Notes from the Editor's Desk

Richard Walton

Shade of Christmas Past

Editorial preparation of this issue of The Montana Professor began in the week between Christmas and New Year. It was postponed slightly by the editor's unconquerable desire to finish a book begun on Christmas day. Books have always been a standard present for me; in the last thirty or so years they have sometimes been chosen on the basis of the donor's conception of my professional interests, often with rather amusing results. The book in question was not one of those, but it did not look very promising, either. I set it aside to have a closer look later. When I picked it up again that evening I was soon entirely captivated, reading into the night to the point where I could no longer keep my eyes open. From Paul Monaco's review in this issue I learned that I was apparently experiencing "flow."

Whatever this rapturous condition may be called, it reminded me of Christmases of my boyhood long ago, when Santa Claus would leave a stack of used books for me under the family tree. I would examine each one with delight, arranging them in the order in which I wanted to read them. Often I would become so engrossed in one of them that the announcement of bedtime seemed like punishment. Special measures were then necessary to permit my reading to the point of exhaustion as I did a few weeks ago. I would purloin the family flashlight, and when my parents closed the bedroom door for the night I would turn upside down in the bed, burrowing beneath the covers with book and torch. Booth Tarkington's Penrod was one book which caused me to exercise that technique; Twain's Tom Sawyer, of course, was another.

These were mostly books from a bygone era, treasures of boyhoods past: The Hero of Erie; With Washington in the West; Ned, Bob and Jerry in the Army--the army of the First World War./1/ I learned that they came from a small, charitable second-hand store called "The Crippled Children's Bazaar" which occupied an aged former residence only a block off the main street in downtown Missoula. Thereafter I became a regular visitor to this marvelous emporium, augmenting my library at five and ten cents a volume. Some of these books are still to be found on my shelves.

I have occasionally wondered what influence my peculiar juvenile reading had upon me. Would my deepest views of the world be other than what they are if I had read only the books being published for children in my own day? Or if I had read little at all? Does my writing show signs of the prose style of the era just before the Great War? (Heaven forfend!) And I have often wondered even more whether any of the students I now teach have been readers as I was. The answer to that question, at least in the last ten or twenty years, has certainly been that very few were. "J'ai été nourri aux letters dès mon enfance..."/2/ wrote Rene Descartes in 1637. Descartes and I, but not any longer those to whom I attempt to teach the wonders to be found in books, I fear.

An Alarming Policy

Last fall a colleague informed me that the Regents had adopted a policy asserting a claim of ownership upon all material stored on any computer belonging to The Montana University System. I received that news with considerable alarm. The Montana Professor is prepared, for the most part, on MUS computers. Need I now expect a call from LeRoy Schramm informing me that the Regents owned the copyright for TMP's contents? I made haste to study the policy. (You can find it at

The primary language at issue reads as follows: "The MUS has the legal responsibility to ensure that the computers and networks it operates are used appropriately. The data contained on those computers and transmitted on those networks are presumed to be MUS property unless MUS's rights are otherwise limited by law, policy, or contract" (No. 1, REQUIREMENTS, paragraph 2). This claim is extended to cover copies of email messages in section No. 5-A of the policy. "Within the limits of state and federal law, any copies of messages created, sent, or received by MUS employees using MUS e-mail systems, when stored on MUS-owned equipment, are the property of the MUS." On the face of it, this is a disturbing policy.

If one reads the entire document carefully, however, taking full account of the context in which these statements appear, it becomes apparent that there is little cause for alarm. It appears that the Regents are struggling to establish a legal basis for doing what they believe must be done in order to meet their obligations as custodians of computing facilities. Thus, the policy statement attempts to distinguish copies of documents, data sets and other files from the substance of those things themselves--strenuous philosophical work--and it appears to assert ownership rights only to the copies. "Activities such as routine system backups always involve collecting and copying user-specific data and the contents of e-mail systems. In copying data for these purposes the MUS gains the right to use such copies appropriately; it does not gain intellectual property rights to the information contained in the data." LeRoy Schramm is not likely to be calling me soon (unless to complain about this piece).

A Notable Academic Responsibility Controversy

Some years ago I published an article on academic responsibility in this journal./3/ I have therefore taken particular interest in a notorious recent case, that of Michael Bellesiles, formerly of the History faculty of Emory University. Two years ago Bellesiles published Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, a book which immediately attracted a great deal of favorable notice in that it appeared to offer support for the campaign against the private ownership of firearms. Other historians soon raised questions about his data, and the controversy made its way into the national press, coverage divided along the usual political lines. Ultimately a convincing case was made--even against the political grain--that the research was irresponsibly sloppy, at best, and quite possibly at points fraudulent. Bellesiles resigned his faculty position, effective December 31, 2002, the NEH required that its name be removed from a fellowship he had been awarded, and Columbia University recently revoked the Bancroft Prize it had awarded the book. It was gratifying to see evidence that in the academic world, at least, integrity yet matters a great deal. Bellesiles' statement in his defense may be found at:

This Issue of TMP

In this issue of TMP we inaugurate two series of articles, one by holders of Regents Professorships, and the other by members of, or about, Montana's tribal communities. Gordon Brittan of MSU-Bozeman offers the first article in the first series. The second will appear in the Spring issue, authored by Albert Borgmann of UM-Missoula. It is nothing more than coincidence that both authors happen to work in the same field as your editor. Our first two articles in the tribal series come to us courtesy of the authors and the remarkable journal in which their original versions appeared. The editors of TMP appreciate these contributions from Robert P. Four Star and Bob Saindon, and regret that Nakodabi--The Assiniboine People is no longer in publication. In the near future we will be soliciting similar contributions from faculty members of Montana's tribal colleges. They now receive TMP. We would particularly like to have articles on the native response to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Finally, here and there in this issue you will find some items encountered, shall we say, in the course of our work, tidbits from the land of the lost. Contributions for this feature may be forwarded to us via email.


  1. For illustrations from this last title and artwork from the Nakodabi journal, visit this page.[Back]

  2. "From my childhood I lived in a world of books...." Discourse on the Method, Part I, trans. L.J. Lafleur.[Back]

  3. "Notes on Academic Responsibility," 8.1 (Winter 1998): 9-13; response by George Dennison, 13-15.[Back]

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