social media and academic freedom

An overview of the things that I’ve been reading this morning. I’ve been focusing on this today because I think this section of the book is a little weak, despite it being one of the most important and interesting issues I cover.

  1. A useful essay reflecting on the David Guth case, in which a professor’s tweeted anti-NRA comments provoked widespread controversy and Kansas University implemented a draconian new social media policy that was later withdrawn
  2. An overview of the Steven Salaita case, in which an academics controversial tweets about Israel led the University of Illinois to rescind their job offer to him. Various important factors: donors complained, there was the accusation that his tweets were anti-semitic, the university fell back on ‘civility’ defence and cited the form taken by his tweets.
  3. An overview of the case, as well as first and second apology post by Martin Hirst, an Australian journalism professor whose profanity laden tweets were published on the Herald Sun website after a spat with a right-wing journalist and various others on Twitter.
  4. An interesting opinion and summary of the legal situation by the National Educational Association. Makes a nuanced case about the need for regulation to ensure online harassment doesn’t undermine the capacity of some to speak (particularly citing female scholars and harassment they can be subject to) while nonetheless ensuring that regulation of social media doesn’t erode academic freedom
  5. Brief but revealing piece of advise to department heads, stressing the necessity that they communicate institutional policies to academics within the department. As they put it, “All too often, university faculty assume that academic freedom means a blank check to do and say what they want with no restrictions, whether in class or elsewhere”. Succinctly summarises the problem as being an ‘increased potential for harm’ rather than anything legally distinct as far as communication goes. Offers useful advice that “Rants, grievances, and pent-up frustrations should not find their release on such public forums as provided by social networks”.
  6. An interesting essay by Daniel Nehring, which discusses recent  events at Warwick (Thomas Doherty, the Warwick Tone of Voice, questionable advice by SGH Martineau) and considers it in terms of more general trends concerning academic freedom. Speculates that draconian social media policies may lead us to pass a point of no return, at which stages the absence of academic freedom will be something that upcoming scholars are simply socialised into and don’t question
  7. An account in the THE by Carole McCartney, reader in law at Northumbria University, describing how she was reprimanded while working at the University of Leeds for posting tweets critical of Theresa May. She was eventually instructed to remove her affiliation from her Twitter profile, after a lengthy exchange of views with the university ‘web master’ (would like to know whether she means someone in IT services or someone in comms) who had initially claimed that the tweets were unacceptable because they were linked to the university. 
  8. The UCU statement on academic freedom reiterates the 1988 Education Reform Act’s establishment of “the legal right of academics in the UK ‘to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or the privileges they may have'”. Highlights a wide range of factors (e.g. research assessment, anti-terrorism, managerialism) which contribute to a climate within which academic freedom is under threat. Stresses that “hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens” and the role of “security of employment in the profession” as a crucial safeguard of academic freedom.
  9. An article by Henry Reichman, vice president of the AAUP, warning that “Some politicians and ­university leaders now act as though the principles of academic freedom should not be ­applied when it comes to ­social media”. Stresses the need for management to work with faculty to develop appropriate policies for governing social media: balancing the need to recognise necessary restrictions (citing the example of revealing confidential student information on social media) with the right of faculty to address the wider society. Finishes with claim that universities which fail to defend academic freedom harm themselves through doing so.
  10. Important article by Index for Censorship on international threats to academic freedom, from committees accusing Ukrainian academics of ‘separatist attitudes’ to draconian regulation of the minutiae of everyday academic life in Turkey. 
  11. Thomas Doherty puts brand management and ‘tone of voice guidelines’ (represented at Warwick, Manchester and Plymouth amongst others) in the context of security-driven erosion of academic freedom within the UK and around the world. As he puts it, “If one speaks in a tone that stands out from the brand – if one is independent of government at all – then, by definition, one is in danger of bringing the branded university into disrepute”. It occurs to me reading this that tone of voice needs to be read alongside civility and academic citizenship in terms of the emerging framework of regulation for academic freedom.
  12. Speaking in his second year of a tenure-track job, Eric Grollman questions the mentality that tenure will guarantee academic freedom. The particular focus here is on the Saida Grundy case, in which a college student who sought to launch a Conservative buzz feed style site, attacked the Professor who was due to start in a tenure track position at a different university. Her analysis of race and privilege led her to be accused of being a ‘bigot’. There’s an overview here. The college president expressed “concern and disappointment” about her tweets while defending her right to express these opinions. As Grollman puts it, it seems “Her work, public engagement, and perspective are all protected so long as it does not negatively affect the university”. Grollman makes a really useful distinction between (engaged) academic freedom and (disengaged) academic tolerance: the university begrudgingly performed the latter but made no attempt at the former.
  13. The Religious Studies professor Anthea Butler has created a Tumblr site documenting the abuse she receives online (HT Eric Grollman)