March 5, 2007

Academic Freedom - Part II: Ask Paul

Dr. Paul Cesarini, an assistant professor in the Visual Communication & Technology Education department here at BGSU, began a discussion that we wanted to continue here on Interact at the Center. The original article, Caught in the Network, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, began a discussion on academic freedom, IT controls and limits, and the fine balance between the two. Paul was kind enough to respond to some of the comments and questions he has received as well as reflect his experiences over the past few weeks:
I appreciate how many of you read my article, commented on it in various online venues, and linked to it so that others might read it. Please keep in mind my goal in writing this piece was not to denigrate our Information Technology Services office in any way. As I mentioned in the article, I worked there for years, and I still know and respect the folks that work there. Heck, our Director of ITS even had me over for Thanksgiving dinner a while back. Our ITS office, if I may attempt to personify it as a single entity for a moment, works tirelessly to make sure our network infrastructure remains stable, dependable, and active. Without the often thankless efforts of this office, we wouldn't be able to send a single piece of email. We wouldn't be able to rely on a vast, yet standard set of software tools that are officially supported on campus. We we wouldn't even be able to get our paychecks. 

My point in writing this piece was not really about Tor, either. It could have just as easily been about Bit Torrent, YouTube, or any other application or service that could potentially be problematic for our university on a variety of levels. Rather, my point in writing this had more to do with my own need to explore, discuss, and attempt to balance the often competing needs of faculty and administrative IT, within the context of this ever-increasing pace of technological change swirling around us at all times.

The incident that served as the catalyst for the article -- plainclothes detectives and IT security staff visiting a faculty member, unannounced -- is certainly not unique to me, nor was the request to avoid teaching specific content areas in class. What is perhaps unique about it is that is occurred within the times we are living in now: pervasive broadband times, consumer / creator times, Web 2.0 times. This tenuous balance between faculty and IT needs is only going to be amplified in the coming years, as more faculty try to explore more technologies that may or may not be officially sanctioned by their respective IT departments. This isn't a black or white, right or wrong issue, yet it is still an issue that needs to be debated in a heathy, open manner.

That said, I would be remiss if I didn't also point out some of the more interesting comments, questions, and in some cases misconceptions I have either personally received or read in various forums online:
  • One of the first and most repeated statements I have read about me is that I'm a Computer Science professor. I'm not. I'm faculty in our Visual Communication & Technology Education department, which is not only entirely separate from our Computer Science department, it is also in a completely different college here (Technology, as opposed to Arts & Sciences) and in most universities.
  • I'm not a scientist, and make no claims to be one. I am a technologist.
  • I do not have tenure, and thus did not attempt to use tenure as a "free pass" to get my own way. I am, however, tenure-track.
  • Neither I nor my wife typically consider me to be a "brave freedom fighter" who was "sticking it to The Man". I'm not even sure who The Man is, really, unless it's the Director of our ITS office I mentioned before, who had me over for dinner. He's a real decent guy, and was a great boss while I worked there.
  • I did not lose my job, at least as far as I know.
  • I realize the following sentence could be read two different ways: "Someone looking up potentially sensitive information might prefer to use [Tor] -- like a person who is worried about potential exposure to a sexually transmitted disease and shares a computer with roommates." My editor and I went back and forth on this sentence for quite some time. Thank you, Slashdotters, for pointing that out. 

If anyone else has some specific questions or comments about my article, I would love to hear them. ~Paul

[Post them below in the comments section and Paul will respond -- Just click on COMMENTS to get started.]


Anonymous said...

Hi Paul - Here's a couple: Has the university or IT department made any official changes in policy since this event/article? Have you heard from others who have gone through a similar event on their campus?

Paul Cesarini said...

Actually, I have received several emails from people that have been in similar positions at other institutions. However, they were all staff or adjunct faculty, so I’m not certain there’s a direct comparison to be made. In terms of whether or not there have been any official changes to our policies concerning the use of institutional IT resources, as far as I know there has not. However, I suppose I should really double-check first.