Then, the new acceptable use policy for the university computer network took effect.
Access to the information technology environment at Northern Illinois University is a privilege and must be treated as such by all users of these systems. Like any other campus facility, abuse of these privileges can be a matter of legal action or official campus disciplinary procedures, up to and including termination. Depending on the seriousness of an offense, violation of the policy can result in penalties ranging from reprimand, loss of access, or referral to university authorities for disciplinary or legal action. In a case where unacceptable use severely impacts performance or security, in order to sustain reasonable performance and security, Information Technology Services will immediately suspend an individual's access privileges.The friendly warning that returning students have been receiving sure looks like a temporary suspension.
The University alerted students to the policy on July 25, which states that they are each subject to random Internet account “monitoring” that could lead to an investigation if the administration finds something they don't like. This is just a terrible idea, but hell, why not reinstate prohibition too. It worked out so well the first time!We still have the War on Drugs, but I digress.
Drudge had the Jezebel story last night, and Reason has it this morning.
NIU cites "common sense, decency, ethical use, civility, and security," as its various rationales for the policy. Yes, a public institution of higher learning believes that it is just common sense—and ethical—to dissuade students from visiting websites deemed harmful by administrators."Laughable" is more like it, notes Susan Kruth at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Combined with the notice about “business purposes,” this restriction suggests that NIU is using a filter system intended for a large business corporation rather than for a public institution of higher education. While a corporation like Ford or General Electric might have valid reasons for limiting Internet access to some sites (for instance, to promote employee productivity), there’s a vast—and obvious—difference between private employees and public college students. The fact that the Reddit user who relayed his experience with the Internet filter was simply trying to access information about the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) paints a disturbing picture about the breadth of NIU’s censorship efforts. It seems that NIU students who want to use the Internet to find out why the WBC is so controversial are simply out of luck.Of course it's a business thing. Years ago, I expressed my discontent to various information technology and faculty development types with the university making it more difficult for faculty members to maintain their own web-sites -- the server on which mine defiantly remained for years was decommissioned two years ago -- and that Blackboard for course management was an inadequate substitute. No matter. I couldn't change it then, I'm not coming out of retirement to change it now. But here's the explanation from headquarters.
NIU’s policy says that “[i]nformation technology resources are provided by the university to further the university’s mission of research, instruction, and public service.” But NIU is creating barriers not just to websites advocating “illegal” or “unethical” activities (the vast majority of which are likely protected under the 1969 Supreme Court decision of Brandenburg v. Ohio, anyway) but also to websites sharing information about people or groups whom the university apparently believes do “unethical” things. How could this possibly further the university’s mission of educating its students? History is filled with examples of people doing illegal or unethical things, and many of those examples could contribute to students’ education about various subjects.
“I want to assure students that — contrary to some Internet reports — they will have access to social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and others,” said NIU Vice President and Chief Information Officer Brett Coryell. “NIU is wholly committed to allowing free and open access to information and only considers blocking network traffic that constitutes a well known threat as determined by the broader IT security community.”Gee, I wonder if activating a pledge script for WNIU or WNIJ activates the warning script? I have too much of a life, though, to file a Freedom of Information request to see how many people got dinged for going to Democrat news or fund-raising sites once the robots get working properly. And we have Rod Blagojevich, Democrat, prisoner, to thank for that ethics law and the online training each fall.
As an educational and research institution, as well as a state funded agency, it is important to protect data and people from external threats. Portions of NIU’s longstanding acceptable use policy are shown when users encounter a blocked site. However, it is important to note that some aspects of the policy are addressing employees, such as the ethical issue of excessive use of state-owned equipment for browsing personal web sites. Other aspects of policy, such as the restriction against using resources for political activities, are not enforced by technical means at all.
Note, also, the timing of the policy. Middle of July. I confess to not paying much attention to recent Faculty Senate or University Council proceedings (too much affirmative action, too much special education, too much process and nuance) and I might have missed deliberations on the acceptable use policy in faculty governance. But it's a standard dodge for the REMFs to take arbitrary steps while the faculty are otherwise occupied (hint: catching up with reading, or upgrading course outlines, or getting writing done are much more common than hanging out on the Coast of Maine) and the standing institutions of faculty governance aren't meeting.
Today is move-in day at the residence halls (and there are thunderstorms, and this is not the first temperate summer when a serious heat wave coincides with the first week of classes) and the Northern Star has the university already walking the policy back. (Short form: policy intended for faculty and staff, not for students. Did you hear about the rabbit who heard all camels were to be castrated? Longer jokes, #3.)
And Weeknight Football, when the Witch of November comes slashing, will go on into the 2020s.