[psu.general] Computers and Academic Freedom - a new mailing list

kadie@eff.org (Carl Kadie) (04/10/91)

Announcing a new mailing list: comp-academic-freedom-talk.

Purpose: To discuss questions such as: How should general principles
of academic freedom (such as freedom of expression, freedom to read,
due process, and privacy) be applied to university computers and
networks? How are these principles actually being applied? How can the
principles of academic freedom as applied to computers and networks be

To join: send email to listserv@eff.org. The body of the note should
contain the line
  add comp-academic-freedom-talk
To leave the list, send email with the line
  delete comp-academic-freedom-talk
For more information about listserv, sent email with the line

After you join the list, to send a note to everyone on the
list, send email to comp-academic-freedom-talk@eff.org (or caf-talk@org).

The long version:
When my grandmother attended the University of Illinois fifty-five
years ago, academic freedom meant the right to speak up in class, to
created student organizations, to listen to controversial speakers, to
read "dangerous" books in the library, and to be protected from random
searches of your dorm room.

Today these rights are guaranteed by most universities. These days,
however, my academic life very different from my grandmother's. Her
academic life was centered on the classroom and the student union.
Mine centers on the computer and the computer network. In the new
academia, my academic freedom is much less secure.

It is time for a discussion of computers and academic freedom.

I've been in contact with Mitch Kapor. He has given the discussion a
home on the eff.org machine.

The suppression of academic freedom on computers is common. At least
once a month, someone posts on plea on Usenet for help. The most
common complaint is that a newsgroup has been banned because of its
content (usually alt.sex). In January, a sysadmin at the University of
Wisconsin didn't ban any newsgroups directly. Instead, he reduced the
newsgroup expiration time so that reading groups such as alt.sex is
almost impossible. Last month, a sysadmin at Case Western killed
a note that a student had posted to a local newsgroup.  The sysadmin
said the information in the note could be misused. In other cases,
university employees may be reading e-mail or looking through user
files. This may happen with or without some prior notice that e-mail
and files are fair game.

In many of these cases the legality of the suppression is unclear. It
may depend on user expectation, prior announcements, and whether the
university is public or private.

The legality is, however, irrelevant. The duty of the University is
not to suppress everything it legally can; rather it is to support the
free and open investigation and expression of ideas. This is the ideal
of academic freedom. In this role, the University acts a model of how
the wider world should be. (In the world of computers, universities are
perhaps the most important model of how things should be).

If you are interested in discussing this issues, or if you have
first-hand experience with academic surpression on computers or
networks, please join the mailing list.

Carl Kadie -- kadie@eff.org or kadie@cs.uiuc.edu