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CFP'93 - Kadie

CFP'93 - The Academic Freedom Model

by Carl Kadie or
Co-editor, Computers and Academic Freedom News (CAF-News),
a computer newsletter [caf].

(Also, a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science at the University of Illinois)

I. Introduction

One night a couple of months ago, I did a computer search of a student forum at my school, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I was looking for the four-letter word referring to sexual intercourse. I found seven occurrences of the vulgarity. Then I did a computer search of archived material available over one of our networks. I found anti-Semitic material, including the complete text of the Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I found instructions on how to open locks without keys. I found pictures of nude women, the stated purpose of which was to entertain men. I found extremely violent and very sexually explicit text descriptions of homicidal rape.

What was the student forum? It was my school's main student newspaper, the Daily Illini. For although my searches were by computer, the materials I searched are all on traditional paper.

Internet Gopher Information Client v0.9
Word Search of All Issues So Far: fuck

--> 1. ..DI/1992/July/3/poop.txt : What's the Poop Diversions column, Pg.
2. ..DI/1992/July/17/musicbox.txt : Beware the tides of Gore Freedom.
3. ..DI/1992/July/24/police.txt : Man arrested after pulling a knife.
4. ..DI/1992/August/17/kevincol.txt : Wasting time the right way. Wa.
5. ..DI/1992/September/16/joshcol.txt : Don't allow chameleon candid.
6. ..DI/1992/September/30/convent2.txt : How Houston it's convention.
7. ..DI/1992/October/9/sod.txt : S.O.D Live at Budokan. Megaforce Re.

The archive I searched was the University Library and one of its interlibrary loan networks:

Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945.
Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler, translated by Ralph Manheim. Boston, Houghton Mifflin :1971: xxi, 694 p. ; 21 cm. ISBN 0395078016. 0395083621 pbk.

Protocols of the wise men of Zion.
World conquest through world government : the protocols of the learned elders of Zion / translated from the Russian of Sergyei A. Nilus by Victor E. Marsden. Devon : Britons Pub. Co., c1968. 96 p., :2: pages of plates ; 19 cm.

Magorian, James.
Training at home to be a locksmith / James Magorian. Lincoln, Neb.: Black Oak Press, c1981. 112 p. : ill. ; 22 cm. ISBN 0930674057

Playboy. v. 1- :Dec.: 1953- :Chicago, Playboy: v. ill. (part col.), ports. (part col., part fold.) 29 cm. "Entertainment for men." ISSN 0032-1478

Ellis, Bret Easton.
American psycho : a novel / by Brett Easton Ellis. 1st ed. New York: Vintage Books, c1991. 399 p. ; 20 cm. (Vintage contemporaries.) ISBN 0679735771 (pbk.)

This shows that although extreme material on campus may seem new to some of us, it is not new. It suggests that rather than creating computer policies in a vacuum, we should see what we can learn from the wisdom and experience codified in long-standing academic principles.

In this position paper, I will start with a quick look at the importance of computer content policy on campus. Next, I will review current policies and experiences and give a quick overview of academic freedom. I will then try to distinguish between two types of acceptable use policies (AUPs). Finally, I will detail how I believe the principles of academic freedom should be applied to computers.

II. Campus Computer Content Policy as Model

Computer policy on campus is of unique importance. Obviously it is important to the millions of students and other academics it directly effects. But beyond that, academia is often used as a model of how the wider world could and should be. On issues of computer censorship, I believe academia has two excellicent qualifications to be such a model. First, it has long experience with networked computing. Second, it has long experience with intellectual freedom, comparable only to that of libraries.

III. Current Policies and Experience

The experience of academia with computer material is one of both suppression and expression. One of the best known incidents of suppression occurred at Stanford University. It concerned rec.humor.funny, an on-line edited humor forum. Everyday the editor of rec.humor.funny selects and publishes two or three jokes. The editor judges the jokes on how funny he or she finds them. Most people would find some of the selected jokes racially, sexually, or religiously offensive. For example, in 1988 this joke was published:

A Jew and a Scotsman have dinner. At the end of the dinner the Scotsman is heard to say, 'I'll pay.' The newspaper headline next morning says, 'Jewish ventriloquist found dead in alley.'

In response to this joke, MIT student Jonathan Richmond challenged rec.humor.funny. His challenge led to newspaper articles in Waterloo, Ontario and a ban of rec.humor.funny at the University of Waterloo. News of the incident reached Stanford University and, about two months later, Vice-President for Information Resources, Robert Street, banned the newsgroup (with approval of President Donald Kennedy.)

In another incident, at Iowa State University on May 6, 1992, the Iowa State University Computation Center unilaterally restricted access to rec.arts.erotica, an edited on-line forum for erotic writing. In protest, student Mark Smucker reposted 8 or 9 rec.arts.erotica articles to isu.newsgroup, the open on-line forum about ISU newsgroups and policy. In response, the Computation Center summarily expelled Mr. Smucker from his student-fee-supported computer account. (By May 8th, after Network protests and an article in the campus newspaper, Mark Smucker's expulsion was ended. ISU still restricts rec.arts.erotica; it is working on a policy revision.)

Here is a list of some of the academic sites with censorship incidents or content challenges in 1992: Ball State U., Boston U. (2), Carnegie Mellon U., German universities, Iowa State U. (3), Irish universities, James Madison U., Middle East Technical U., North Dakota State U., Pennsylvania State U., Princeton, Simon Fraser U., U. of British Columbia, U. of California at Berkeley *, U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U. of Manitoba, U. of Massachusetts at Boston, U. of Nebraska at Lincoln, U. of Newcastle, U. of Ottawa, U. of Texas, U. of Toledo, U. of Toronto *, U. of Wyoming, United Kingdom Net, Virginia Public Education Network, Virginia Tech, Western Washington U. (& U. of Washington), Wilfrid Laurier U. (2), Williams College **, (* Site of an unsuccessful challenge, ** College not directly involved.) [banned.1992] Not all the academic experience is of suppression. Academia has also supported freedom of expression on computers. Stanford eventually reversed its ban in response to a report from its Academic Council Committee on Libraries [statements/stanford.statements]. Part of that report said:

The Preamble to the [Stanford] Statement on Academic Freedom (1974) states that "Expression of the widest range of viewpoints should be encouraged, free from institutional orthodoxy and from internal or external coercion."

It is the view of the Academic Council Committee on Libraries that this statement pertains to materials received on computer bulletin boards on campus. Acquisition and access to information in new forms should be subject only to financial limits and other standard criteria of collection such as the useful life of the materials, storage capacity, etc.

In addition to Stanford, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Toronto, and University of Waterloo explicitly protect freedom of expression on computers. Implicit freedom of expression is harder to measure. Last October, in an attempt to gauge it, I looked through, a free speech forum for discussion of sex and sexual issues. I listed the academic affiliations of the of authors in that forum. The number of academic institutions represented exceeded 170, suggesting that freedom of expression on computers is generally strong.

IV. Academic Freedom

So what are the principles of academic freedom that provide the context for academic computer policy? The main statement of academic freedom for students in the United States is the "Joint Statement on the Rights and Freedoms of Students" [academic/student.freedoms.aaup]. Virtually every relevant academic organization has endorsed the statement. It says in part:

  • Academic institutions exist for [...] the pursuit of truth [.] Free inquiry and free expression are indispensable[. ... S]tudents should be encouraged [...] to engage in a sustained and independent search for truth.

  • More recently the American Association of University Professors endorsed a statement "On Freedom and Expression and Campus Speech Codes" [academic/speech-codes.aaup]. It says in part:

  • Universities [...] interpret, explore, and expand that knowledge by testing the old and proposing the new[, ...] outside the classroom [...] as much as in[. ... V]iews will be expressed that may seem to many wrong, distasteful, or offensive. Such is the nature of freedom to sift and winnow ideas. On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful or disturbing that it may not be expressed. [... R]ules that ban or punish speech based upon its content cannot be justified.

V. Two Types of Acceptable Use Policies (AUP)

Computer policy is often propagated in AUPs, acceptable use policies. In this terminology, academic freedom requires that we distinguish the "Social AUP" from the "Legal AUP. Material violates the Social AUP if it is legal but you dislike it or find it offensive. You (and each community member) informally define the Social AUP. It is "enforced" not with official sanctions, but instead with informal criticism and refutations by you (or other community members). Material and behavior violates the Legal AUP if it violates the law, for example, harassment in the legal sense. The government or the institution define it with clear, formal rules created with the participation of the community. They enforce it via due process. Put another way, academic freedom requires that we distinguish between what we dislike and what we outlaw.

VI. Detailed Application of Academic Freedom to Academic Computers

Here are the main points of an unofficial, draft statement on computers and academic freedom [statements/caf-statement, statements/caf-statement.critique]:


  • The principles of academic freedom applicable to student and faculty publication in traditional media, apply to student and faculty publication in computer media.

  • The principles of intellectual freedom developed by libraries should be applied to the administration of information material on computers. These principles are explained in such American Library Association documents as the Library Bill of Rights, the Freedom to Read Statement, and the Intellectual Freedom Statement [library/bill-of-rights.ala, library/freedom-to-read.ala library/int-freedom.ala].


  • Computer sites that offer newsgroups (bulletin boards, forums, etc.) should select newsgroups the way that traditional libraries select magazines and books.

  • "Every [academic computer] system should have a comprehensive policy on the selection of [information] materials." [library/selection-workbook.ala]

  • "Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval" [library/bill-of-rights.ala]

  • An article or note posted by a student to a newsgroup is a student publication.

  • "Student publications [and the publications of other users] are a valuable aid in establishing and maintaining an atmosphere of free and responsible discussion and of intellectual exploration on the campus. They are a means of bringing [...] concerns to the attention of the faculty and the institutional authorities and of formulating [...] opinion on various issues on the campus and in the world at large." [academic/student.freedoms.aaup]

  • "The institutional control of campus facilities should not be used as a device of censorship." "[User publications] should be free of censorship and advance approval of copy ..." [academic/student.freedoms.aaup]

  • "All university published and financed [user] publications [can be required to state] that the opinions there expressed are not necessarily those of the college, university, or student body. [academic/student.freedoms.aaup]

VII. Summary and Conclusion

Issues of content on campus are not new. Indeed, academia's long experience with computers and intellectual freedom make it a unique model of how the wider world can be. To date, responses within academia have varied, but more and more the principles of academic freedom are being applied to computer policy. A key principle of academic freedom is that freedom of expression and freedom to read are central to the academic mission. This means that we not punish those who violate the Social AUP with institutional sanctions; such sanctions should be reserved for material and behavior that is actually illegal. Academic freedom principles can, and should, be the basis of academic computer policy.


Thanks to the volunteer CAF staff for their work in facilitating on-line discussion of these issues. Thanks to the participants in the CAF forums for clarifying many issues through discussion and debate. Thanks to the Electronic Frontier Foundation for providing computer resources.


All the referenced documents are available on-line. If you have gopher, you can browse the CAF archive with the command:


To get the files via ftp, do an anonymous ftp to, and lookin directory pub/academic.

To get the files by email, send email to Include the lines:

send acad-freedom caf
send acad-freedom banned.1992
send acad-freedom/statements stanford.statements
send acad-freedom/academic student.freedoms.aaup
send acad-freedom/academic speech-codes.aaup
send acad-freedom/statements caf-statement
send acad-freedom/statements caf-statement.critique
send acad-freedom/library bill-of-rights.ala
send acad-freedom/library freedom-to-read.ala
send acad-freedom/library int-freedom.ala
send acad-freedom/library selection-workbook.ala
send acad-freedom README

Finally, some of the material is available in book form:

American Association of University Professors, Policy Documents & Reports. Washington, D.C., 1990.

"On Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes", Academe. July-August 1992. American Library Association, Intellectual Freedom Manual, 3rd Edition. Chicago, 1988.

American Library Association, Workbook for Selection Policy Writing, revised. Chicago, 1983.

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