Textbook Example: Conflict of Interest in Integrative Arts

We have uncovered a situation within the Integrative Arts program that we think the University should thoroughly investigate. We were assured by a university representative that someone would be “looking into it”, but someone has been “looking into it” for almost a month. Here’s what we know…

Jeffrey Van Fossan is a faculty member in the Integrative Arts program here at University Park. The Integrative Arts program in Arts & Architecture is basically an interdisciplinary approach to art. He is identified more specifically on the program page as being an instructional designer.

In an email to PHOTO 100 students this fall, Van Fossan identified himself as the “Photo 100 Course Designer” and directed them to an online store called Pop Art University to purchase their $113.99 digital textbooks. Van Fossan himself is not an instructor in the course (there are four sections split between Tara Tallman and Alice Teeple).

The book is called The Culture of Photography and it is published by Kendall/Hunt. The publishing company has it listed on its page as having been written by Keith Shapiro. Kendal/Hunt also has its retail price listed as $113.99. Keith Shapiro is an “Assistant Professor of Integrative Arts & Art” according to his faculty profile. Oddly we have only been able to find a handful of references to the book online.

The link that Van Fossan sent his students was to a page on which they could pay to have access to http://popartuniversity.com/courses/photo100 for the duration of the course. That site has many courseware elements on it instead of on ANGEL.

The Pop Art University homepage is barren of any information about the company.

The Pop Art University mainpage has simply no contact information on it.
The Pop Art University home page has simply no contact information on it.

Sketchy, but not incriminating in itself. However, our tipster smartly searched for the WHOIS information of the site and came up with this registrant:

Extra Credit Enterprises Inc

5199 W Buffalo Run Road
Port Matilda, PA 16870
United States

and this administrative and technical contact:

Tremblay, Jason [email protected]
Extra Credit Enterprises Inc
5199 W Buffalo Run Road
Port Matilda, PA 16870
United States

Jason_TremblayThe website http://www.extracreditinc.com/ says simply ‘hello world’. Jason Tremblay is a former Penn State employee. He still has an entry on psu.edu/ph as well.

Since this information was first accessed, the WHOIS information was obscured through a proxy service. However, the address listed on the original WHOIS information is not, in fact, Jason Tremblay’s. A simple reverse address tool suggests that the 5199 W. Buffalo Run Road address is actually that of Jeffrey Van Fossan.

We then were able to look up information about Extra Credit Enterprises Inc through the Pennsylvania Department of State.

The registered office address is:

5199 West Buffalo Run Road
Port Matilda, PA 16870

And the only officer listed is:

Jason Temblay [sic]
1016 North Orkney Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123

We spoke to a source who says that the University “did not know about the setup between Inart and the book publisher. In short, I was told that this was a deal done totally outside of Penn State.”

If that is the case, then it seems Van Fossan has some explaining to do. He’s not the only one though. It seems that a number of courses are run through Pop Art University:

INART 115 (Author William J Kelly)
IN ART 116 (Author William J Kelly)
PHOTO 100 (Author Keith Shapiro)
INART 297b (Authors Jeff Van Fossan & Olivia Mancini)
INART 200 (Author William J Kelly)

William J. Kelly is the Department Head of Integrative Arts (directory link). Olivia Mancini is also an instructor in the Integrative Arts.

After reviewing University literature, we think that this situation might violate two University policies:

Policy HR91 Conflict of Interest
Its declared purpose is to prevent misunderstandings in transactions and relationships connected to the employee’s work with the University.

[Employees] shall be held to a strict rule of honest and fair dealings between themselves and the University. They shall not use their positions, or knowledge gained therefrom, in such a way that a conflict of interest might arise between the interest of the University and that of the individual. Faculty and staff members shall disclose to the administrative head of the college or other unit in which they are employed, or other appropriate administrative officer, any potential conflict of interest of which they are aware before a contract or transaction is consummated.

University tangible assets, equipment, supplies and services may not be used by employees for personal gain, or for purposes outside the scope of their employment.

Policy AD17 Royalty Payments for Course Materials
This policy’s purpose is to allow for royalty payments to employees on academic materials used in Penn State courses and create oversight for those payments.

This policy covers original instructional materials developed by faculty as intellectual products and printed and sold by Document Services, as well as by other publishing companies and copying services, and regardless of the tangible medium of expression on which they are fixed, printed, posted, displayed or distributed.

Faculty members may receive reasonable royalty payments on certain kinds of original instructional materials used in Penn State courses including, but not limited to, noncommissioned courseware modules. Faculty members seeking royalty payments on materials sold to Penn State students must obtain written approval prior to receiving payment of such royalties in order to ensure that the payment of royalties is reasonable and justified in accordance with the guidelines set forth below, and that students are not financially exploited.

We contacted Bill Mahon (Vice President for University Relations) and he said that they would “look into the allegations [we] presented to the university.”

Eli Glazier contributed to this post.

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