Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Navigating Collegial Waters

"It's the same everywhere," a trusted mentor said to me many years ago. We were chatting over coffee after spending time listening to conference papers.  I'd been complaining about the run of the mill academic politics.  In his trade mark fashion my mentor cut right to the chase, "Go into your class room, close the door, and get on with your teaching. Write, research, and ignore the politics.  It doesn't get any better then where you are."

I wasn't really willing to believe him, our department was moving toward a reasonably polite, but stressed, parting of the ways between Sociology and Anthropology. The grass looked greener at a lot of different places.  I listened to him anyway, hunkered down, did my academic work, found my research feet, and looking back at it I realize it was one of the best pieces of academic advice anyone ever gave me.

My mentor's advice took me through tenure and finally to promotion as a full professor.

His was hard advice to follow. It is really easy to get sucked into the meaningless webs of gossip, intrigue, accusation, and posturing that constitutes the white noise of departmental politics. There are times that I wished I had paid more attention to his advice as I found my self strangely isolated or pulled into maelstroms of conflict. There are other times when I thought I was following his advice but then got pulled up short when colleagues took a different view and acted in ways that seemed to suggest I was very much involved. Yet throughout all of this I have tended to effect what I considered to be disinterested engagement with departmental politics.  Doing so in fact has allowed me the space to focus on things that matter to me as an Indigenous scholar.

I  do a good deal of work on behalf of and within my home community. I also do work with and for other First Nations and Native American Tribes. This is exciting work.  It is also work that can be intensely conflictual. University politics still flame out on who can represent. But in community conflicts are just as likely to be between neighbouring communities as between communities and non-Indigenous people. The stakes are not based in academic prestige. No, in these conflicts real dollars, lives, and community wellbeing are on the table. These are not situations for the faint of heart. They are, however, important and have real implications for Indigenous people and also for our wider society.

It seems that the contemporary university has a difficult time coming to terms with these critical issues and concerns. Within the university we tend to focus on saying rather than doing. I confess to finding it hard to get excited about word smithing 40 word vision statements when many Indigenous people simply want dignity in one's life.  I want the university to count back home even as I want it to be a real place for debate, discussion, and learning. Yet, I am at times disappointed by the way things turn out.

I've written about these kinds of situations. In one paper, Standing on the Shore with Sabaan, I decry the continued use of our Indigenous communities as sources of data for outsiders to experiment with. In a second paper I discuss the history of collaborative research and point to ways in which anthropology and anthropologists still have a long way to come. In a more recent paper I appropriate anthropological techniques and subsume them fully within my own Indigenous perspective calling attention to the blindness of non-Indigenous colleagues. These are works that can offend and for that I do not apologize: why is the colonized always asked to apologize to the colonizer?

True, there is something about an assertive and vindicationist Indigenous perspective that challenges fellow travelers and opponents alike. It compels me to develop a more interested engagement in university politics.   Universities need to be safe places for Indigenous peoples, not battle grounds. But, as our African American cousins are showing us throughout the US universities are not safe spaces for the colonized.  We must first engage in order to make over the university.

Almost 20 years after receiving my mentors advice I realize that part of his directive to close the door on departmental politics was so that I could focus on what it really means to be an Indigenous scholar navigating the foreign waters of the western academy. Let me assure you it can be done: I've managed so far.  It can be a rough ride; like  a boat running with a following sea with the threat that we might swamp with each roll.  But with the armour of position, and such little power it might accord me, I shall now turn my gaze onto the mundane word of academic politics so that those who come after me might never experience the same obstacles and injuries my generation has.

UBC Legal Counsel Responds to Moral Rights Question

[This is in response to my concerns about UBC's Moral Rights Waiver in publication agreements. See previous post here.]

Oct 26, 2015
From: Lai, Hubert

Dear Charles:

Thank you for your e-mail of September 7, 2015 expressing your concerns with regards to a moral rights clause contained in the BC Studies Manuscript Publishing Agreement.

As you know, UBC has provided you with an exemption from the moral rights clause, and I understand that BC Studies published your work in its October 30 issue.  In addition to providing this exemption, I would like to also respond to your request for an explanation as to why UBC includes a moral rights clause in its Manuscript Publishing Agreement template.

Moral rights are category of rights granted under the Canadian Copyright Act (RSC 1985, c. C-42).  Section 14.1 of the Copyright Act defines these rights (and the effect of a waiver) as follows:
Moral rights
        14.1 (1) The author of a work has, subject to section 28.2, the right to the integrity of the work and, in connection with an act mentioned in section 3, the right, where reasonable in the circumstances, to be associated with the work as its author by name or under a pseudonym and the right to remain anonymous.
No assignment of moral rights
        (2) Moral rights may not be assigned but may be waived in whole or in part.
No waiver by assignment
        (3) An assignment of copyright in a work does not by that act alone constitute a waiver of any moral rights.
Effect of waiver
        (4) Where a waiver of any moral right is made in favour of an owner or a licensee of copyright, it may be invoked by any person authorized by the owner or licensee to use the work, unless there is an indication to the contrary in the waiver.
Moral rights protect the "integrity" or an author's work and the right "where reasonable in the circumstances" to be, or not be, associated with the work.  Under Section 28 of the Copyright Act an author may bring a claim for infringement of his or her moral rights. "Moral rights", in addition to copyright, are therefore a part of the bundle of intellectual property rights dealt with under the Canadian Copyright Act.

Publication of an author's work requires that UBC comply with the Copyright Act.  In particular, to publish a work, it is necessary for UBC's journals to obtain either an assignment or license of an author's copyright in the work.  However Section 14 of the Copyright Act makes it clear that such an assignment or license alone does not confer a right or license with regards to an author's moral rights.
 Without an express waiver of such moral rights, UBC's journals could therefore face the risk of possible legal claims for infringement of an author's moral rights.  For example, such claims could be alleged to arise from a journal's:

  • ordinary editing of the author's (or authors') manuscript for publication;                     
  • reformatting of the published work for publication in other media; or
  • digesting or précising of the work for an index or for archival purposes.

Furthermore, it is also possible that an author's moral rights could be asserted to inhibit a journal's ability to publish a formal correction or retraction in connection with a previously published work. This could be of particular concern in cases where the published work has more than one author.

To avoid such disputes UBC’s journals include a waiver of moral rights in their publishing agreement templates. In doing so, UBC is not unusual, as many other publishers include similar wording in their publishing agreements. To balance these legal concerns against the concerns which you have raised, we have also maintained a policy of considering, on a case by case basis, exemptions from the moral rights clause.

Finally, I would like to emphasise that UBC and its journals are strongly committed to ensuring that authors are fully credited for their publications.  UBC recognizes that authorship is very important to the academic reputation of individuals who submit their work for publication and that correctly attributing authorship is essential to the scholarly process.  The inclusion of a moral rights clause in the publishing agreement template was never intended to detract from these principles. To affirm this we are reviewing the language in the publishing agreement template with a view to clarifying that the moral rights clause is not intended to diminish an author's right to be associated with their published work.

I hope that this letter provides you with a better understanding of the reasons for including the moral rights wording in UBC's journal publishing agreement.


Hubert Lai, Q.C.
University Counsel
The University of British Columbia
6328 Memorial Road
Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z2
Tel: (604) 822-0687
Fax: (604) 822-8731
E-mail: hubert.lai@ubc.ca