Virtually normal: Montreal student tries to contact his online prof, only to learn he's dead
MONTREAL -- Feeling a little disconnected in a world of virtual meetings, events and lectures?
No one's come face-to-face with the new reality quite the same way as Aaron Ansuini, a Montreal student who tried to contact his university lecturer this month.
Ansuini attends Concordia University and is taking a course on Canadian art history, taught, of course, by video.
But at one point he had a question, so he looked up the professor, Francois Marc Gagnon, to find his email address. Then he got a shock.
"When I was looking up his name to get his email address I pulled up his obituary," Ansuini said.
It turned out that his professor had died nearly two years earlier -- and the university had never mentioned that to the students taking his pre-recorded classes.
Gagnon was an expert in Canadian art history who had been asked by Concordia to develop an online class years ago.
After he died, the school continued to use his video lectures. But Ansuini said this was never made clear to him or other students.
"There were two professors listed, but there was no indication that one of them was not available or one of them had passed," he told CTV News. "There was really no indication whatsoever."
He posted a series of tweets about the jarring experience.
He wrote that he found it "sad" and joked about the old saying that "you can retire when you're dead" -- or not.
He also said he'd been loving the class and was upset that the students "won’t get to thank him for making all of this information so engaging and accessible."
Gagnon, he wrote, was "this sweet old French guy who’s just absolutely thrilled to talk paintings of snow and horses, and somehow he always manages to make it interesting, making you care about something you truly thought could not possibly be that interesting."
To Concordia, he asked, "Do you think students just don’t give a s*** about the people they spend months learning from?"
Under its collective agreement with the faculty association, Concordia has a 10-year licence on work.
One McGill law professor, Richard Gold, says those policies are different from university to university, but in general, the work belongs to the professor, with the universities also claiming a licence so they can use it.
"Each one of us as professors hold the copyright in whatever we produced, but to the extent that it’s useful for education.. the university gets to continue to use it for a period of time, or forever, depending on the university," Gold said.
Concordia wouldn't comment on the particular agreement for Gagnon's videos, but it said the right to use the school's online course material depends on several elements, including standalone deals it can enter with course developers.
Ansuini says this doesn't answer his bigger questions.
A warning would have been helpful, he said. After all, his assumption seems pretty reasonable, he said -- to him, at least.
"With COVID, all of [the] communication that I’m having with anyone is taking place through a screen, so it's just my knee-jerk reaction is to assume that they’re still living."
Concordia said it has updated Gagnon's biography in the course information sent to students. From now on they'll know that if they appreciate his work or have questions, they can't tell him so -- though his knowledge will continue to live on.
A previous version of the story erroneously said:
"Concordia says it's legally allowed to continue using the videos."
This has now been corrected.