Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I've been spanked (and not in a good way)

A few weeks ago I came up with an idea for a fundraiser to help students in some of our field courses. Students in these courses typically spend more than $400 of their own money to travel to our field site, and our campus doesn't cover any of the cost.

The fundraiser involves selling a product (manufactured and sold by an independent company) that uses material copyrighted by me and another faculty member. We used no campus financial resources in the production of the product, and even though we advertised the product to the campus via a flier, funds to copy the flier were donated by our college foundation. In other words, this is functionally our own product, and the only tie to campus is that we are donating all proceeds from the sale of said product to our campus's foundation for our program's use (and that we're advertising it on campus).

In attempting to do this as ethically as possible, I even publicly documented all the expenses involved in the creation of the product, and plan to publicly document the use of all funds obtained through the sale. Neither I nor my faculty peer are making a cent off the sales, and in fact I've spent a decent sum (by ordering sample products) that I won't be recouping.

I talked with some mid-level administrators before finalizing the fundraiser, and got nothing but "Hey, that's a great idea." So, last week a number of faculty volunteers and I distributed more than a thousand fliers into mailboxes on campus.

A few hours after distributing the fliers, I got a phone call, followed by a terse e-mail, from two high-level administrators saying that my fundraiser was a "potential landmine" and that I needed to talk about this with them on Monday.

I met with one of the administrators this morning, and was told that I had "violated [our district's] board policy." I was accused of both taking money personally and of using campus websites for advertising, neither of which I had done (the independent company is handling all financial transactions, and all web links to date have occurred on websites I own). Even when I corrected those misunderstandings, I was still told that I had violated board policy and done something wrong, even though it was never made clear exactly what it was that I had done wrong (other than not asking permission from the right people), nor was it made clear how I was supposed to have known that I needed to ask for board approval in the first place.

I can understand this administrator's point to some extent - the administration wants to make sure I'm not bilking students or using campus resources inappropriately. However, considering that I wouldn't have gotten into any hot water if I'd just been selling this for personal profit, it is frustrating to be chastised solely because I'm trying to help my students.

This is not a huge deal (the sales will go on, and I know what I need to do next year), but it was not a fun way to start the day.

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