Academic Freedom

As of writing (16:00 JST on Wednesday 18th January 2012) Wikipedia is blacked out apart from one page:

Wikipedia: SOPA

This is in protest at two bills currently being debated in the US Congress (PIPA in the House and SOPA in the Senate). These bills are being rushed through at quite a fast track in congress because they are bi-partisan (meaning: the big businesses who drafted the bills, and are corruptly paying congress-critters in campaign donations for their support, have bought peple in both parties).

In early January there was a movement by some opposed to this bill asking various large Internet organisations to black out in January in a coordinated effort to oppose these bills and raise public awareness about them. Most of the major service providers such as Google can’t really afford a day’s blackout. As Wikipedia is a non-profit and doesn’t make money per eyeball it was one of the few high profile sites to be able and willing to take this step.

There are more details from the EFF about these proposals.

“Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” (John Donne; Meditation 17). Similarly, when an academic speaks it is with their own authority, and not as an “official spokesman” for their university unless they explicitly (and officially) claim to do so. Of course, any academic is always associated with their institution(s) and it is this association in part that legitimates the greater weight given by many in society to their statements. But the claim by UEL (University of East London) that it had good cause to suspend a professor over comments he made in advance of the G20 summit in London in 2009 (and the protests expected to surround it, which they did) regarding police expectations and violence because “the comments brought the university into disrepute” is utterly specious. These statements by university managers are reported in a recent THE article regarding a subsequent case between the professor and the university on which I make no comment here. What I find utterly abhorrent is the idea that any statement made by an academic could lead to a suspension on the grounds of “bringing the university into disrepute” unless that statement can be found to be factually inaccurate or an illegal statement (such as incitement to violence). And then the suspension should only happen after a suitable process (in the case of illegal speech, that process should be the conclusion of a court case). No academic speaks for their university rather than themselves unless they are officially and clearly doing so. The assumption when any academic speaks is that they are speaking as an individual academic. (more…)