Monday, March 07, 2005

Come out, come out, wherever you are 

Last month I wrote a piece in which I described a set of cases involving campus free speech, including reference to a site at St. Lawrence University. Steve Horwitz, an economics professor and a dean there -- and occasional contributor at Liberty&Power, where I've posted as well in the past -- wrote me a note yesterday defending the administration's attempt at a copyright infringement suit.
This blog is not just a "criticize the administration" blog. If that were it, so be it. The problem is that they have attacked and harassed other students by name. What they're doing is in violation of our student conduct policies. The decision to block access was an attempt (feeble yes) to protect those students from harrassment. The lawsuit is not designed to shut down the blog, but for discovery to find out with certainty who the students are behind it. If the president wanted to shut them down, he would have gone to the ISP.
Looking around their blog I can see Steve's point. It's not just sophomoric attacks on faculty and administration but some rather rude things to say about students, which according to SLU's student handbook seems a violation. The bloggers' response -- that they can harrass as long as it's not discriminating -- is lame legalistic garbage.

Steve's email raises an interesting question: can a university require an anonymous blogger to reveal his identity? Given that the ISP is Blogger, and it's not clear under our terms of service whether whether or not Blogger would be able to reveal an anonymous blogger. Given that, it may be that blocking an IP address from campus computers might be the most effective means of enforcing a code of conduct. While the TBOC people surely have speech rights, they agreed to attend a private school and signed a code of conduct as a condition of enrollment. If they actually believed the code protected their blogs vis-a-vis students, they could be a cause celebre by revealing their identities and daring the school to take disciplinary action.