Monday, February 7, 2011

The Death Of Free Speech

Claremont McKenna College in southern California bans the use of campus e-mail to disparage someone's religious and political beliefs. What's left? Go here to complain.
Hat tip to The Daily Dish


MK said...

I have to disagree that this is "death of free speech." It may or may not be a somewhat broader interpretation in terms of IT and legal policy than at other colleges, I don't know. I suspect most employers, which the college is regarding faculty and staff, worry more about email because misuse can lead to costly lawsuits. So they may balance it against the academic freedom found in the writing of papers and in classroom discussion.

There always have been limitations on free speech (libel law affects what people can get away with saying, for example). Federal employees have Hatch Act limitations on some of what they can write and do on the job. I don't know if this college goes beyond what most others do -- there were no computer and server issues back when I was in college.

But when I read the directive, I thought to myself, well, students will be seeing similar directives once they go out into the working world. I think it mostly derives from corporate counsel seeking to limit litigation and lawsuits for harrassment, hostile workplace environments, etc. Once you're out in the working world, you get used to various limitations on use of employer provided equipment.

Note that the directive is under a section for IT. It reads to me very much like what an employer might tell employees in terms of using a *system* for electronic communication. Years ago many employers started putting out notices and directives, telling employees their computer activity was subject to being monitored, that they should limit non-work use of the system, etc.

I read the Claremont directive as applying to their dot edu email. My interpretation is that the restrictions wouldn't apply to students logging on to Gmail or Hotmail or some other web based email service not linked to the college system. (The college would back up its servers but such backup doesn't capture what people sent and received using private, dot com web email services.)

Not unlike Karl Rove using his RNC issued BlackBerry with the email rather than his dot gov White House email, LOL. The latter fell under the PRA, the former did not. And of course you've probably noticed that when I post to the Archives listerv, I always use a dot com account, as I did at TNN. I don't use my dot gov account.

Fr. John said...

Good corrective, MK; thanks. Nothing like an eye-catching headline, huh? I almost put a question mark on the end, but I decided I do that too much -- a small victory of style over substance.

I do see the Claremont McKenna policy as part of the forced constriction of acceptable discourse that colleges and universities seems prone to. It's not like the students were ever going to be using the service just for official, college-related purposes. I've been offered an e-mail account via my prep school, for instance, which I took to be a marketing tool whereby alumni get attention for the school via their use of the domain name. But as acceptable-use policies such as this proliferate, I'd never want to use an e-mail account that I didn't own (or that wasn't private, I should say) lest someone come and tell me that I've inappropriately or even illegally disparaged somebody's politics.

The irony is that we need more civility, on campus and everywhere. Tough to legislate it, though. The impulse to be gracious comes from elsewhere.

Thanks again.

MK said...

I totally concur in what you say in your concluding paragraph in response to my comment! It can't be legislated and has to come from elsewhere. I think I'm just so used to a life of rules and regulations, I tend to think, OK, what were Legal and IT thinking?