Letters Related to Free Education Now!

Letters published by Mathieu Deflem relating to the Free Education Now! website campaign.

Table of Contents (scroll down)
Online Ambiguities, The Technology Source (July/August 2000); The Educational Costs of Free Notes on the Internet, The Stanford Review (October 1999); University4Sale.com, AFT On Campus (April 2000); Dot-Coms in Our Lecture Halls. The Harvard Crimson (March 9, 2000); Most know better than to rely on online notes, Northern Star (October 25, 2000); Online academic note services commercializing education, Badger Herald (May 13, 2000); Commercial notes sites must be curtailed. Montana Kaimin (April 4, 2000); All About the Benjamins, The Daily Pennsylvanian (March 22, 2000); Yale leads the fight against notes companies, Yale Daily News (March 20, 2000); E-commerce intrudes on higher education, Brown Daily Herald (March 15, 2000); Online companies turning education into a business, The Digital Collegian (March 13, 2000); Online notes hurt education system, Indiana Daily Student (March 10, 2000); Letter to the Editor, The Battalion (Texas A&M, February 29, 2000); Online notes companies lack accountability, Michigan Daily (December 13, 1999); Faculty member questions online notes, The Purdue Exponent (October 5, 1999).

Mathieu Deflem. Online Ambiguities. The Technology Source, July/August 2000.

In a recent letter to the editor, Stephen Downes (2000) attributed the following statement to an online paper that I wrote: "In a position paper posted on his own Web site, he [Mathieu Deflem] even goes so far as to say of online learning that 'This form of intrusion goes completely against our position as educators for which we claim sovereign rights and obligations'."

I want to clarify that my paper does not address "online learning" at all; instead it criticizes commercial companies that have been invading colleges and universities to buy and post lecture notes without instructors' permission. It would be foolish to categorize this specific practice as a manifestation of online learning without further qualification. My argument does not concern the online nature of certain practices presented as learning; rather, it addresses issues of control and representation of these practices. In my paper, the "form of intrusion" that Downes quotes clearly pertains to the following: "On-line note companies do not ask instructors for permission but, at the same time, the companies explicitly post and advertise the notes with reference to the courses and the universities where they are taught, identified by the university's course title, section number, and/or professor's name."

Readers interested in my campaign against commercial note companies can visit my Web site campaign, "Free Education Now!" at this address: http://www.sla.purdue.edu/ people/soc/mdeflem/education.htm

Reference
Downes, S. (2000, March/April). "A response to 'Where do we go from here?'" The Technology Source. Retrieved 30 May 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://horizon.unc.edu/TS/letters/2000-03.asp


Mathieu Deflem. The Educational Costs of Free Notes on the Internet. The Stanford Review, October 1999.

This past semester, many of our nation's campuses have witnessed the invasion of a new and troublesome Internet phenomenon. I refer to the sudden and aggressive appearance of private online companies that distribute lecture notes of courses taught at colleges and universities on the Internet. I wish to draw attention to the serious dangers this intrusion implies with respect to our educational rights and responsibilities as students and teachers.

Online lecture notes companies are a very recent phenomenon. Of the ten companies that I know to be presently online, at least three have already begun to distribute notes. The companies are not affiliated with a university or college, but are privately owned businesses that have garnered large funds to start up the service. One company reported it had attracted $11.2 million in financing from a group of investors. The notes are offered free of charge and the companies work on a for-profit basis through revenues derived from web site advertising.

Online notes companies may have many negative effects, especially because students could be led to think that they no longer have to attend class when lecture notes are available online. More broadly, the availability of online notes could imply that students would develop a short-sighted and narrow perspective that views of education as just getting the notes to make the grade. However, irrespective of their anticipated impact, I believe there are at least two serious educational concerns involved with these companies. First, these companies interfere with the autonomy and dignity we enjoy in our student-teacher relationships and intrude upon our rights and responsibilities in learning and teaching. Second, online notes companies lack the accountability and standards of qualification that apply to teachers in colleges and universities.

In my view the most serious drawback of online note companies is the loss of autonomy and responsibility that it involves in student-teacher relationships. Online note companies do not ask instructors for permission, but the companies explicitly post and advertise lecture notes with reference to the class titles and the universities where they are taught, further identified by the course section number and/or name of the teacher. Such a form of intrusion goes squarely against the rights and obligations of educators, who as appointed instructors determine the subject matter, the reading list, the assignments, and other aspects of their teaching. Yet, with online provided notes, teachers lose control over what is nonetheless presented as an educational tool related to their teachings. No matter the effects, such a service constitutes an intrusion in the student-teacher interactions which we value without third-party interference. In fact, not only do online notes companies not ask for instructors' permission to post lecture notes, they do not cancel the service when the instructor so requests. Over the past weeks, for instance, I repeatedly asked one of the companies to remove postings for one of my courses from their web site, but to no avail. The company is still trying to hire a notetaker for the class (which, incidentally, counts 41 students). In fact, the web site of that particular company has in the meantime been so reconfigured that I no longer have full access to it. Fortunately, I have many students and colleagues helping me out in this matter and through a friend I was able to find out that this company is looking for notetakers for some 64 classes taught at Stanford.

The loss of autonomy for instructors also implies a loss of responsibility. With online companies providing notes, teachers are not in command of a service that is nonetheless advertised as an element of the student's learning process. The aggressive and seemingly for-the-benefit-of-education manner in which the companies present their services may lead students to think that the service could be approved by instructors or their universities.

On the part of the companies, there is an absence of quality standards and accountability in providing course notes. There are no requirements or procedures governing who provides online notes. This is probably best demonstrated by a Michigan-based company which has been set up by a few college drop-outs. While the notes are typically presented as a useful learning tool, company providers are not trained in educational matters and there is no authority of supervision enforcing any guidelines. There is with these companies, in other words, nothing equivalent to the hard work qualified teachers invest to acquire and maintain their position. Neither is there an equivalent to the university rules that regulate instructors' educational duties and their relationships with students. Instead of all the safeguards designed to establish and protect the integrity and standards of student and teacher conduct, online notes companies merely benefit from a parasitic freedom of opportunity on the Internet.

Online lecture notes companies also lack accountability in providing educational materials with any guarantees of quality. The company websites not only contain claims that all the materials presented are copyrighted and may not be used in lawsuits brought against them, they are also careful to detail a user agreement that includes the disclaimer that no guarantees are made on the quality of the notes and that the company cannot be held liable for mistakes. Explicit disclaimers on the quality of a service presented as educational are in complete contradiction with a responsible understanding of education. Students cannot only ask questions and clarification from their instructors, they are encouraged to do so. Responsible teachers encourage participation from students in a quest for valuable information that is accurate in contents and appropriate in form. The online notes, instead, are presented as just one more complementary tool of education. The philosophy seems to be that more information is better and cannot hurt. But freedom of information and expression do not contribute to teaching in such an unqualified sense, for the classroom is not a forum of participatory democracy but a purposively designed setting with a particular function and division of labor. The key is not more information but information that is appropriate relative to teaching objectives.

At the heart of this problem is a free-marketization of our educational system. The problem is not the Internet and not the free market, but a profit-oriented and technologically-based invasion of education that applies market principles in an area of society governed by fundamentally different standards. Online lecture notes companies rely on expectations of e-commerce as a someday profitable market in which teaching will be done on a supply-and-demand basis that currently applies to soft drinks and tennis shoes.

I encourage students and teachers to join in on the debate surrounding the educational issues involved in this matter. To provide information and awareness, I have set up a web site with news and opinions, a list of companies, and educators who share critical concerns on the matter: http://www.sla.purdue.edu/people/soc/mdeflem/education.htm

Mathieu Deflem is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Purdue University.


Mathieu Deflem. University4Sale.com: The Educational Cost of Posted Lecture Notes on the Internet. AFT On Campus, April 2000.

Many among us use the Internet in ways that benefit our dual objectives of research and teaching. But with every change come dangers, big and small. One new Internet phenomenon is posing a serious threat to our profession, especially in terms of our mission as educators. It is private online companies that post lecture notes of courses taught at colleges and universities.

I am aware of at least 12 such companies offering notes for many different colleges or universities across the country. Many more notes companies operate locally (and not always online). The notes are typically offered to students free of charge, although some companies require site registration. At least one company charges a fee for the notes. The latest trend is for companies to seek input from teachers.

The companies are not affiliated with a university or college, but with privately owned businesses that have attracted sufficient money to start up the service. The online companies work on a for-profit basis through revenues derived from Web site advertising. The course notes are typically presented as a student's interpretation of the lectures and are solicited from students enrolled in the courses, although there have been instances reported where notes were gathered by students not enrolled and/or by company employees. Currently, companies are vigorously recruiting note-takers, touting attractive salaries (up to $400 per semester) and job titles.

Online notes companies raise concerns both for the potential effects they may have for our teaching and for the problems created by the very fact that online course notes are offered. Students could be led to think that they no longer have to attend class because lecture notes are available online. Anticipating this criticism, the companies providing the notes state that the notes are not to be used as a substitute for attending class. The disclaimer, of course, is no guarantee at all that this won't happen. Some instructors have already reported that their class attendance dropped after the online notes were made available.

More generally, the availability of online notes could mean that students will start to develop a very shortsighted and narrow perspective of education. They may view learning as merely getting the notes to pass the exam and make the grade, thereby accelerating a trend that, regrettably, teachers have already seen taking place.

In principle, online notes companies pose further problems that relate to a loss of autonomy and responsibility on the part of the teaching community, and a lack of quality standards and accountability on the part of the companies that distribute notes.

Online notes companies do not ask instructors for permission, but, at the same time, the companies explicitly post and advertise the notes with reference to the courses and the universities where they are taught, identified by the university's course title, section number and/or professor's name. With notes provided online, we lose control over what is presented as an educational tool related to our courses.

Next, on the part of the companies, there is an absence of quality standards and accountability in providing course notes. There are no requirements or procedures governing who provides online notes. Anybody who knows how to set up a Web site company can offer the service. There is with these companies, in other words, nothing equivalent to the hard work qualified teachers invested in graduate school, acquiring degrees from accredited institutions, and the work we daily do to maintain our acquired expertise. Neither is there an equivalent to the university and college rules that regulate our educational duties and our relationships with students.

Instead of all the safeguards designed to establish and protect the integrity and standards of our profession, online notes companies merely benefit from a parasitic freedom of opportunity on the Internet.

What can we do? There are different ways to tackle this matter.

First, we need to be informed about the existence and practices of these companies. Last fall, I created a Web site, called Free Education Now, to share information about the online notes business. It is to be found at www.sla.purdue.edu/people/soc/mdeflem/education.htm.

Next, we can foster awareness by reaching out to educators and students and telling them about the issues at hand. And, finally, we can plan and devise strategies of intervention. Among the various options available to us, perhaps the most feasible and effective strategy is a university policy based on academic honesty. Some universities have such policies and have been successful in halting the invasion from commercial notes companies on their campuses.

Mathieu Deflem is an assistant professor of sociology at Purdue University. He can be reached via e-mail at deflemm@sri.soc.purdue.edu. This article is adapted from a position paper that is posted on his Web site, www.sla.purdue.edu/people/soc/mdeflem/znotes.htm.


Mathieu Deflem. Dot-Coms in Our Lecture Halls. The Harvard Crimson, March 9, 2000.

Harvard, Princeton, Yale and UCLA are among the courageous universities that have in recent months successfully developed and/or implemented policies against commercial notes companies on the Internet. Partly as a result to the success of these initiatives, other colleges and universities across the country are now discussing appropriate policies to secure a respectful environment in which students and teachers can fulfill their educational goals. Most recently, the universities of Minnesota and Vermont worked out policies that ban the sale of lecture notes without instructor's permission.

However, new developments indicate that commercial notes businesses have in many ways gained ground. Since they appeared on the Internet last fall, online notes companies have been able to rely on financial expectations surrounding e-commerce and managed to gather huge sums of money in financing. Versity.com, for example, has attracted $11.2 million from investors in just one year, while StudentU.com has some $6 million invested in its operations. The investors leave little doubt about the true motives of the notes companies. One of them justified the investment because, according to the Detroit Free Press, he hoped that the notes company "will make a lot of money on the Web."

To secure revenue from website advertising, companies recruit notetakers through aggressive advertising campaigns. They send e-mails, create websites, post ads in the local college press, employ students to hand out pamphlets outside our classrooms and visit greek houses to market products. Companies give out freebies and hold contests that offer lucrative prizes. Marketing techniques and the quest for profit have even lead these companies to dismiss professors' complaints and make misleading and false statements in the press, claiming support from professors and students.

Over the past months, the notes market has expanded considerably. At present, some 13 such companies exist on the Internet. The expansion of the market has also involved attempts at monopolization. The notes company GethruCollege.com, for instance, was approached by two other notes companies in an attempt to acquire the company immediately after it was formed.

But even more alarming is that notes companies have been diversifying their businesses by acquiring other college-related enterprises, such as book-selling sites, college news sites and many more. In January 2000, the notes company Studentu.com announced that it had formed the Uzone, a website that not only offers lecture notes but also a host of other products related to the "market" of college students, such as news, clothing and music sites. The motives of the strategy were clearly revealed when the CEO of the company publicly stated that the acquisition brought the company "one step closer to its takeover of the online student market." Apparently making good on its ambitions, in February 2000 the company purchased 28th Street, the Los Angeles-based publisher of a college magazine.

Late last month, possibly the most ambitious expansion yet of the educational commerce market took place when it was announced that WhataboutU.com had acquired the notes companies TakeNote and TarHeel Notes for an undisclosed amount of cash and equity stake in the new company. The expansion plan of WhataboutU involves distribution of college-related materials domestically as well as internationally through a network of global destination sites.

The diversification and expansion of the notes businesses creates the frightening vision of a huge commercial giant intruding into every aspect of our education. We are witnessing, in other words, the appearance of a rapidly expanding education-commercial complex, guided by monetary concerns and technologically driven to intrude upon education and interfere in the commitment, dedication and respect we enjoy in our work. With such developments in mind, it becomes clear that the essential question is not just one of rights (copyright versus free speech) but whether as teachers and students, we still wish to be involved in a public service oriented at qualified instruction, or whether we have become sheer buyers and sellers dealing in product.

Mathieu Deflem is an assistant professor of sociology at Purdue University. He conducts a website campaign against commercial notes companies, which can be found at: http://www.sla.purdue.edu/people/soc/mdeflem/education.htm


Mathieu Deflem. Most know better than to rely on online notes, Northern Star (October 25, 2000).

In response to your recent editorial on commercial lecture note companies (Oct. 19), several clarifications are in order. The bill that passed in the state of California does not ban the posting of notes online, but only the distribution and sale of lecture notes without the permission from the instructor.

Teachers can (and many teachers, myself included, already do) post their own materials online. That is perfectly acceptable because teachers ought to be in control of their own teaching, relying only on the feedback from their students.

Class attendance has never been a major argument in this debate. Instead, it is the dignity and mutual respect that students and teachers can enjoy in their interactions in college that was at stake and that were severely interfered with by some companies that were just out to make money, not by offering support to education, but by invading and benefiting from our education.

Students can already freely and usefully rely on any and all notes they wish. Just ask someone in class for their notes or ask the instructor for clarification! Students and teachers should and can exercise their rights from one another without interference. With a misguided support for note companies, it is ironic that some actually would be willing to relinquish their rights to education in favor of a dependency on the fickle market of e-commerce.

Almost all of the online notes companies have by now gone out of business or are in very dire financial straights, not because of any law, not even primarily because of teachers’ complaints, but simply because a very large majority of students are just too smart to have themselves mess with their lives.

Mathieu Deflem
Assistant professor of sociology
Purdue University


Mathieu Deflem. Online academic note services commercializing education, Badger Herald (May 13, 2000).

Yale University has recently joined the ranks of Harvard, Princeton, UCLA and several other universities that have successfully implemented policies against commercial academic notes companies.

Many colleges and universities across the country are now discussing appropriate policies to secure a respectful environment in which students and teachers can fulfill their educational goals. The latest developments in the world of commercial notes businesses, unfortunately, indicate it will not be an easy road, for the invasion of e-commerce in education has in many ways gained ground.

In recent months, notes companies have attracted millions of dollars in financing from Wallstreet investors. Versity.com has received $11.2 million in financing, while StudentU.com operates on some $6 million. To secure revenue from website advertising, companies use mass mailings and various advertising strategies, touting attractive salaries and impressive job titles for notetakers. Freebies are given away and contests are held to win lucrative prizes. Marketing techniques even lead companies to dismiss professors' complaints. No wonder, the CEO of one notes company called education a commercial enterprise.

Most alarmingly, several notes companies are currently expanding and diversifying their businesses by acquiring other college-related enterprises, such as book-selling sites, college news sites and many more. StudentU.com formed the Uzone and subsequently bought out the publisher of a college magazine. WhataboutU.com acquired two notes companies for an undisclosed amount of cash and equity stake in the new company and plans to launch an internationally oriented site of college notes across the world.

With all this, it seems clear that the essential question is whether as teachers and students we are still committed to a service-oriented at tiude about learning and teaching, or whether we will become buyers and sellers dealing in product.

Mathieu Deflem, assistant professor of sociology,
Purdue University


Mathieu Deflem. Commercial notes sites must be curtailed. Montana Kaimin (April 4, 2000).

In response to the story about commercial notes companies I would like to emphasize that educational concerns, not legal issues of copyright, should primarily guide the debate. As such, the key issues revolve around fairness, trust and respect. Commercial notes companies intrude in the relationship students can and should enjoy with their teachers. They are neither responsible nor qualified to be involved in education and instead rely on the economic benefits of e-commerce.

Fortunately, several universities have successfully implemented policies against notes companies. The latest developments in the world of commercial notes businesses, unfortunately, indicate it will not be an easy road, for the invasion of e-commerce in education has in many ways gained ground.

In recent months, notes companies have attracted millions of dollars in financing from Wall Street investors. Versity.com has received $11.2 million in financing, while StudentU.com operates on some $6 million. No surprise, the CEO of one notes company called education a commercial enterprise. Also, several notes companies are currently expanding and diversifying their businesses by acquiring other college-related enterprises, such as book-selling sites, college news sites, and many more. StudentU.com, for example, formed the Uzone and subsequently bought out the publisher of a college magazine.

In light of such developments, we should do well to remain committed to education in a respectful environment.

Mathieu Deflem, Assistant professor of sociology, Purdue University


Mathieu Deflem. All About the Benjamins, The Daily Pennsylvanian (March 22, 2000).

A recent editorial ("Embracing a new medium," DP, 3/9/00) on commercial notes companies betrays some of the misconceptions on this recent invasion into our educational system.

The issues surrounding notes companies are not primarily a matter of rights (copyright versus free speech), but relate to the educational problems that are involved. In that context, it is unwise to portray the matter as just a posting of notes on the Internet. The crux of the matter is all about who is in control of the distribution of notes and with what kind of intent. There is a huge difference between, on the one hand, a business enterprise paying for notes without permission and, on the other, professors who post their own notes and lecture materials as part of their teaching.

Also, totally obscured by a focus on rights are the many commercial aspects of notes businesses. The notes companies are financed by millions of dollars and are trying to expand and monopolize the market. For instance, Versity.com has received $11.2 million in financing, while StudentU.com operates on some $6 million. No wonder that the CEO of one notes company called education a "commercial enterprise."

Market expansions lead into other college-related sites. StudentU.com, for example, formed the Uzone and subsequently bought out the publisher of a college magazine in Los Angeles. WhataboutU.com acquired two notes companies for an undisclosed amount of cash and equity stake in the new company and plans to launch a Web site of college notes.

Furthermore, company spokesmen have been spreading false information in the press. For instance, I read in an article ("Professors voice concerns over online note firm," DP, 3/6/00) that a representative of Versity.com said that Yale University was the first school to demand that notes be removed from their site. That is simply not true. Princeton, the University of California at Los Angeles and other schools have done so as well.

Thus, it is clear that the essential question is not just about embracing a new model of teaching, but whether, as instructors and students, we will remain committed to teaching and learning, or just be buying and selling a commodity. Mathieu Deflem Professor of Sociology Purdue University.


Mathieu Deflem. Yale leads the fight against notes companies, Yale Daily News (March 20, 2000).

To the Editor:

Congratulations to the students, professors and administrators at Yale for having the insight and courage to successfully halt the invasion of commercial notes companies! I hope that other colleges and universities will likewise show wisdom and develop appropriate policies. The latest developments in the world of commercial notes businesses, unfortunately, indicate that it will not be easy, for the invasion of e-commerce into education has been carrying on.

In recent months, notes companies have attracted millions of dollars in financing from Wall Street investors. Versity.com has received $11.2 million in financing, while StudentU.com operates on some $6 million. To secure revenue from website advertising, companies use mass mailings and various advertising strategies, touting attractive salaries and impressive job titles for notetakers. The give away freebies and hold contests to win lucrative prizes. No wonder the CEO of one notes company called education a commercial enterprise.

Most alarmingly, several notes companies are currently expanding and diversifying their businesses by acquiring other college-related enterprises, such as book-selling sites, college news sites and many more. StudentU.com formed the Uzone and subsequently bought out "28th Street," the publisher of a college magazine. The company WhataboutU.com acquired two notes businesses for an undisclosed amount of cash and equity stake in the new company and plans to launch an internationally oriented site of college notes across the world.

With all this, it seems clear, the essential question is not one of rights, neither copyright nor free speech, but whether as teachers and students we are still committed to service oriented learning and teaching, or whether we will become mere buyers and sellers dealing in product.

Mathieu Deflem, March 4, 2000
The writer is a sociology professor at Purdue University and a leader of a website campaign against commercial notes companies.


Mathieu Deflem. E-commerce intrudes on higher education, Brown Daily Herald (March 15, 2000).

To the Editor:
After reading Class for Sale (3/13) and some of the responses online, I d like to add a few words about what these businesses really stand for and indicate how in recent months the intrusion of e-commerce into education has been going on.

While many colleges and universities across the country are developing policies to secure a respectful environment for students and teachers, commercial notes companies have attracted millions of dollars in financing. For example, Versity.com has received $11.2 million from investors, while StudentU.com operates on some $6 million.

To attract revenue from Web site advertising, companies use mass e-mails and other intrusive advertising strategies. The businesses addition to education consists of freebies and contests with lucrative prizes. Marketing techniques even lead companies to dismiss professors complaints. The CEO of one notes company called education a commercial enterprise.

Most recently, several notes companies are expanding and diversifying their businesses by acquiring other college-related enterprises, such as book-selling sites. StudentU.com formed the Uzone and bought out the publisher of a college magazine. WhataboutU.com acquired two notes companies for cash and equity stake in the new company and intends to launch a site of college notes across the world.

With all this, the question we are faced with is whether as teachers and students we are still committed to service-oriented learning and teaching in an environment of mutual respect and human dignity.

Mathieu Deflem, Asst. Prof. of Sociology, Purdue University


Mathieu Deflem. Online companies turning education into a business, The Digital Collegian (March 13, 2000).

Yale University has recently joined the ranks of Harvard, Princeton, UCLA and several other universities that have successfully implemented policies against commercial notes companies.

Many colleges and universities across the country are now discussing appropriate policies to secure a respectful environment in which students and teachers can fulfill their educational goals. The latest developments in the world of commercial notes businesses, unfortunately, indicate it will not be an easy road, for the invasion of e-commerce in education has in many ways gained ground.

In recent months, notes companies have attracted millions of dollars in financing from Wall Street investors. Versity.com has received $11.2 million in financing, while StudentU.com operates on some $6 million. To secure revenue from Web site advertising, companies use mass mailings and various advertising strategies, touting attractive salaries and impressive job titles for notetakers. Freebies are given away and contests are held to win lucrative prizes. Marketing techniques even lead companies to dismiss professors' complaints. No wonder, the CEO of one notes company called education a commercial enterprise.

Most alarmingly, several notes companies are currently expanding and diversifying their businesses by acquiring other college-related enterprises, such as book-selling sites, college news sites and many more.

StudentU.com formed the Uzone and subsequently bought out the publisher of a college magazine. WhataboutU.com acquired two notes companies for an undisclosed amount of cash and equity stake in the new company and plans to launch an internationally oriented site of college notes across the world.

With all this, it seems clear, the essential question is whether as teachers and students we are still committed to a service oriented at learning and teaching, or whether we will become buyers and sellers dealing in product.

Mathieu Deflem, assistant professor of sociology, Purdue University


Mathieu Deflem. Online notes hurt education system, Indiana Daily Student (March 10, 2000).

Yale University has recently joined the ranks of Harvard, Princeton, UCLA and several other universities that have successfully implemented policies against commercial notes companies. Many colleges and universities across the country are now discussing appropriate policies to secure a respectful environment in which students and teachers can fulfill their educational goals. The latest developments in the world of commercial notes businesses, unfortunately, indicate it will not be an easy road, for the invasion of e-commerce in education has in many ways gained ground.

In recent months, notes companies have attracted millions of dollars in financing from Wall Street investors. Versity.com has received $11.2 million in financing, while StudentU.com operates on some $6 million. To secure revenue from Web site advertising, companies use mass mailings and various advertising strategies, touting attractive salaries and impressive job titles for note takers. Freebies are given away and contests are held to win lucrative prizes. Marketing techniques even lead companies to dismiss professors' complaints. No wonder, the CEO of one notes company called education a commercial enterprise.

Most alarmingly, several notes companies are expanding and diversifying their businesses by acquiring other college-related enterprises, such as book-selling sites, college news sites and many more. StudentU.com formed the Uzone and subsequently bought out the publisher of a college magazine. WhataboutU.com acquired two notes companies for an undisclosed amount of cash and equity stake in the new company and plans to launch an internationally oriented site of college notes across the world.

With all this, it seems clear, the essential question is whether as teachers and students we are still committed to a service oriented at learning and teaching, or whether we will become buyers and sellers dealing in product.


Mathieu Deflem. Letter to the Editor, The Battalion (Texas A&M, February 29, 2000).

In response to Julia Recindus' Feb. 23 article:

While I realize there is disagreement on the pros and cons of notes companies that pay money for class notes without the permission of the instructor, it is in any case less than useful to not be accurate about the intentions and practices of these businesses. Thus, the notetaker mentioned in your article who stated that a majority of professors would like the notes is simply not telling the truth, but engaging in deceptive advertising.

In actuality teachers from across the country have overwhelmingly spoken out against unapproved notes posted against their wishes. Among the criticisms are most strongly the intrusion of commercial notes companies into the dignity and respect that characterizes the relationships between teachers and their students.

Unapproved notes do not just damage professors' rights to teach, they also severely hurt students' rights to learn and the accountability and responsibility they may and should expect from their qualified instructors. Notes companies, after all, are run by people totally unqualified in matters of education and have no academic expertise in the subjects they deal with.

Furthermore, while the private companies posting notes to derive profit through Website advertising say that the notes are a student's interpretation, the notes are never that. To be useful for other students, the notes are meant to be reflections of what a professor said in class. Why else would anyone look at them at all? At the same time, the notes rarely are accurate, as research has revealed that many of the notes contain numerous mistakes. Or is it perhaps the students "interpretation" to get money for posting bad notes?

Mathieu Deflem, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Purdue University


Mathieu Deflem. Online notes companies lack accountability, Michigan Daily (December 13, 1999).

A recent editorial in The Michigan Daily betrayed many of the misunderstandings concerning online notes companies and the severe damage they inflict upon our education ("www.don'tskipclass.com" 12/8/99). Everybody has a right to free speech, but nobody has the right to interfere with the hard work of others. Professors, like all other teachers, do not just engage in free speech but in a carefully planned instruction of specific ideas and skills in a manner they judge beneficial to the particular goals of education to teach students. A classroom is most definitely not a public forum for the free distribution of ideas in which just anybody can participate. On the contrary, students expect their teachers to be qualified, skilled and responsible.

Responsibility and accountability in teaching are the primary reasons why online notes companies such as Versity.com represent such a terrible menace. They interfere in the relationship between students and teachers in a manner that is totally uncontrolled and guided by no other concern than monetary profit. It is astonishing to hear that teachers can cooperate with these companies when we never asked for any such interference in the first place. I wonder if students (and teachers) realize the terrible price we will pay for relinquishing our responsibility and accountability to a private company outside the protective guidelines of our colleges and universities.

Copyright laws are definitely not our priority - they are merely a tool with which we can defend and protect our number one priority - to provide top-quality education in an environment of respect and dignity, unhindered by commercial motives. This matter has nothing to do with the use of Internet resources (which I and many of my colleagues rely upon very heavily), but has everything to do with the control of those resources. There is a world of difference between my own Internet postings about a class I teach and a private company doing this without my knowledge and against my wishes.

I encourage students and fellow teachers to think seriously about these issues. I have set up a Website with lots of information that may be helpful: http://www.sla.purdue.edu/people/soc/mdeflem/education.htm

Mathieu Deflem, Purdue University faculty


Mathieu Deflem. Faculty member questions online notes, The Purdue Exponent (October 5, 1999).

An online company posting course notes has been campaigning rather aggressively on our campus these past few weeks. Although, legally, the situation is unclear, there are legal precedents that have awarded copyrights to lectures and that have prohibited the sale of student notes (which would make the note takers liable, not the companies). However, irrespective of legality, I believe there are very serious educational issues involved with these companies, especially inasmuch as they invade in the autonomy we enjoy in our student-teacher relationships as well as our rights and responsibilities in learning and teaching. Online notes companies, furthermore, lack the accountability and standards of qualification of college teachers so that students may receive an education of high quality.

I encourage students and teachers to join in on the debate surrounding the many issues involved in this matter. Also, students and fellow faculty members may wish to know that, in order to promote information and awareness, I have set up a Web site with facts and opinions about the issue: http://www.sla.purdue.edu/people/soc/mdeflem/education.html (original location)

Mathieu Deflem, Purdue faculty