working on the notes, try to learn something and don't worry too much about precisely how much credit you will get out of the collective endeavor; however that sure seems to me like the right course of action. For an original refereed publication, it's worth throwing a few elbows to make sure you get your fair share of credit (and even there it pays to be careful), but it doesn't sound like that's what we're discussing here.

While I don't like saying that, I just can't think of what course of action is likely to actually improve your situation. if you refuse to participate, you'll get a bad grade and make a poor impression (and such impressions do spread from one faculty member to another); I doubt he will really believe its due to high-minded concerns about authorship credit, as opposed to laziness. If you make a fuss about getting credit before you've even written the notes, I don't think that will make an especially good impression either. It wouldn't be right for the lecturer to publish the notes without appropriately crediting the class, but that wouldn't make suing him (or more realistically, making threats about suing) any less stupid. If it makes you feel better to separately post your contribution on a blog as well, knock yourself out. Hopefully some people will read it and learn something.

I think the productive thing to do is to try to meet the expectations of the class, and if later it seems that the faculty member is doing something shady with the results, you can go to your graduate director or another professor and express concerns about credit. But complaining preemptively is not likely to achieve much.

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