The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has censored the website of physics professor George Gollin because his site criticizes online “diploma mills.” On Thursday, Oct. 9, Gollin agreed to obey orders from top administrators to remove the controversial webpages.
The University of Illinois’ effort to shut down the website is appalling for two reasons. First of all, Gollin is right about these diploma mills that threaten the quality of higher education. But an even bigger issue is at stake: no college has a right to censor a website for its political content.
The notion that Gollin’s website is unrelated to physics is ridiculous—diploma mills threaten the field of physics just as much as any other field. In any case, every professor has a right to speak out on matters impacting higher education overall. And even if a website includes information unrelated to a professor’s field (such as mentioning one’s favorite football team), the university still cannot censor it.
The idea that a web host is responsible for potentially libelous content on a website is also absurd; it's like saying that a printer can be sued for the libels made by a newspaper. By censoring Gollin’s website, UIUC actually opens itself up to more litigation because it is now asserting responsibility for the content of faculty and student websites.
Once websites are allowed to be censored, will email be next? After all, email is just as much funneled through the university as a web server. If a university can ban certain websites, why can’t it ban certain kinds of email? If a university could be sued for websites it hosts on its servers, surely it can be sued for email it sends from its servers, and therefore must censor that as well.
The University of Illinois has already been found guilty of violating the constitutional rights of its faculty when it tried to silence criticism of Chief Illiniwek. The fact that it continues to infringe upon the rights of faculty reflects an administration that refuses to support academic freedom. UIUC should immediately reverse its decision, apologize, and allow everyone to read Prof. Gollin’s views about higher education.
John K. Wilson
U. of Illinois Administrators Ask Professor to Remove Web Site About Diploma Mills
By ANDREA L. FOSTER, Chronicle of Higher Education
October 13, 2003
Under pressure from administrators at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a tenured physics professor has shut down a Web site he created to make information available about the unaccredited distance-learning institutions often referred to as "diploma mills."
The physics professor, George Gollin, says administrators ordered him to remove his site from the university server last month because proprietors of some of the online institutions mentioned on his site had threatened to sue the university over the Web material. Administrators at the university justified their demand by telling Mr. Gollin that his research into the controversial institutions did not meet the "public service" obligation for faculty members of land-grant universities, he says.
Visitors to Mr. Gollin's site are now urged to visit the State of Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization site instead. The Oregon agency and the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education are planning to use the material from Mr. Gollin on their own Web sites.
Mr. Gollin said Thursday that he shut down his Web site after a meeting with the administrators, including David L. Swanson, the associate provost, and Mark Henss, the university counsel. Both administrators declined to comment.
But Robin Kaler, a spokeswoman for the university, denied that the university had ordered Mr. Gollin to remove the site. "We were trying to help him find a more appropriate place for his Web site," she says. A Web site about diploma mills should be "housed in a place that deals with accreditation," she adds.
Ms. Kaler says the university does not view Mr. Gollin's research into diploma mills as meeting the institution's public-service requirement since the work is not related to physics, his area of expertise. "He has a lot to offer the community and the world outside of his discipline," she says. "But for the university support he receives, it's for his work in his discipline."
Among the institutions that complained to the university over material on Mr. Gollin's Web site were James Monroe, Robertstown, and St. Regis Universities, all of which operate from Liberia, and American Coastline University, based in Metairie, La. American Coastline also threatened to sue Mr. Gollin. The institutions accused him of making inaccurate statements about them that were harmful to their businesses.
American Coastline declined comment, saying the issue is in litigation. Representatives for the other institutions could not be reached. None of the institutions has been accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Mr. Gollin says he has done exhaustive research about these and other unaccredited online institutions. His findings were detailed on his Web site, which totaled 109 pages of printed material. Alan Contreras, administrator for the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization, called the professor's work "superb."
"We think it's a very helpful consumer-protection tool," he says.
Mr. Gollin has spoken on the television network CNN about St. Regis University, and he gave a talk this year at his university titled, "Sources of Unconventional University Diplomas from Online Vendors."