Last month, the American Association of University Professors drafted a report reaffirming its conclusions from a 2004 report that electronic communications should be governed by the same principles of academic freedom as expression in traditional media. November’s report acknowledges that even in the past nine years, technology has advanced significantly in ways that have “potentially profound implications for both privacy and free expression.” But as the AAUP writes, the overriding principle articulated in its 2004 report still applies:
Academic freedom, free inquiry, and freedom of expression within the academic community may be limited to no greater extent in electronic format than they are in print, save for the most unusual situation where the very nature of the medium itself might warrant unusual restrictions—and even then only to the extent that such differences demand exceptions or variations.
Though advocates like the AAUP and FIRE may take this idea for granted, the report is a very helpful reminder in light of recent controversies involving online speech by faculty members. University of Kansas professor David Guth, for example, was suspended from teaching in September for a controversial remark he posted on Twitter. And in November, Chicago State University demanded the removal of an opinion blog maintained by a group of professors.
In light of the increasing use of the internet and new media platforms, the AAUP advises both faculty and administrators to be aware of changing technology and its repercussions, but also to keep in mind the importance of fundamental rights. For example, in recommending that colleges develop policies on social media use, the AAUP’s report emphasizes that “[a]ny such policy must recognize that social media can be used to make extramural utterances, which are protected under principles of academic freedom.” FIRE strongly agrees.
Read the report in full on the AAUP’s website.
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