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Grad student who showed class gender-neutral debate beats another charge: copyright infringement

‘Small kerfuffle’ that says a lot about the faculty

When Lindsay Shepherd publicized her university’s investigation of her classroom curriculum, some supporters predicted the school would punish the graduate student on a technicality, rather than directly challenge her academic freedom.

After two months of Shepherd’s tweets regularly criticizing Wilfrid Laurier University – including faculty – that technicality briefly raised its head.

A professor allegedly accused her of violating the university’s “non-academic code of conduct” by copying and pasting a portion of the professor’s syllabus in a critical tweet.

The morning after Shepherd’s tweet about the alleged copyright infringement, she said the administration told her she did not violate any school policy. The administration separately confirmed to The College Fix that Shepherd was in the clear.

“Although this was just a small kerfuffle, it shows that Communication Studies faculty are still misinterpreting and misapplying policy in order to push their agenda,” Shepherd told The Fix in an email Wednesday.

MORE: WLU admits violating rules to investigate Shepherd

‘Flash mobbing’ professor threatened to put ‘a note of breach on my file’

Shepherd has often used her two-month-old Twitter account to tangle with critics of her decision to show a TVOne debate on gender-neutral pronouns during a Communication Studies class she was teaching.

She occasionally tweets about being treated differently by faculty and students because she secretly recorded a meeting where faculty grilled her about showing students the debate.

On Christmas Eve, Shepherd tweeted a cropped image of the “land acknowledgment” in the syllabus for Canadian Communication in Context, which is part of her department.

The class is taught by Prof. Judith Nicholson, whose areas of expertise include “mobilities and race,” “critical gun studies” and “flash mobbing.”

“I wonder how indigenous people feel about the holier-than-thou ‘SJWs’ [social justice warriors] who use land acknowledgments to virtue signal,” Shepherd tweeted, claiming that land acknowledgments were also in campus email signatures.

MOREShepherd could lose her job under parameters of investigation

She cited the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group, which defines land acknowledgments as formal statements that acknowledge “the unique and enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories.”

They are meant express “gratitude and appreciation” for the “long standing history that has brought you to reside on the land,” and they exist in the context of colonialism, “a current ongoing process.”

On Tuesday night, Shepherd tweeted that she had been “told that this tweet breaches WLU non-academic code of conduct.”

“I took a cut-out of a course syllabus, which apparently constitutes intellectual property,” and was allegedly warned she “will get a note of breach on my file & Dean will be notified” if she didn’t delete the tweet.

MORE: Sharing your professor’s syllabus may get you in legal trouble

Shepherd confirmed to The Fix that the intellectual-property claim and demand for removal came from Nicholson, her “supervising professor.”

The professor made the demand at a “meeting with my fellow six” teaching assistants, in which Nicholson told Shepherd “something along the lines of: ‘Lindsay, I don’t do the whole social media thing, but I heard you posted my syllabus on your Twitter.’”

When Nicholson claimed she violated her copyright and the campus code and ordered her to delete the tweet, “I, politely, objected to this suggestion.”

That’s when Nicholson threatened to “get a note of breach of non-academic code of conduct on my file and the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies would be notified,” Shepherd told The Fix.

She believes she was targeted for publicly mocking Nicholson’s choice of language in her syllabus.

“If I were praising the land acknowledgments, they likely wouldn’t care … however, because I critiqued them, the faculty wants the tweet gone, citing ‘code of conduct,’” she told The Fix.

Nicholson did not respond to inquiries from The Fix regarding Shepherd’s allegations and her interpretation of the non-academic student code of conduct, which was last reviewed in 2015.

MOREProfessor bans laptops to prevent Shepherd from recording her

Yet another meeting about Shepherd?

Shepherd also mused whether the administration would use her alleged infringement “as grounds for expulsion,” even though the land acknowledgment on the syllabus is from the LSPIRG website, not Nicholson’s “original” creation.

The next morning, Shepherd tweeted that her dean, Richard Nemesvari, emailed to say the cropped image from the syllabus is “NOT the intellectual property of the instructor, and there is NO breach in copyright or non-academic code of conduct.”

“Communication Studies faculty keeps making up their own rules! Hilarious!” she continued.

MORE: Missouri court lets professors hide ridiculous syllabi from public

Specifically, Nemesvari told her it was “incorrect” that the land-acknowledgment statement “for the CS101 syllabus is the intellectual property of the faculty,” Shepherd told The Fix.

According to the class syllabus, which Shepherd showed The Fix, Nicholson’s intellectual property includes “lecture notes and slides, handout materials, examinations and assignments.” It says “posting or providing unauthorized audio, video, or textual material of lecture content to third-party websites violates an instructor’s intellectual property rights.”

Kevin Crowley, university director of communications and public affairs, confirmed to The Fix in an email that the “Dean of the Arts reached out to Lindsay to assure her that she has not breached copyright.”

While she escaped punishment this time, Shepherd’s relief may be short-lived.

She told The Fix she’d just been informed of Nemesvari calling a meeting for “Communication Studies and Cultural Analysis & Social Theory Faculty (the two faculties I am associated with).” She didn’t say whether the purpose of the meeting had been given.

MOREWLU faculty afraid for ‘physical safety’ but won’t detail threats

IMAGE: NeoUnrealist/YouTube

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Grace Curtis is a rising senior at Converse College and studies English literature and writing. In addition to The Fix, Grace writes for her college newspaper, The Conversationalist, and contributes to The Odyssey.

Add to the Discussion

  • Thomas Zak

    Lindsay needs to keep up her publicity efforts because it may lead to a job as a pundit/or minor youtube celebrity (which apparently is profitable these days).

    If she succeeds, then she may be the only member of her “Communication Studies and Cultural Analysis & Social Theory” classes to have a well-paying job outside of academia.

  • A minor quibble: The interview Lindsay Shepherd used in her class was taken from a current-affairs program on TVO–an educational channel owned by the government of Ontario–and not TVOne.

    Kudos to Ms. Shepherd for her continued perseverance. Please wake me when one of these accusations made against her actually has merit.

  • Mack

    I teach Byron, Shelley, Keats, and “the other guys in the band” (Inspector Lewis), but then, hey, I’m just a part-time faculty adjunct in a community college.

  • Ed Cutting, Ed. D.

    Something tells me that Ms. Shepherd has some “real-word”/”real-life” experience that the adult-sized children around her lack. I think they are picking on the wrong nt woman, I suspect they will soon learn that.

    And the IP charge was truly asinine — any charge would require a concurrent charge against the professor herself, as she also lifted it from somewhere.

    • Ed Cutting, Ed. D.

      And the more I hear about Canada, the more glad I am that there is a First Amendment to the US Constitution.

  • UnsinkingTheTitanic

    They will keep monitoring Ms Shepherd and fabricating ways to oust her. To her credit she’s not cowed. If they keep doing so she’ll build evidence of a sustained campaign of harassment. It is my hope this doesn’t happen, but if it does I hope she sues the individual professors. Yes, they have less money than the uni, but it’s easier to ruin them financially.

  • Man with Axe

    In my experience few faculty outside of the law schools have a clue about copyright. I had a colleague who claimed that even the ideas on his syllabus could not be used by anyone else on the faculty. He also believed that he could hand out copies of the syllabus and then control what happened to those copies after he had given them out, i.e., he could forbid his students from showing the syllabus to other faculty.

    All of this is moronic, but not all that uncommon.