Is it ethical for students to be required to consent to their final course projects being publicly shared?

The red flag here is that the instructor is requiring students to sign away a legal right they have. What gives them the right? A university may reasonably make such a requirement as a matter of university policy in a few situations where that makes sense (e.g., as someone mentioned, it is standard that PhD theses are made public). But the instructor’s mistake and clear point where they are overstepping their authority here is their assumption that they can set arbitrary rules that have nothing to do with the educational goals of the course, and that students must follow as a condition of getting their grade. We have seen this before unfortunately.

US universities simply don’t endow their instructors with such absolute-ruler powers. In fact, as someone who was a department chair and experienced the administrative side of running a university, I can confidently say it would be very undesirable from the university’s point of view to give individual instructors the authority to make students sign legal statements whenever the instructor thought it was a good idea. To put it mildly, some instructors are less sensible than others and probably should not be trusted with these sorts of powers. Nor is this a recipe for consistent policy-making.

To be clear, an instructor can set rules on where a student sits during an exam, or impose deadlines for homework submission etc, since such rules are necessary to accomplish the goal of teaching and testing the students. But at the end of the day the instructor is required by the university to assess the students’ performance and assign grades, and may not hold the students’ grades hostage to arbitrary conditions that make the instructor’s life easier or help them teach future classes, showcase their teaching achievements, or otherwise achieve other goals tied to the instructor’s self-interest.

To summarize: yes it’s unethical, and violates the “don’t be a jerk” policy, and probably other ones.

Edit: I was asked to spell out the specific ways in which the instructor’s behavior is unethical. They are:

  1. Coercion: the instructor is coercing students to agree to give up their legal and moral rights to control what happens to their project work, where this does not provide them any legitimate educational benefit tied to the course.

  2. Abuse of power: the instructor is using their power over grades, a technical power they are given by the university but that’s supposed to be used only for the specific purpose or assessing the students’ work, to coerce them to behave in such a way. This seems pretty clearly done for the instructor’s personal benefit.

  3. Violation of employer’s trust: the instructor is violating the trust their university puts in them to use the authority the institution is giving them only for specific purposes and in specific ways.

Note that versions of these sorts of behaviors are illegal in many countries. For example using the power of your office to benefit yourself has been the reason for many holders of political office to be sent to prison in the US, and for a president to be impeached. In this particular case the behavior is probably not serious enough for these laws to apply, but the principle is the same.

I don't know what my university's policy is (if any), but it seems clear to me that students should never be coerced (subtly or otherwise) into giving permission for their work to be shared. My students do some spectacular work, and I request their explicit permission to archive and share it - but I set it up so that they are free to decline, and so that I do not know who has given or declined permission until after I have submitted their final grades.

I can imagine a reasonable exception if the work/project were explicitly performed as a service to, or collaboration with, some outside organization that needed ongoing access to the work, but in that case the conditions should be explicit at the outset.

This document likely only affirms what is already the rule (which you probably already signed when you enrolled). It serves more to make you aware that you are expected to share your work, than to actually establish a new legal obligation.

And in any case, work that you perform at the university, using the professor's time, university lab space, and university resources, very likely legally belongs to the university rather than to you personally.

Although there are exception (classified research projects, for instance), generally the whole point of doing work at a university is to share it publicly.

For classroom work, that's likely not all that big a deal (nobody would be too interest in your calculus test that is essentially indistinguishable from the work of hundreds of other students).

But when you are creating something unique, such as a capstone project, that may well contribute to the overall body of knowledge that universities create.

So, don't be offended that somebody wants to take what you perceive as yours. Take pride that somebody may consider your work worth sharing the same way established scientists share.

Update: The original poster mentioned that the document in question actually asked for release from FERPA provisions (for non-US readers, FERPA is a US privacy law that prevents publishing of certain student information), rather than a general publishing release. That changes the context substantially.

Let's say that a student participates in some research projects (which is common in research universities). FERPA may prevent publishing anything the student contributed, or at least it could be interpreted that way.

It appears that the purpose of the document isn't to allow publishing of the student's work (that's already covered by the student enrolling in such a class), but rather to resolve exactly this conflict.