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Who Owns Knowledge? Examining Open Access Policies

In January of this year, activist and world-renowned computer genius Aaron Swartz took his own life. At the time of his death, Swartz, an instrumental figure in the invention of the RSS feed and the online community Reddit, was facing 35 years in prison and exorbitant fines for downloading millions of articles from MIT’s academic databases.

Swartz was a proponent of the free flow of information through the Internet, and his tragic passing garnered national attention for the issue of open access, which enables academics to publish their work for anyone to use without a paywall or password.

These kinds of policies have been growing throughout many communities, and are of the utmost importance to the world of academia. An increasing number of educational institutions are adopting an open access policy, presenting a challenge to the current system of publication.

Few college students realize that after they graduate, they lose access to the multitude of journals they utilize throughout their college career. Even fewer realize how much this access costs their universities, and that there are so many in the world to whom this information is not available at all.

While universities are considering these policies and adapting them to the ways that are best suited to each individual institution, these new concepts bring to light important questions. How would the free exchange of information shift society’s views and treatment of higher education? How can this type of infrastructure be implemented, both practically from an economic standpoint, as well as philosophically, without diminishing the validity and caliber of academic work? Should intellectual property be a public commodity? Ultimately, who owns knowledge?

These questions have the ability to fundamentally and radically shift the way we educate ourselves as a community. Now is the time to examine how we teach and learn in some of our most formative educational arenas. What are the benefits and drawbacks to open access—can we all profit when discovery is shared, or does open access too drastically alter the educational landscape? And perhaps most important to our campus—what would open access look like at DePauw?

On Monday, April 29th, at 4 PM in the Peeler Auditorium, the Prindle Institute and Roy O. West Library will be hosting a panel to discuss these questions and more. Join Alan Boyd, director of libraries at Oberlin College, Ada Emmett, visiting professor of library sciences at Purdue University and DePauw Professor Kelsey Kauffman, to learn more about the ways in which we create and share knowledge.


6th Annual Undergraduate Ethics Symposium

It’s not every weekend that undergraduate students from across the nation gather at the Janet Prindle Institute of Ethics to inquire on a wide range of pertinent ethics issues about climate change. The 6th Annual Undergraduate Ethics Symposium (UES), which just concluded, brought together thirty students from across the nation to engage with a diverse set of ethics-related issues ranging from environmental ethics in “Nishida Kitaro’s Zen no Kenkyu” to creative fiction and non-fiction works. These students were carefully selected from a highly competitive pool of over ninety applicants by a committee consisting of DePauw University faculty members. The students came from various academic backgrounds and from several colleges including Harvard, Hope, U of Kentucky, Duke, U of Washington, Colby, Princeton, U of New Mexico, and many others. Each year’s symposium is built around a specific theme an this year’s theme was focused on Environmental Ethics. The symposium was an outstanding opportunity for student scholars, creative writers, filmmakers and photographers to discuss their ethics-related work with their peers, and with leading scholars and professionals in their fields. 

Chris Cuomo, Professor of Philosophy & Women’s Studies at the University of Georgia delivered the keynote address, “Consciousness and Moral Action: Considering Climate Change”. Her address served as a friendly reminder that responsibility and culpability are not equivalent: while everyone has an individual obligation to preventing climate change, not everyone is taking responsibility.

Chris Cuomo, University of Georgia

In recognizing both our individual and collective responsibility, we must not only focus on how we are affected by climate change, but also on how non-human life is affected. This entails cultivating a culture of ‘active caring’ for the environment amidst adversity. Active caring is more than just changing our light-bulbs or going to the grocery store to buy organic food in our SUVs. It’s more than simply making trade-offs because of what we care about and when it’s convenient, but it’s about making sacrifices even when it’s inconvenient.

The Annual Undergraduate Ethics Symposium is part of the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics’ mission to promote critical reflection and constructive debate on the most important ethical questions and moral challenges of our time. 
Symposium Participants at the Bartlett Reflection Center
This year’s undergraduate ethics symposium was also a great opportunity for participants to network, interact, and exchange ideas. The three-day symposium also included time to relax and participate in and yoga and meditation at the Bartlett Reflection Center. The conversations did not end inside the stone walls of the Prindle Institute for Ethics. They continued at Jazz at the Duck, on the bus ride back to the airport, and are still lingering on popular social media networks and in newly found friendships. As we ponder the meaning of it all, in 30-word poems and in words left unspoken, we may never find all the answers, but inquire we shall.


Fossil Fuel Divestment is a Moral Issue

Over the last year or so, the word divestment has taken on new meaning. Until recently, this term popularly referred to the movement in the 1970s and 80s to remove all investments from South Africa. The goal was to retract financial support for companies participating in Apartheid. Divestment now refers primarily to fossil fuel divestment: freezing and removing all investments in fossil fuel companies.

Why would the DePauw Community ask our Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuels, and how is this issue related to ethics? In my eyes, the number one reason for divestment is to align the values and actions of an institution that I financially support (DePauw) with my own. Since the burning of fossil fuels is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel companies are culpable of driving the increased concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere, and thus, climate change. Their crimes against the climate are becoming even more atrocious as they continue to drill for oil in remote and fragile places and as they resort to unconventional sources such as tar sands. While I fully understand that it is our demand for fossil fuels that is driving these actions, I think that we must look for ways to remove our support from this industry. This is only the first of many steps in the journey to move away from our carbon-central society and economy.

Some may argue against divestment saying that it will have no impact on fossil fuel companies. They argue that other people will buy up the stocks that DePauw sells. I agree that this is the case, but I don’t think that it is an argument against divesting. Divestment is a moral issue. It’s about acting in a way that is consistent with our values. In addition, through the process of divestment, we can educate the community about climate change and engage in open discourse about the issue. This is perhaps the most valuable part of the divestment movement.

We have made great headway on our divestment campaign at DePauw in the last month. We wrote President Casey a letter requesting divestment, which he promptly shared with the entire faculty. He even mentioned his intention to share it with the Board of Trustees. Additionally, we have two events in the next week. The first is a Divestment Rally in MeHarry Hall at 3pm on April 13th. Tricia Shapiro, author of “Mountain Justice”, will be joining us to talk about the coal industry’s impacts in Appalachia. Bill McKibben will also be skyping in to talk about his work with 350.org. The second event is a forum on Monday, April 15th in the Watson Forum. Joining us for a panel discussion will be Michelle Villinski from the Economics Department, Jen Everett from the Philosophy Department, and Jim Mills from the Geology Department. Divest DePauw, the group of students involved in this campaign, is immensely excited to engage in discourse with faculty and students on this topic.


Cool Talk About a Hot Topic: A Preview of This Week’s Events on the Ethics of Communicating about Climate Change

The Prindle Institute for Ethics is a proud and excited host of “Cool Talk about a Hot Topic:
The Ethics of Communicating about Climate Change,” a three-day symposium from Tuesday
to Thursday of this week that will “explore how scientific climate change findings are reaching
the public, how policy uncertainties are driven by the changes in mass and elite perceptions
of climate problems, and most of all, the ethical question of how we should try to talk to one
another about this urgent, but arguably overlooked and misunderstood, issue for our time.”

Kicking off the symposium this afternoon, Anthony Leiserowitz will present his opening
keynote, “Climate Change in the American Mind,” at 4:15 PM in Watson Forum. “Cool
Talk about a Hot Topic” brings together notable research scientists, lecturers, philosophers,
sociologists, geoscientists, political scientists, and feminist philosophers to address pressing
social, political, cultural, psychological, and economic issues embedded in the current
global climate crisis – along with key questions of governance, power, authority, and moral
responsibility – which, as our honored guests all concur in their research, is not only indisputably
real and anthropogenic in nature, but perhaps the most urgent and telling challenge of our time.

As Stephen Gardiner, philosopher and Wednesday’s afternoon speaker (with his talk, “Jane
Austen vs. Climate Economics,” at 4:15 PM in Watson Forum), argues in his 2012 article, “Are
We the Scum of the Earth? Climate Change, Geoengineering, and Humanity’s Challenge,” the
question of “who are we?” is central to this longitudinal and multidimensional problem. He

“If we ask what kind of person (or community, nation, or
generation) would impose risks of severe climate harms on others
under our current epistemic circumstances, we cast the issue in
a new, and starkly unflattering, light” (245).

Climate change is thus a critical ethical dilemma as much as it as a real harbinger and source of
negative physical consequences.

If ethics be the study of moral principles and the various degrees of agency of individuals and/
or groups that require or excuse the enactment of said principles in their daily lives, where
do we begin when it comes to communicating about climate change? In her 2003 article,
“Getting Closer: On the Ethics of Knowledge Production,” Chris Cuomo, feminist philosopher
and Thursday’s closing keynote speaker (with her talk, “Consciousness and Moral Action:
Considering Climate Change,” at 7:30 PM in the Prindle Auditorium), stresses the importance of
interdisciplinary research that can provide a more holistic frame for peeling back the many layers
of the massive, complex problem. She asserts:

“The project of getting closer involves attempts to bridge
knowledge and action by bringing thinkers, knowers, and actors
closer to the worlds affected by our actions and inaction”

In a sense, then, we aren’t planning for the future as much as we are planning for now, as the
current world we live in becomes further transmuted by rising global average temperatures and
carbon emissions. The answers won’t simply fall in our laps, so join the conversation this week
as we explore these and other questions, as well as possible solutions and alternative actions!


Social Media, Social Change

When a bandwagon social media trend arises, the critics are certain to follow. Last week, while the Supreme Court heard two cases on gay marriage, a separate discussion was taking place on the Internet. An estimated 2.7 million users changed their Facebook profile picture to the Human Rights Campaign’s symbol for marriage equality. Chances are you’ve seen this image or some clever variation of it—maybe you displayed the image as your profile picture too. Using this image was an act of support for the LGBT community, a perfectly harmless statement advocating for their right to marriage equality—or so many people thought. As this trend quickly took over the sphere of social media, it was the subject of both praise and controversy.

Many people were displeased that the HRC promoted this image when they have come under fire for injustices related to the LGBT community. In 2007, they excluded transgendered people when backing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. In recent years, the HRC has also been involved in supporting major corporations, which seems rather contrary to their goals as an organization striving for equality. Derrick Clifton’s article for the Huffington Post goes into greater detail about the criticism surrounding the HRC and its involvement with the marriage equality debate. It’s my guess that most people who shared the image had no idea of the controversies surrounding the HRC. I know I wasn’t familiar with them. How does this affect the act of posting their image on Facebook and other social media outlets?

Though I didn’t change my own profile picture, I saw dozens of my friends change theirs, and I generally saw it as a good act. The intention behind it was in support and solidarity of an important cause. Changing your profile picture not only implies this support, but also that you want other people to know what side you’re on. And it’s a great way to discover just how much people care about this issue—with all the buzz about this little red and white equal sign, clearly it’s a matter of great significance among the population. With benevolent intention backing this mass trend, I don’t think the HRC’s mistakes, though disappointing, detract from the message inherent in spreading this image. The image itself is secondary to the belief that all couples have the right to get married, and it is that belief that is really at the root of posting the photo.

Still, there are a couple of things to consider when you observe or partake in any given trend like this. One, be as informed as you can be. Know what it is you’re standing for, do your own research, and reflect on your own beliefs about the issue at hand (i.e. don’t just conform to the fad because you want some Facebook “likes”). Two, don’t let your action stop there. In all honesty, the Supreme Court doesn’t care so much about your new profile picture. Sure, it’s a nice statement and collectively shows that millions of people care, but make sure you’re living out your beliefs aside from the realm of social media. Don’t let it become irrelevant once it’s no longer trendy and the image disappears from your news feed, keep the momentum going. Seek out ways to get involved on campus. For example, the student-run organization United DePauw is dedicated to promoting awareness of LGBT issues, and it’s open to all students regardless of sexuality. Attending some of their meetings and events would be a great way to further the conversation beyond your computer screen.

In regards to gay marriage, one of the most fervent debates of modern times, I think advocacy for the issue will continue to grow stronger. As it does, keep yourself up to date on the ongoing discussion. If you change your profile picture, do so thoughtfully and purposefully because it represents what you believe in—in doing this, it shouldn’t matter what the critics think.