Johns Hopkins Engineering Dean Apologizes for Temporary Censorship

September 11, 2013

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) professor and cryptographer Matthew Green received an apology yesterday from Andrew Douglas, the JHU engineering school dean who asked Green to take offline a recent blog post about the National Security Agency (NSA), encryption, and privacy. Douglas’ request was sent Monday after JHU received information that the post improperly used the NSA logo and contained links to classified information, although the latter claim was later found to be false. After Green tweeted about Douglas’ message, though, JHU acknowledged that the NSA logo had been removed from the post and that all information on the blog was already publicly available. Green’s post was removed only from JHU’s website—even there, only for a matter of hours—and remained online via at all times. Nevertheless, the incident raises the question of why Green was told to remove his post so quickly based on concerns that were evidently easily addressed. Inside Higher Ed reports: Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, said via e-mail that he had doubts about the explanation from Hopkins. He said when a professor is told to remove a blog post that criticizes a government agency with which a university works, one should question why such a request was made. Douglas openly recognized the interests at stake in his apology to Green: As an academic and as a member of the faculty at Johns Hopkins for 30 years, I am wholly supportive of academic freedom and keenly aware of its centrality to our enterprise.  It is for this reason that I attached the 1940 AAUP Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Douglas further acknowledged the “relevance of [Green’s] comments to the important public debate that is now under way” and admitted he should have provided Green an opportunity to correct any problems on the post before attempting to censor it. Thankfully, the situation was resolved swiftly in this case. But even though JHU quickly stepped back after Green’s tweet, this incident still raises serious questions. We will be watching closely to see how JHU and other institutions deal with the intersection of free speech and national security in the future.