Academic Freedom in a Digital Age


The Fall 1998 Plenary Session featured a breakout session to collect feedback in preparation for an Educational Policies Committee position paper on academic freedom, intellectual property rights and fair use in a digital age. Janis Perry, Ian Walton, Hoke Simpson and Elton Hall initiated the discussion.

Ian placed the discussion in the general context of academic freedom with a background provided by the Academic Senate's position paper on academic freedom from Spring 1998, and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) report on academic freedom and electronic communications.

A particularly relevant quotation from the AAUP report is:

"One overriding principle should govern such inquiry: Freedom of expression and academic freedom should be limited to no greater degree in electronic format than in printed or oral communication, unless and to the degree that unique conditions of the new media warrant different treatment."

For discussion purposes, Ian shared three quotations from the electronic use policies at different California educational institutions, and then asked the audience to identify the institutions and compare the language to any at their own college:

1) "_____ recognizes that principles of academic freedom and shared governance, freedom of speech, and privacy of information hold important implications for electronic mail and electronic mail services. ______ affords electronic mail privacy protections comparable to that which it traditionally affords paper mail and telephone communications. This policy reflects these firmly-held principles within the context of legal and other obligations.

"Where the inspection, monitoring, or disclosure of email held by faculty is involved, the advice of the campus academic senate shall be sought in writing in advance."

2) "The systems have the ability to read your mail: your own account, and the system administrator account. While reasonable attempts have been made to ensure the privacy of your accounts and your electronic mail, this is no guarantee that your accounts or your electronic mail is private. The systems are not secure, nor are they connected to a secure network."

3) "________ personnel are prohibited from utilizing ____information resources for any unlawful, unethical, or unprofessional purpose or activity. Examples of prohibited uses include but are not limited to: intentional access or dissemination of materials which can be considered pornographic."

Breakout participants agreed that it is important to ensure that local use policies do not impose new restrictions on academic freedom. The position paper should include material on three related areas identified by the AAUP report: freedom of research and publication, including access to information and the ability to post controversial material, freedom of teaching, and access to electronic systems that is comparable to access to library material.

Other parts of the breakout discussed the two related issues of user considerations in copyright, fair use and downloaded material, and author considerations of property rights, compensation and distance education use.