Research or Spam?
Statement of Rosalinda Velasquez:
|I am an assistant professor in Midwestern's Department of Political Affairs. My research focuses on politics on the internet--the use of the 'net as a forum for political communication.
Although I was not teaching last summer and did not receive any extra compensation, I was happy to supervise Eric Dahl's summer scholarship work--he is a promising student, and his proposed study of the use of political information online would make an important contribution to this new field. We worked together to design his survey methodology, which met all the ordinary ethical and methodological requirements of survey research. We chose to distribute the survey by email, as that was the only way to reach a random sample of actual 'net users.
I was appalled therefore when Eric contacted me that Monday morning to say that his webpage had disappeared and that he had gotten little data but a lot of complaints about the missing page. I tried to call the system administrator in charge of MU's common web server, Sam Jerrold, but he was unavailable. Another staff member told me that after receiving a couple of complaints about unsolicited email from recipients of Eric's message, Jerrold had determined that Eric was spamming in violation of University policy and had in punishment removed the email message from the queue and cut off access to the webpage. I was also told that Jerrold was unavailable for the next week.
By this time, Eric's study was ruined. When I contacted him later, Jerrold further told me that the next time I was going to do or supervise an online mass mailing, I should talk with Information Technology staff first.
Let me say it simply. The mission of this University is research. If we have an Information Technology unit at all, it is to support our research. The University's IT staff has no right to approve, disapprove or interfere with my research or my students' research in any way, any more than the mail office would have a right to open or block a survey distributed by conventional mail. Two complaints out of a thousand is no more than the cost of doing business. Research is not "spam."
What we have here is a serious breach of fundamental principles of academic freedom. It must not happen again; the IT policies need to be clarified to specify that IT personnel may not block student, faculty or staff webpages or email accounts.
Copyright © 2002 Jean Goodwin|
Last updated 4 September 2002