By: Jyllian Roach, Editor-In-Chief | Graphic By: Jonathan Gamboa, Production Manager
Internet Censorship Raises Concerns About Academic Freedom
The school’s use of a website blocker is inappropriate in an academic environment, said full-time CHSS instructor Felecia Caton-Garcia.
The blocker, known as IronPort, is an important part of internet security on campus, said Director of Customer Support Services for the IT department Michael Schalip. But Caton- Garcia said that it creates many problems for students and faculty.
The blocker interferes with her ability to teach a few times a month, she said. It has stopped her from accessing legitimate websites, such as that of performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña and any number of sites which refer to comic books as graphic novels by labeling these sites as adult/ sexually explicit content, she said.
“Adult content is such a broad term. It’s tagged by users. If a site has been complained about, it becomes an adult site,” said Caton-Garcia. “With regards to academic freedom, it seems to me crucial that an institution of higher education would allow faculty unfettered access to material.”
The IronPort software blocks adult/sexually explicit content, malware and proxy avoidance sites, said Schalip. The program is an important part of security on campus, he said.
Information Security and Compliance Officer Luis Brown said the software, run by Cisco Systems, categorizes websites by type and then further categorizes those that contain malware or other software that can be dangerous to a computer network. This database is what the IronPort software uses to determine which websites are or are not blocked, he said.
“It really is an integral part of CNM’s internet security,” said Schalip. “There’s a lot of nefarious stuff out there that we don’t want coming in.”
Websites that contain adult or sexually explicit content are blocked based on a CNM policy, said Brown.
He said the policy does not make a separate distinction among students, community members and faculty, so everyone is blocked from the same content.
“As an information security officer, I don’t care about the porn part. I care about the malware part, because that could compromise the integrity of the system,” said Brown.
Caton-Garcia said that she does not believe adult and sexually explicit content should be blocked for anyone, but that the issue is more pressing for faculty because it inhibits their ability to do their job.
“In terms of academic freedom, we are faculty and we do research. People tend to forget that, as community college instructors, we still do our own research, we do our own writing and we have to stay current in our field,” said Caton-Garcia.
“For some people, they’ll never encounter anything that would be blocked during their research. Others, like me, who teach cultural studies, will come up against that filter more often.”
As to websites being inappropriately blocked, Schalip said that it does happen from time to time, while sites that should fall into a blocked category go unnoticed.
The CNM Chronicle found that thinkingxxx.org — a website for a documentary, and latches. webslaves.com — a site for a non-profit group who offers information about safely practicing the BD/SM, or bondage; discipline; sadism; masochism, lifestyle were blocked, while redtube.com — a pornographic video site, and Google’s image and video search were completely unrestricted.
Schalip said that, at a previous job, he saw a coworker’s internet activity scrutinized after the coworker visited the website for the band Bare Naked Ladies. This happens partly because the software is imperfect, and partly because the software blocks for a larger audience than college students, said Brown.
“There is a question of context. Adult/sexually explicit; if you’re a daycare center means one thing, if you’re a college, it really means another,” said Brown.
Director of the Marketing and Communications Office Brad Moore said in an email that blocking adult and sexually explicit content was an executive decision made by former CNM President Michael Glennon.
This was done primarily because CNM has an obligation to restrict obscene material from being accessed on campus because computer access is granted to members of the public and to underage dual-enrolled students, he said.
“When this software system was implemented, CNM was experiencing troubling issues with obscene, explicit and illegal material being accessed from CNM computers,” said Moore.
Caton-Garcia said that dual-enrollment students waive minor status when they enroll at CNM.
This gives them the protections of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and means that they are treated as any other student when it comes to educational content, she said.
Often she does not know whether a particular student is a high school student also taking college classes, she said.
“Legally speaking, they have all the rights and responsibilities of any other college student,” said Caton-Garcia. “I don’t see how restricting online access is really about protecting minors.”
She said that safety precautions such as lab monitors and security guards are necessary because there are laws, such as those that prohibit the viewing of child pornography, that do need to be enforced.
It is also socially inappropriate to view pornography in an open computer lab, but lab monitors should be restricting that, not software that affects an entire network, she said.
Sociology major Miranda Benson said that she has been running into the IronPort block often this term because of an assignment.
Benson said she is researching child abuse and finds herself blocked from many websites that would add academic value to her assignment. She said that she no longer attempts to do her homework on campus because of the blocker.
“It’s a pain in the ass. It makes research hard to do,” said Benson.
Director of Student Conduct and Responsibilities Kris Gaussoin said that prior to the filter, access of sexually explicit content had been more of a problem with guests than students.
Now, there are around two to three cases of students and community members getting around the filter reported to him each term. The filter has cut the cases down by about 80 percent, he said. These numbers are strictly from memory and may not be exact, said Gaussoin.
“Before the filter, pornography on campus had been a problem primarily with guests, and occasionally a very serious problem with guests,” he said. “It was never my number one category of referrals.”
Brown said that in the last year, sexually explicit content has been a bigger problem among staff rather than students or community members.
Schalip said that currently, faculty members can request to have a website unblocked. The department just launched a pilot program to give specific faculty members unrestricted access to the network.
Caton-Garcia said that she was invited to participate in the pilot program, but that she has not completed the long process for participating.
The process includes getting permission from her supervisor. While she is glad to see that CNM is taking some steps toward more academic freedom, that requirement is degrading to her as a professional and an adult, she said.
“Any place that is supposed to be an institute of higher education; you take these things, you offer people critical tools to be able to make decisions about information that they access; you don’t restrict the information. I think that’s a violation of academic ethics,” said Caton-Garcia.