Freedom of Speech and Consultation
On Thursday of this week, a student of the University of Leeds contacted the Times Higher and Private Eye about the policy on social networking that the University had published on Wednesday, and contacted students about the same day. The UCU informed their Facebook group of the new policy on Thursday, and blogged the situation on Friday. The policy, which is still visible here via google cache, incorporated a ban on criticism of the University on Social Networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
In response to the Times Higher enquiries, and the outrage expressed by staff and students, the University issued the following statement:
“Due to a breakdown in communication, the draft code was released without having gone through the usual approval process and before it had been brought to the attention of the appropriate senior managers.
As soon as we discovered the mistake, the item was withdrawn from our website and the draft will be reviewed and revised before being reissued.
The University is absolutely committed to freedom of expression within the law. While we would wish to do all we can to protect students and staff from personal abuse, we would never seek to stifle criticism of the institution.
Indeed, we have recently drawn up a definition of academic freedom and collegiality which sets out a commitment to ensuring that staff have the right to criticise the functioning of higher education institutions, including their own.”
This is welcomed, and a line perhaps can be drawn under the issue, but the issue of the right of consultation remains. We have just been through the most problematic local dispute in the history of our University, specifically over the failure to consult with the unions. On one hand, it is inconceivable that anyone in a position of responsibility in the University should still be oblivious to the rights of the unions, including LUU, to negotiation or consultation, as appropriate.
Take for example the decisions taken at this week’s ESRG meeting. The ESR Group is constituted specifically of both management and union representatives, but management have stated that only their members of that group have the right to agree the minutes and report from that group, which will go to Senate. The unions query the validity of this, so far with no recognition.
We hope that in the investigation into how the recent policy could have got all the way to publication and students being alerted to it (have they yet been alerted that it is no longer in force?) without any union consultation, will lead to some clarity on how IT security policies are agreed. Here are two other IT policies that merit greater scrutiny. We believe that neither the LUU nor the campus trade unions have been consulted on these:
1. Netbat policy. Software used to investigate staff and students.
2. Guidance on transporting data. This states that we should carry our papers around only in a locked briefcase and that no personal or confidential data should be created or retained on privately owned computers, making working at home problematic.