Open Letter to Foothill De Anza Faculty

Open Letter to Foothill De Anza Faculty

An Open Letter to Foothill-De Anza Faculty Members inviting your participation in a higher education revolution

Spring 2004

Dear Foothill-De Anza Faculty Member:

As you may know, in response to my request the Foothill-De Anza Board of Trustees recently asked Chancellor Martha Kanter and her staff to begin work on formulating a new FHDA policy to help reduce the cost of college textbooks while maintaining full protection for academic freedom and the highest possible academic standards.

The specific goal of this proposed new policy is to support and encourage the development and use of public domain-based learning materials as well as materials that use custom intellectual property licenses provided by Creative Commons as substitutes for costly textbooks.

I invite your help in formulating this proposed new policy, which is currently being developed. In fact, as a faculty member your participation will largely determine whether this proposed new policy succeeds or fails. That’s why I have written this open letter to you. I want to make sure you understand my proposal, know what the Board is contemplating, and solicit your advice and assistance to ensure that we move foward together in the smartest, most strategic and inclusive way possible.

Here is why this topic is so important right now:

College textbook costs have been rising gradually for years and have now, in many cases, reached levels that are truly unconscionable. At the beginning of each quarter, one can see students combing through our campus bookstores to find out how much books cost for different classes, information they then use to make course selection decisions. The high cost of books, more than any other single expense imposed by our system, often dictates how rapidly or slowing a financially disadvantaged student can proceed with their college education. When I was a poor student attending Foothill College some twenty-five years ago, I made many similar visits to our bookstores, trips that concluded in one painful decision after another about which classes I could afford to take. That should not be the way access-minded community colleges operate, particularly when other attractive options are emerging, which, thankfully, is now the case.

It is true that some scholarship funds are available to help financially disadvantaged students cope with high textbook costs. But many students are reluctant to apply for that aid, there is not nearly enough to meet all needs, and funds used for that purpose are not available to help students in other, more direct ways.

By contrast, moving forward to develop public domain and Creative Commons-based learning materials will do much more than just help financially hard-pressed students save money. Even more important, as we succeed (or perhaps fail, as we learn how to do this) we will also contribute to the development of a process that will over time create an enormously valuable new set of academic resources for college students and other motivated learners both here in California and around the world.

I’ve made this proposal after consultations with community and business leaders because I see it as a next step we can take in the continuum of educational access long championed by those who support community colleges. It represents another way our District can advance our shared goal of providing more accessible higher educational opportunities. That has always been the guiding mission of the public community college system.

I want to emphasize three things at the outset of this policy development process.

First, my proposal does not envision our Board enacting any policies that would require faculty members to participate in developing or using public domain or Creative Commons-based learning materials. Once enacted, the new Board policy would merely guide our administration in providing incentives and support to faculty members who want to move in this new direction, as some already are.

Second, if approved and enacted by the Board my proposal would insure that faculty members do not lose any rights they currently enjoy related to the publication of scholarly materials, including royalty payments and other forms of income.

Third, the overall goal of this proposed new policy is to create incentives and support to encourage our faculty to organize and maintain existing public domain-based resources and learning materials bearing Creative Commons intellectual property licenses as substitutes for costly textbooks and to do so, if possible, in ways that create new revenue opportunities for our faculty and district.

I’ve put together a FAQ (frequently asked questions) about the potential role the Foothill-De Anza Community College District and faculty can play in helping students gain access to this potentially exciting and empowering new set of affordable, high-quality learning materials, which you will find here.

In summary, the Foothill-De Anza Community College District is Silicon Valley’s leading institution of higher education. Over the years, our two colleges have provided more opportunities to more students than all other local colleges combined. Our proximity to the world’s best minds in technology and education gives us a special chance to lead in an area that will further break down economic barriers to higher education and reduce an escalating cost that holds many eager learners back. We can preserve and extend our District’s reputation for excellence and innovation by becoming the first community college district in the nation to adopt a formal policy specifically designed to take advantage of this new opportunity. I hope and trust this proposal will have your support.

Your views are critically important to me. I welcome and invite your critique. Please let me know if you support this idea, and feel free to offer suggestions or feedback, including any objections or concerns, or ways in which this policy proposal can be improved. Send your comments to me at:

You have my deep respect and appreciation for all your efforts on behalf of our students.


Hal Plotkin
Member, Foothill-De Anza Governing Board of Trustees.

Frequently Asked Questions Public Domain Opportunities for the Foothill- De Anza Community College District

Draft Foothill-De Anza Policy on Public Domain Learning Materials for Discussion Purposes

The Foothill-De Anza Community College District encourages the creation, use, and ongoing maintenance of public domain-based learning materials in accordance with established curriculum standards for educational purposes of the district.

The goals of this policy are to provide students with high quality learning materials that reside in the public domain to augment and/or replace costly textbooks, to create sustainable academic resources for students, faculty and staff, and to provide opportunities for professional growth of district employees involved in these activities.

The Chancellor will provide periodic reports, not less than annually, to the Board that detail the progress made toward accomplishing the goals delineated by this policy.

About the Author /

My published work since 1985 has focused mostly on public policy, technology, science, education and business. I’ve written more than 600 articles for a variety of magazines, journals and newspapers on these often interrelated subjects. The topics I have covered include analysis of progressive approaches to higher education, entrepreneurial trends, e-learning strategies, business management, open source software, alternative energy research and development, voting technologies, streaming media platforms, online electioneering, biotech research, patent and tax law reform, federal nanotechnology policies and tech stocks.

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