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Academic Freedom Applies to Electronic Communication, AAUP Says

The American Association of University Professors on Tuesday released a draft report that seeks to affirm the principles of academic freedom in an evolving digital landscape, asserting that such freedoms apply equally to communication in electronic and traditional formats.

The report builds on the conclusions of a 2004 association report on the same topic, reaffirming that document’s overarching principle that academic freedoms should not be limited any more in electronic communications than they are in traditional media.

The revised report seeks to respond to the transformed landscape of online communications in the last decade, including the rise of social-media networks like Facebook and Twitter. It discusses several areas of academic life that have been affected by advances in technology, including information security, scholars’ access to materials in digital formats, and the advent of social media in scholarly communications.

The report lists some recent instances in which professors’ remarks on social-media sites landed them in the spotlight, such as a journalism professor at the University of Kansas who was placed on leave after sending a controversial tweet about the National Rifle Association.

The report recommends that colleges work with their faculty members to develop policies on the use of social media, with such policies recognizing that “social media can be used to make extramural utterances, which are protected under principles of academic freedom.” More broadly, the report concludes that faculty members must participate in the development of colleges’ information-technology policies and must be consulted when policy changes are proposed that might have implications for academic freedom.

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