University moves to hush Facebook criticism
Keele teaching, administration slammed by students
Keele University has ordered its students to watch their mouths on Facebook, and asked them not to express dissatisfaction with the institution on social networking sites.
The administration was provoked by a Facebook group called "James Knowles is a Twat". Professor James Knowles is an English literature academic at the Staffordshire university.
Members of the group were warned that the group was unacceptable and would be dealt with "very severely" if it continued.
A more general warning against criticising the university on social networking sites was sent to all students in the wake of the rumpus. It said:
Derogatory and offensive comments about Keele staff will be taken very seriously by the university and could lead to disciplinary action against the student(s) concerned. Students may also face legal action from the members of staff concerned for defamation and harassment.
Please note that there are legitimate ways to express dissatisfaction with the student experience without resorting to such communications.
The full text of the email is here. Some students have reacted by creating protest groups on Facebook, including "Freedom of Thought at Keele", and "Freedom of Speech in Keele Psychology" (registration required).
One student told The Reg: "We can all understand people being warned personally, but a global email to all students telling us to be quiet is a bit rich."
A group entitled "Janet Finch - Something must be done", which has more than 500 members from Keele, has also seen debate over the administration's response. It was begun as a protest against a 31.7 per cent pay hike awarded to the university's vice chancellor. Figures show Keele is struggling to attract new undergraduates, leading staff and students there to question the huge payday.
Keele had no response after several phone calls. It has told students a new policy on using social networking will be published shortly.
Meanwhile, at Durham University the IT services department has taken action to reduce the amount of bandwidth swallowed by social networking. Our correspondent reports that action to deprioritise Facebook between 8.30am and 5.30pm "has lead to a rather remarkable drop off in the number of students in any of the university libraries". ®
>>Of course free speech should be supported and upheld, but it doesn't provide carte blanche to shoot your mouth off. There are responsibilities that go hand in hand with that right.<<
There are laws to protect individuals and institutions when false and damaging remarks have been made. Nobody has claimed that free speech provides carte blanche to say what you want with no consequence. However, it is for the courts to decide what constitutes libel/slander. Keele has ample access and funds to explore that route.
I am sure that those who have made genuine, articulate complaints about the service they received would also like to see the "X is a ****" style comments removed, as they detract from intelligent, valid criticism. If anything, such comments garner sympathy for the university, and undermine the credibility of more serious points.
Of course, as a headline for under 21s and retarded elders, "X is a ****" is compelling - anything else may be ignored. In which case, it would be safer to write "Is X a ****?" That has more or less the same attention-gaining impact, but is clearly not libellous by itself - it seeks opinion rather than states a claim.
Remember that students are customers
Where else could you pay so much to be ridiculed? These are not just students they are customers and have a right to complain. Maybe it is different in the UK and higher education is free. But across the pond it cost a lot and many times you do not get what you have paid for.
RE: "Idle Students"
Of course free speech should be supported and upheld, but it doesn't provide carte blanche to shoot your mouth off. There are responsibilities that go hand in hand with that right.
Additionally, one would hope for something a little more considered and intelligent from uni students (particularly those studying English Literature) than "X is a ****". So much for the pithy epithet.
Well, one would hope for a lot, but then we are talking about a university system that has been systematically devalued, debased and thrown open to any Tom, Dick and Henrietta (irrespective of the quality and substance of their raft of supposedly 'A' grade qualifications). And it's also Keele "University", so it's not like it counts anyway.