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University moves to hush Facebook criticism

Keele teaching, administration slammed by students

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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". ®

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