Saturday, January 31, 2009

Big Brother and U, Part II: Is Your University Reading Your Email?

In a previous post, I discussed recent high-profile cases involving college surveillance and the use of email or Internet postings against students, faculty or staff. (Update: The Electronic Frontier Foundation effectively won its case defending the student leader who emailed her criticisms of Michigan State's calendar policy to faculty on campus. The university accused her of "spamming." FIRE referred the litigation to EFF, a civil liberties group specializing in electronic law).

In Part II, I offer the following information to shock you into how little privacy you have via e-mail or the Internet. In short, if you use a university email account--even off campus--the university owns that electronic "property" and may archive it for years.

Most universities have network policies that forbid anything even remotely personal via email or the Internet on campus. Of course, everybody breaks this rule because a) they are not trained to understand the limitations on email; and b) most people believe that "emailing home" about getting dinner for the family is much like calling the family on a university phone. We all do it and yet that too violates university policy. A few campuses allow reasonable private use of university email but my university, like most others, does not carve out that space for students or staff. (Correction: The main Carbondale campus does not allow personal use but the Edwardsville campus does allow "personal use").

The following guide by Tina Murch, "E-mail Privacy? Only a 'Virtual Reality'" is the best wake-up call that I have read on the Internet. I highly recommend it to any one who uses university email or equipment. If you use your own laptop, Murch notes, you are still using university wireless and can be busted. Moreover, if you email from a non .edu account to someone with a non .edu account but that recipient receives it on campus, you are still busted! University discretion is enormous. Since most people are unaware of the pitfalls of email and computer use, even when off campus, Murch offers tips on how to survive this Brave New World.

Her tips are not enough. I urge you to contact university officials and request several things:

1. Training and transparency: The rules on most campuses sound good but there is discretion to do just about anything, particularly when information is archived (my university states that privacy is a "basic right" but there are loopholes, including the unstated "gotcha" category of punishing people for private use of email. Also the catch-all "disclosure made for the purpose of resolving internal disputes," etc.)

2. Question authority: ask questions of campus authorities:

*How many monitoring cases have there been in the past five years?

*How long does your university archive email and other Internet usage logs?

*Campus newspapers need to ask whether their email correspondence is subject to surveillance. In one case, a university fired faculty, in part, because of "private" email sent to a student newspaper editor. Accused of trying to "discredit" an administrator, the campus president fired two faculty members!

For more on that case, read here. Apparently, bringing truthful information to the president, following procedure, and then having the local AAUP investigate when the president did nothing about a serious matter = termination of two tenured faculty. This case, and so many others, is why I have lost my capacity to be shocked but not to be outraged.

So, if you think it can't happen on your campus, it has and will if good people do nothing. Even on my own campus, high-profile termination cases left a lot of questions about the use of past email. But the investigation reports are sealed and heavily redacted, or so we are told. Who knows how far back universities go when retrieving email in cases against students or faculty.

Student email has been punished at my university because it "harassed" the recipient, who was so shattered she published it on her web magazine! Although the email was in poor taste, taking out an ad to decry anti-feminist ramblings sounded like overkill to our campus newspaper. One wonders when a college president will take similar action against some wild-eyed feminist bashing Republican women as "fascist sex-traitors." My guess is: never.

3. Statute of Limitations: Since most people are clueless, and have violated strict network policies, almost any one can have their electronic past used against them. Officials need to set a statute of limitations for violations, as they do in other university code violations. Currently, university network policies set "forever" as the default statute of limitation. That makes the IRS sound like a friendly agency by contrast!

4. Reasonable private use: Some universities take the "chill" off students and staff by allowing reasonable private use. The alternative is for people to avoid .edu email altogether--and that is not good for the university! God knows, this professor has to look up the preferred email of students on Facebook because I assume that .edu is not their primary address. This is an unproductive use of my time.

5. Offense is defense: if you are a free thinker--and who doesn't think freely from time to time?--and feel you may become a target, make a habit of archiving all of your email for contextual defense. Campus prosecutors routinely "cherry pick" email to cast the accused in the worst light. Don't let them do it.

If you become involved in controversies (or not), you may wish to retain certain information in case Big Brother tries to terminate you. Keep this information and your email archive in a safe place, preferably in an encrypted online storage site. (My home was burglarized but I had a backup AND certain information I may need in the future is in a place where burglars cannot get it).

Remember the line: "do not go gentle into that good night!" (Dylan Thomas)

Again, just to let you know what universities can do to you, check out the cases in my prior post and this explicit statement by Temple University in its email usage guide: Scroll down to 14.6 to read this:

Temple University may authorize the use of reasonable surveillance and search measures as necessary to ensure an appropriate work environment or compliance with University policies and applicable law. Subject to legal requirements, the University reserves the right to inspect and search all work areas, desks, computers, file cabinets, lockers, lunch boxes, or other containers, and personal vehicles in University parking lots or public streets within campus boundaries or any other area within University control. In addition, all records contained in computers (including voice mail and e-mail) and storage devices (including removable media) are open to inspection by the University in accordance with University policies, subject to applicable legal requirements."

Got your attention?

Part III (forthcoming) will be a guide to protecting your privacy when you are completely free of campus life. Even at home, you may be vulnerable to keylogging and other privacy-invading practices. Yes, even if you use a Mac!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Big Brother and U, Part I: Is Your University Reading your Email?

For many years, I have fought restrictions on academic freedom. As President of the Illinois Association of Scholars, an affiliate of the National Association of Scholars (NAS), I deal with these issues across the state. As a historian I am researching the past record of civil liberties on college campuses.

In a word, I have lost my capacity to be shocked at what some will do to others within the Ivory Tower of higher education.

While the issues remain the same, the techniques used to restrict academic liberty change. It might be a new area of law (sexual harassment codes) or a new technology (should college libraries censor Internet content)?

This column deals with a new reality that shocks people when they find out that their university may be reading their email, watching their screen activity, or even punishing students, staff or faculty for what they write on Facebook.

Most people are shocked when they learn how vulnerable they are to electronic surveillance. Consider this a primer on learning the tactics of surveillance and how to avoid becoming a victim of it.

General advice: Assume that Big Brother is reading or watching everything you write on a campus computer or email account. Using a non-academic email account is wise (see next post) but does not provide 100% protection.

Case Studies:: here are some real examples of the problem:

*Campus email ends up as evidence in a recent lawsuit involving tenure and promotion. The email was up to TEN YEARS OLD. My campus, probably typical, archives all administrator email. The university policy toward non-administrator email is unknown (as IAS president, I will be sending out a questionnaire to all state universities asking this question, among others).

*Facebook censorship:: A student at Valdosta State criticized new student fees for the building of a parking garage on campus. He used his Facebook page to create a satirical collage criticizing the university administration's move to impose fees to build this garage. Result: The administration cited the Facebook page as evidence that the dissident student was a "clear and present danger" and banished him from campus. FIRE brought a lawsuit and immense publicity to bear on the university (including Youtube video, legislative lobbying, and a full-page ad in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings issue). The university finally admitted it was wrong, hired a new president, and apologized to the student.

*Michigan State retaliated against an undergraduate student leader for distributing a questionnaire via email to faculty asking for their responses to a new school calendar. The university had encouraged constituency input but did not like the student's criticism of the proposed calendar. By invoking the obscure campus networking policy, the university punished her for "spamming!" Her "crime" was distributing email to individuals without first asking their permission! If that is a crime, we are all guilty. Together with other groups, FIRE has taken her case. You can't make this stuff up.

*Rumors are flying on one Illinois campus that the general counsel is trying to track down "whistleblowers" who divulged information resulting in lawsuits that the university lost or settled. Institutions hate to be embarrassed and will (or might) take steps to spy on a P.I.T.A. (Pain in the Ass). Whether the rumors are founded or not, an ounce of knowledge is helpful to prevent "The Man" (or "The Woman") from coming down on you for electronic speech.

A cautionary word to college snoops: be careful becausee FIRE is not the only civil liberties group defending people from e-censorship; my friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation are also diligent.

In cases like this, knowledge is power. Know what to do (or not do), and who to call if you need help against Big Brother.

The second part of this primer on electronic surveillance will educate readers as to how universities may read email and "log" (transmit) all of your keystrokes to their administrative office for review.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: U.S. Grant Marches South Again

Subtitle: "SIU Loses Archives to Mississipi State University."

Read here

No human being is perfect but John Y. Simon was the most public face of SIU to the world. I said so before the controversy that led to his "not being fired" (he's fired, he's not fired, he's dead, the millions of dollars spent to build this collection are . . . gone to Dixie).

John Y. (as he was known) taught a subject enormously popular with students and the public at large: Civil War and Reconstruction history. Not as fashionable as gender or "queer studies." Yet I'm convinced that many students majored in History because they were "turned on" to it by JYS (so they told me during my five years as academic adviser to undergraduates).

Budget cuts and professional fads make it unlikely SIU will hire a Civil War or military or presidential historian any time soon. As the deep thinkers in my profession say, "that would be pandering." Why give the students a little of what they want? It's not as if they are going to influence much of our curriculum anyway. (In other colleges, if the demand for nursing is up, they hire more nursing professors. The liberal arts doesn't work that way. We are "different").

SIU will be different without the Grant Papers and John Y. Simon. What the school needs is scholars of stature who can reach out to the wider public, as he did. Many try, few succeed.

PS: The Ulysses Grant Association is still listed on SIUC's index of organizations. If you click on the link you will be "404'd":

NOTE: The moderator is busy going over his copyedited book manuscript. The pace will slacken in the next week but important news will be blogged about sooner rather than later. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

FIRE Fight: Heated Exchange on SIU's Academic Freedom Record

In today's Southern Illinoisan, Chancellor Sam Goldman lashed out at academic watchdog group F.I.R.E. Focusing solely on the speech zone policy, Goldman faulted FIRE for being "a group that does not do their homework whatsoever."

FIRE helped win a major court decision against SIUC on religious freedom (2006), it spoke out against the sexual harassment policy and due process treatment of Cal Meyers (2008) and continues to monitor all of its "Red Alert" institutions, including SIU-C. In a word, FIRE's interest in student and faculty rights is longstanding, whatever you think of their position.

Today, the group responded with a broad critique of SIU's "many existing policies, which violate the First Amendment." FIRE accused the chancellor of "deceit" in failing to announce that SIU had silently changed the RSO Handbook. FIRE also accused the chancellor of misleading the media about the reasons for SIU-C's "Red Alert" status. The FIRE statement comes before a promised second statement by Chancellor Sam Goldman defending SIU against FIRE's "Red Alert" rating of the school.

With the controversial sexual harassment policy due for review soon, FIRE will probably be watching the end result, not expected until February, if media reports are accurate.

For more on FIRE's monitoring of SIUC, click the Traffic Sign widget to the right of this blog, or click here.

See also "Attention, Chancellor Goldman: Here’s Why SIUC is a 'Red Light' School."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Race Relations at SIU: An Archive of "Dark Musings"

Recently, I stumbled upon an archive of Daily Egyptian articles dealing with race relations throughout SIU-C's history. The entries are reminiscent of those I found in black newspapers elsewhere, but these columns and society notes were written at a largely white institution.

The "Dark Musings" column of the World War II-era was particularly interesting. It echoed the Pittsburgh Courier's "Double V" theme: Victory over the Axis and Victory over Jim Crow (segregation, racism) at home.

See, for example, this 1943 column:

Earl Brooks, "A Better Relationship Between Blacks and Whites"

And another at the end of the war titled "A Better Relationship Between Negroes and Whites."

With renewed interest in the Great Depression (a course I teach), I have photocopied all of the presidential and Board of Trustee minutes and reports from 1929-1942. Soon, I hope to have that link available to readers.

Peruse these older columns to appreciate the hopes and aspirations of earlier generations. Let us hope that Great Depressions and world wars pass our generation by.

SIU's Response to FIRE: How to Dodge a Question

For the SIU response to FIRE's challenge, click here.

This response defends the Board policy, which no one is attacking. It ignores the language handed out to students and faculty advisers in the RSO Handbook. Apparently, a link to the full Board policy is enough to exonerate the contradictory language that follows which states: "Other campus areas will not be used as open forums." (RSO Handbook, p. 26).

As a RSO Adviser, I am bound by Board policy and RSO Handbook when counseling students. Likewise, students are given a RSO Handbook to "obey." Is the Chancellor saying that we don't "obey" the sections that conflict with the Board policy? If so, why doesn't SIU-C simply rewrite the Handbook?

And just in case any one is wondering, FIRE approached SIU on its own initiative. I did not even realize that section of the RSO Handbook existed until FIRE brought it to my attention, and I asked questions -- questions that Chancellor Goldman said we did not ask (see Daily Egyptian, 12 January 2009). If mild requests for clarification get met so testily, what are students to think when deciding how to proceed on the basis of conflicting policies?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

FDR and Dirty Dancing: The Porn-to-School Act (or, What I Learned While Studying the New Deal)

With bailouts for banks and Big Business, the media is snickering at the porn industry’s plea for a federal bailout. Sales of pornographic DVDs have plummeted as Americans zipped up their wallets and spent money on other necessities. But the media refuses to feel the pain of sex workers. Apparently, “too big too fail” governs their thinking but there are industries “too small to matter.”

This is wrong. We can fashion a model for economic recovery from the porn plan. Moreover, we can do so in a way that draws upon the New Deal’s efforts in two areas:

Click here to read more.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Committee Member Responds to Speech Zone Issue

I heard from a committee member who clarified the policy on Demonstrations. It is this person's understanding that the whole campus IS a free speech zone and that designated areas were for those who needed amplified sound and the like. Events outside the forum areas are open to speech, as governed by the "Standards of Respect and Civility."

If that is the case, and I hope the administation clarifies, then the issue is the RSO Handbook that FIRE challenged. The Handbook directly contradicts the Board policy by stating that no areas outside the zones can be used as public forums. It also fails to list Morris Library as a designated area where amplified sound is available.

NOTE: FIRE challenged the RSO Handbook rules. As a faculty adviser to two RSO's over the years, I rely upon the Handbook to counsel students on what to do -- or not to do. Moreover, if a student -- or faculty adviser -- searched for "protest policy" on the SIU-C web site, the first hit would be the RSO Handbook, not the Board policy.

I hope the administration supports this committee member's interpretation of the matter and seeks to change the wording of the RSO Handbook.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

SIU Speech Zone: What's Right? What's Wrong?

When students were away on break, SIU Chancellor Sam Goldman received a letter from F.I.R.E. challenging the university's "designated public forum areas" (labeled "Free Speech Facilities" in the handbook for Registered Student Organizations). ACLU-Southern Illinois, and the Illinois affiliate of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) cosigned the letter from FIRE.

As I noted at the time, this issue erupted in 2004 when an anti-war group protested outside the then-designated speech zone. The administration acted swiftly by forming a committee and then issuing a revised policy entitled "Demonstrations: Regulations and Procedures."

There is a lot of good in that demonstrations policy but one major flaw: the presence of special zones for speech. Here is my rundown of the good and bad:


1. The demonstrations policy approved by the Board of Trustees begins with a strong statement in support of academic freedom.

2. The section "Standards of Respect and Civility" offers common-sense guidelines for protests, demonstrations and other individual or group speech on campus. Don't block traffic, don't disrupt classes, don't break the law: Golden Rule 101.

3. The Designated Public Forum Areas are in high-traffic areas (but see below).


1. "Events within Designated Public Forum Areas": designate implies that this is a special area set aside for "free expression." Only one group may be present at a time. There are two areas designated for demonstrations: adjoining the parking garage and parking lots near Anthony Hall; and in front of Morris Library. WHY is "free expression" given a "designated" area? What can one do outside those zones?

2. "Events Outside of Designated Public Forum Areas": The previous section setting aside "free expression" areas conflicts with the short section allowing events outside of designated areas. The natural question: why have a designated area at all? The "events outside" section ought to be applied to all the public plazas and walkways of the campus. Simply put, the "Standards of Respect and Civility" govern speech in these outside areas. So, once again, why have a designated area that leads students and others to think that there -- and only there -- they may protest or demonstrate?

3. The RSO Handbook (see pp. 25-26): RSO's are among the groups most likely to speak out on campus. That is why the handbook language is so troubling:

a. The Orwellian phrase "Free Speech Facilities" is substituted for Designated Public Forum Area.

b. The handbook lists only one of the two designated areas listed in the Board of Trustee policy.

c. "Other campus areas will not be used as open forums." This conflicts with the Board policy of allowing individuals or groups to assemble outside designated areas.
If all of this is clear as mud, you are right. But the simple question is "why have a forum at all?" Is SIU-C for or against "events outside" the designated areas?


Abolish the zone and all will be well. The "Standards of Respect and Civility" are enough.
There is no need for a forum area, particularly since

a) SIU-C cannot make up its mind about speech outside that area; and

b) limiting demonstrations to a "zone" makes SIU vulnerable to a lawsuit.

SIU-C has a good policy -- if it abolishes the zone. Let's hope that this is resolved in good faith without the usual circus surrounding any challenge to standing policy. I believe the administration wants to do the right thing. But, if it does not, it will certainly face a challenge from FIRE.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Credentialism and Civil Rights in Higher Education

In a Washington Post article, columnist George F. Will discusses the unintended credentialism flowing from the Supreme Court decision Griggs (1971).

Many years ago, I prepared for a federal exam only to learn that it had been scrapped because it had a "disparate impact" on "disadvantaged groups." As a substitute, the government (like other employers) required a Bachelor's degree plus three years of relevant professional experience OR a Masters degree. This credentialism disadvantaged "underrepresented" groups even more than the original requirement. How ironic. Civil rights activists had sued to scrap these exams--a classic case of "beware what you ask for, you might get it."

In a graduate course on public policy history, I assign Steven F. Gillon's collection of case studies, That's Not What We Meant to Do: Reform and its Unintended Consequences (2001). Gillon begins by displaying his liberal credentials ("don't blame the messenger!") but the examples of unintended consequences (welfare, deinstitutionalization, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, immigration) offer insight into the fascinating twists and turns of policies promoted by both the Left and Right.

Is credentialism a problem in higher education? Would all Americans, regardless of race, be better off if they could compete for jobs through examinations rather than the credential of a college degree?

The Proposition 209 initiative overturned the Griggs decision in the state of California. The goal was to return California to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both in language and intent. The state supreme court upheld Proposition 209 in a decision written by Justice Janice Rogers Brown, a libertarian jurist.* Only time will tell if her decision will have unintended consequences.

*I discuss Proposition 209 and Janice Rogers Brown in Race and Liberty: The Essential Reader.