Northern Illinois University drew widespread mockery for reports last week, including by The College Fix, that it was blocking social media and warning students they could be investigated for visiting websites like the Wikipedia page for the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church.

The school now says it will revise its Acceptable Use Policy – for the second time in less than two months – so that students aren’t subject to Internet restrictions, just employees, The Northern Star reports.

The school claimed from the start that some of the provisions in the original policy, which also banned visiting “political” websites, were intended only to apply to employee work time.

Information Security Director Jim Fatz is reassuring students that they can watch all the BDSM and “barely legal” smut they want:

“The most obvious example that we’re struggling with is pornography. So, for example, any employee of the university sitting at their desk at work, they’re not suppose to surf porn, but it’s fine for students to surf porn. Nobody’s denying that.”

Chief Information Officer Brett Coryell, though, isn’t happy about the policy revision:

“If the Secret Services shows up on campus and wants to know who was sending a threatening email to the president or if the Secret Service shows up on campus and they want to know who was accessing a website about making bombs or something like that, there’s a little bit we can do to try to satisfy their request for information, but I think ultimately … we aren’t going to be able to provide the information about illegal activity that we might have,” Coryell said.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education calls BS on that:

Rather than fully admitting their error, administrators are still offering dubious reasons why an overbroad network policy was necessary in the first place. … NIU does not make clear how leaving social media and Wikipedia pages available for students to access will hinder efforts to track students making threats.


Read the full Northern Star report here.

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College is a time for learning, intellectual exploration and flexing your right to freedom of speech, but a new network use policy at Northern Illinois University (NIU) that seems to ban social media and political websites is drawing protests from students and advocacy groups.

NIU’s Accessible Use Policy, last revised July 25, is likely to affect students’ political activism because, according to the university, peering at unethical and politically subversive material on the Internet is grounds for investigation.

The revised policy was brought to light by Reddit user darkf, who claimed to learn about the policy last week after trying to look up information about the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church from a personal computer, according to Betabeat.

“I just got settled into my new dorm. Found that the university has adopted a new policy that blocks many of the sites I normally go to. Is this common for a state-run university?” the user wrote on Reddit.

Darkf was notified that the Wikipedia page for the church was flagged as “illegal or unethical.”



The warning prompt – which misspells “believe” and “security” – allowed the Reddit user to click through to the website, but it also warned that “unless you are accessing this site for legitimate business purposes, it is highly probable that the access would violate the Northern Illinois Acceptable Use Policy.”

Susan Kruth, program officer for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Individual Rights Defense Program, said the most questionable elements of the school’s revised policy are:

  • Using the resources for political activities, including organizing or participating in any political meeting, rally, demonstration, soliciting contributions or votes, distributing material, surveying or polling for information connected to a political campaign, completing political surveys or polling information, and any other activities prohibited under the ethics act and/or other state/federal laws.
  • Purposefully interfering with or disrupting another information technology user’s work as well as the proper function of information processing and network services or equipment.

Kruth’s blog post said the university’s filter appeared to be “intended for a large business corporation rather than for a public institution of higher education,” given the warnings about “professional responsibilities” and “business purposes.”

The fact that the Reddit user was merely trying to access information about a controversial church “paints a disturbing picture about the breadth of NIU’s censorship efforts,” Kruth said.

“Politically oriented websites and social media are integral parts of the ‘marketplace of ideas’ that universities are meant to be,” but the school’s policy “chills or precludes basic research,” Kruth said, adding that FIRE was investigating.

The university responded on its NIU Today news site Wednesday that because it was “behind in the adoption of standard security practices like border protection for its network, the [filtering] system is still in its early phases of tuning.”

“I want to assure students that — contrary to some Internet reports — they will have access to social media websites,” said Chief Information Officer Brett Coryell in NIU Today.  The school “only considers blocking network traffic that constitutes a well known threat as determined by the broader IT security community.”

The school also sent and retweeted a series of tweets saying it has neither a “ban” nor that it’s “prohibiting” Wikipedia, social media or political sites. The administrator of the school’s Twitter page said there was “no truth” to such claims, which are “completely false,” in a series of discussions with Twitter users who pointed to the seemingly clear policy language.

Told the policy bans “social media” and “political activities,” the administrator responded: “Let’s work through this together, Margaret. What do you take that to mean?”

FIRE and Reason, another critic of the policy, pointed back to the policy’s own wording in respond to the university’s claim that some of the provisions, such as the social media restriction, applied only to employees.

In fact, the policy says “all individuals, including, but not limited to, employees, students, customers, volunteers, and third parties, unconditionally accept the terms of this policy,” FIRE’s Kruth said in a followup post. “If parts of the policy concern only employees, they should be clearly labeled as such” and also only apply to “non-academic staff.”

Kruth also poured cold water on the school’s tweet that the restrictions are on “NIU computers” and not “personal computers … used by students.” The policy itself says it applies to “computers attached to this network.”

Maybe current IT staff “intends to apply it only to NIU-owned computers, but that doesn’t appear to be what students are experiencing, and it’s not what the policy says,” Kruth said.

College Fix contributor Christopher White is a University of Missouri graduate student and an editorial assistant for The College Fix.

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Apparently because all the big issues surrounding us today are resolved, the National Science Foundation is shelling out $202,000 to study Wikipedia’s “systematic gender bias.” The Washington Free Beacon reports:

The government has awarded two grants for collaborative research to professors at Yale University and New York University to study what the researchers describe as “systematic gender bias” in the online encyclopedia.

“Wikipedia was launched in 2001 and has since become the world’s single most important reference tool and information clearinghouse,” the grant states. “Unlike traditional encyclopedias, which are controlled by experts, Wikipedia was supposed to have democratized knowledge.”

“Under-representation of female scholars and associated scholarship reduces the quality and completeness of Wikipedia, imposing significant costs on the millions of readers who rely on it,” it said. “The findings from this research should clarify where in the complex chain of knowledge gender disparities arise.

“Imposing significant costs” on readers …? Really? Aren’t facts facts and knowledge knowledge, no matter who contributes? Apparently not:

[“Media technologist” Deanna] Zandt argues that Wikipedia is biased because the majority of its editors are “young, white, child-free men.”

“It’s not enough to sit back and hope for the best when finding sexist, racist, homophobic, trans*phobic, etc., language or information on Wikipedia,” she said. “In order to fix it, we need lots of different kinds of people to jump in and start editing Wikipedia, too.”

One of the examples of Wikipedia’s “gender bias,” cited by The New York Times’ Noam Cohen, is that the episode synopses for Sex in the City aren’t nearly as long and detailed as those for The Sopranos.

Well! Count me sold on this grant, then!

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Brown University, which last week hosted “Nudity Week,” will soon play host to a wikipedia edit-a-thon designed to remedy “gender imbalance” in Wikipedia.

So if you start finding words like “heteronormative” and “patriarchalism” randomly dispersed throughout the next Wikipedia article you read, now you know why.

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Liberal bias on campus has reached a new low. A number of universities, including Yale, are coordinating in an effort to offer students college credit for adding feminist ideas to Wikipedia articles.

Katherine Timpf of Campus Reform explained the program in a recent interview with Fox News:



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Campus Reform reports:

Fifteen universities worldwide — including Yale University, Brown University, and Pennsylvania State University — will offer college credit to students who “write feminist thinking” into Wikipedia.

The program, “Storming Wikipedia,” will be part of the Dialogues on Feminism and Technology online course developed by FemTechNet, an organization of feminist educators and scholars.

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