UO postpones plan to impose unacceptable Acceptable Use Policy

Dear Senators –

At last week’s meeting I discussed the problems with the computing resources “Acceptable Use Policy” that the administration was proposing to implement. This policy governs everything we do when we use a UO computer, a computer bought with grant money, or when we connect our own computer or phone to the UO network. It applies to students, faculty, librarians, staff, and OA’s.

Greg Bryant, John Bonine, and Colin Koopman – a.k.a. the Senate’s Info Tech Task Force – had identified a host of problems with this policy. The administration addressed some issues, but would not respond to simple questions about other problems.  On Wednesday,  after I brought up this issue in the Senate, the Board of Trustees Secretary emailed me to propose a meeting between a few UO faculty and the relevant Assistant General Counsel. I responded by asking for a meeting with the Senate Executive Committee, because of the importance of this policy. The BOT Secretary did not respond to that request.

Today I met with the Provost’s Chief of Staff. She told me that she would yank the AUP proposal from the policy process, agreeing that the policy as put forward needed some work that would best be done when we have a new CIO, and she thanked the ITTF for their edits and comments, without of course committing to accept them.

Meanwhile the current AUP remains in effect. It is at https://it.uoregon.edu/sites/default/files/UO_Acceptable_Use_of_Computing_Resources_Policy_13Nov2015.pdf  It is a bit dated, but seems far preferable in terms of its protections. For example, here is the Prohibited Conduct section:

Current language: “The University Conduct Code, OAR 571-21-030, also applies to electronic forums. The code prohibits, among other things, lewd or indecent conduct, threat of imminent physical harm, sexual or other harassment, stalking, forgery, intentional disruption of university services, and damaging or destroying university property. Similarly, the code’s prohibitions against illegal discrimination, including discriminatory harassment and sexual harassment, also apply to electronic forums.”

The University Conduct Code is actually the Student Conduct Code, at https://policies.uoregon.edu/vol-3-administration-student-affairs/ch-1-conduct/student-conduct-code. It only applies to students. It is also very specific:

16. “Harassment” means:

a. Intentionally subjecting a person to offensive physical contact;

b. Unreasonable insults, gestures, or abusive words, in the immediate presence, and directed to, another person that may reasonably cause emotional distress or provoke a violent response (including but not limited to electronic mail, conventional mail, social media and telephone) except to the extent such insults, gestures or abusive words are protected expression; or

c. Other types of prohibited discrimination, discriminatory harassment, and sexual harassment as defined by law.

In contrast, the administration’s proposed new policy language was vague and expansive and included no language about protected expression:

“6.6 Shall not use UO IT resources to transmit any communications that reasonably could be considered obscene, harassing, threatening or discriminatory by the recipient or another viewer.  For more information on UO policies in this area, see the Office of Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunity web site.”

While the old policy prohibited physical threats with the specific language from free-speech case law,

“threat of imminent physical harm”,

the proposed new policy would apply threats of any kind, apparently including the familiar “If you miss one more class I will lower your grade” email threat. And they wanted to apply this broad policy language to all users, not just students. How would our General Counsel’s office find the time to deal with all these prohibited emails? Why would they want to try?

This new policy will come back to the Senate for approval someday. My explanation above covers just one of the many problems with it. Read more in the pdf below from the ITTF, which will continue to monitor the situation.

Thanks,

Bill Harbaugh, Senate Pres, Econ Prof

Draft UO Acceptable Use Policy – with Senate Task Force changes, Feb 1-1yoj5hr

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