University bans staff websites after anti-semitism row
From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)
Polly Curtis | The Guardian | 11 March 2004
Academics at Birmingham University have condemned moves by the university authorities to ban 300 of their personal websites.
The university’s decision to stop hosting staff websites on university computers follows a series of controversies over links to allegedly anti-semitic content.
As at many other universities, staff have been able to set up sites on a university server on any subject they like. Under new guidelines, from March 31 they will have to demonstrate that content is “relevant and legitimate to their academic or administrative work”.
Among the 300 websites that will be taken down is one about air quality and another dedicated to genealogy; others are weblogs containing academics’ CVs and publications and links to other sites.
However, others have caused controversy. In October 2002 the Board of Deputies of British Jews wrote to the university demanding that they sever the university’s link to the website of Sue Blackwell, an English lecturer. They said links from her site led to images glorifying suicide bombing and comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.
Before this, Ms Blackwell came under attack when she severed all the links between her website and Israeli websites as part of an academic boycott of Israel.
Ms Blackwell, who is leading a campaign to keep staff sites, said the move was draconian.
“I am sure that the university considers my sites an embarrassment, but it should see them as an asset,” she said. “I have had messages of support from all over the world.”
The Association of University Teachers at the university has also condemned the proposed policy. The union’s web owners’ group has asked for meetings with university administrators, but says its requests have been turned down.
A spokeswoman for the university said: “It is important that our website accurately reflects the business of the university. Personal websites that are relevant and legitimate to academic or administrative work are being re-registered through a process of peer review.”
She added that staff were free to create websites using external internet service providers.
The campaign has set up a website at web.bham.ac.uk/web_campaign – but as it is hosted on university servers, it is likely to disappear when the ban takes effect.