Seeking to change University policies to reflect the increased use of the Internet and other electronic information technologies, the U-Council will weigh a proposal to revise "Rights, Rules, Responsibilities" at its Monday meeting.
The proposal – written after months of review by the U-Council's Rights and Rules Committee – contains primarily minor revisions that aim to include references to email, the Internet and other new technologies that are now frequently absent from the rule book.
Despite the seemingly limited nature of the changes, the revisions have sparked reactions on a grander scale. Some fear that the changes could result in a loss of speech freedoms, while others indicate that they potentially open the door for advertising in online University publications.
"Rights, Rules, Responsibilities" currently calls for members of the University community to include their names on "any written material (e.g., petitions, posters and leaflets) distributed on campus." The proposal before the U-Council would apply the same standard to the Internet.
USG president David Ascher '99 said he believes that this requirement could possibly lessen the ability to make candid, anonymous statements in Internet forums on University policies, such as in newsgroups.
"The University could take disciplinary action against someone who makes any public statement without identifying herself," Ascher said. "That's what I'm afraid of. I'm afraid of the potential for abuse in this clause."
Ascher said he is planning to propose a resolution through the USG and then the U-Council calling for an examination of these civil liberties concerns in the coming academic year.
U-Councilor Amanda Teo '99 said the Rights and Rules Committee "wanted to explore further issues of anonymity but felt it was out of our jurisdiction" without U-Council approval.
Professor Hendrik Hartog, who chairs the committee, responded to Ascher's concerns by noting that they chiefly arise from "hypotheticals," whereas the intent of the clause focuses on the benefits of preventing hate speech while maintaining rights of expression.
In addition to the rules on anonymity, the committee raised at least the possibility that online publications could sell advertising on their sites.
"What we tried to do in writing the rules was to put online publications and actions in the same exact position as non-online publications and actions," Hartog said.
Noting that "we drafted the rule clearly not to preclude advertising," Hartog stressed that his committee was not given the mandate to make policy decisions on the matter.
Rita Saltz, senior technical staff member at CIT., said the guidelines banning advertising stem from an interpretation of a clause in "Rights, Rules, Responsibilities" that prohibits the use of University computer resources for "commercial purposes."
That clause remains in the U-Council proposal. However, Saltz said the student-faculty-administration group that reviews computer regulations would meet to discuss the new rules if they are passed and could consider changes to the advertising ban.