By Kristie Hamon
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)’s website ranks all colleges and universities across the nation and scores them with either a red, yellow or green light for how it views that university restricts student freedoms. Right now, Eastern has a red light classification for statements made in the Information Technology Services Code of Ethics for Computing and Communications.
The section that FIRE cites, says “The use of computers and their associated communication equipment to abuse, harass or offend others is forbidden.” And it also cites improper use of university computer resources as publishing obscene material, displaying or storing obscene or abusive messages, making obscene abusive or harassing remarks and starting or extending email chain letters.
FIRE, whose mission is to “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities” including freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty and sanctity of conscience, states Eastern is prohibiting expression that would be constitutionally protected in society at large. These are considered speech codes.
James Conneely, associate provost and vice president of student affairs, said FIRE should be regarded lightly.
“You got to take that with a grain of salt, they look at it from a lot of different perspectives, they’re obviously on one side of the issue,” Conneely said. “I don’t think we’re different than many institutions.”
Mona Isaacs, associate vice president of ITDS, said while there are these regulations for student internet usage, the intent is that students will act with integrity, and students aren’t actively being monitored.
“In general, email should not be considered confidential communication, it is interceptable if it comes from our email system to another email system, there’s always the chance of interception,” Isaacs said. “That being said, we don’t monitor email, we don’t look to see if they’re sending what, however, if there is a complaint, we may investigate.”
Isaacs said they want everyone to be good electronic citizens.
“I think that our electronic communication shouldn’t be under any different scrutiny than our communication in any other form,” Isaacs said. “I don’t think anyone disagrees with being a good citizen and trying to prevent somebody from slandering and using educational resources for non-education purposes.”
Along with internet freedoms is the right to petition, and currently, there are two freedom of speech zones on campus that are designated for student speech activities. These are located in designated areas of Powell Plaza and the ravine.
Conneely said a committee was put together eight years ago by the former president called the facilities use committee.
“So right now our current policy, is the one that’s been in place for a long time,” Conneely said.
Conneely said free speech on campus is dictated by time, place and manner.
“The biggest thing with free speech is you want to look at time, place and manner, is that it doesn’t interrupt the business of educating our students,” Conneely said. “We’re trying to put it in place where we try to be sure that students in classes and all that aren’t being disrupted at all, that’s what time place and manner stands for.”
Judy Spain, university counsel, said the university has displayed its loyalty to free speech and that examples of that can be seen in the campus newspaper and recent abortion displays on Powell Corner.
“If you look at our policies and our procedures, our student handbook, we really truly reaffirm consistently students right to free speech,” Spain said. “FIRE has a very specific standard of things they are looking for, and based upon that belief, they believe that we are in the red zone.”