closedistances (closedistances) wrote in cmanthropology,

The Politics of Political Blogs and Academic Freedom


My university is now offering a blog service, which they announced through e-mail. The e-mail announcement ("Introducing blog@USF", sent April 7, 2005) read in part:
Blog@USF makes it simple to:
[...]
*Create "topic arenas" with colleagues/friends
*Engage in cross-blog conversations with comments and/or "TrackBacks"

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at this point. However, the terms of service adds some alarming caveats about what kinds of conversations may be engaged in:
I will not use USF resources to distribute or link to content that:
[...]
promotes a religious or political group [Blog@USF n.d.]

The EFF notes that "most states have laws designed to prevent employers from firing people who talk openly about their politics outside of work" (Electronic Freedom Foundation 2005). However, if you're at home and posting on a university-provided blog, is this considered outside of work? Could the university actually sanction someone for a political post on their blog? If this were to happen, it would not be the first time that USF fired a professor for political reasons (see United Faculty of Florida n.d.). Depending on how the words "promote" and "political" are defined, this provision could be used to stifle academic freedom.

Restrictions like this may be related to what Altbach identified as the rise of "managerialism" in universities:
A[n]... issue, not usually discussed in the context of academic freedom, is the growth of what some have called “managerialism” in higher education – the notable increase in the power of administrators and other officials as distinct from the authority of the professoriate in the governance and management of academic institutions. Academic freedom and autonomy are related, and these trends in governance reduce the autonomy and power of the professoriate. The authority of the professors to determine the direction of the university, to develop the curriculum, and ultimately to maintain full control in the classroom and in the selection and implementation of research topics is compromised by this trend. There seems little doubt that the shift in power and authority from the professoriate to professional managers and external governing bodies will dramatically affect the traditional role of the academic profession – with repercussions on academic freedom as well. [Altbach 2001:216]

How ironic would it be to see a professor turning to Blogger or LiveJournal for a degree of academic freedom lacking from his or her own university's blog service!

References Cited

Altbach, Philip G.
2001 Academic freedom: International realities and challenges. Higher Education 41: 205–219.

Blog@USF
n.d. USF Computer and Network Access Agreement. Electronic document, http://blog.usf.edu/register/, accessed April 8, 2005.

Electronic Freedom Foundation
2005 How to Blog Safely (About Work or Anything Else). April 6. Electronic document, http://www.eff.org/Privacy/Anonymity/blog-anonymously.php, accessed April 8, 2005.

United Faculty of Florida
n.d. Academic Freedom, Due Process, and Sami al-Arian at USF. Electronic document, http://w3.usf.edu/~uff/AlArian/index.html, accessed April 8, 2005.
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