Monday, December 6, 2010

Columbia University: Check or you don't deserve a degree

Wired has a story today on how Columbia University's guidelines for students concerning WikiLeaks have now changed dramatically after the university previously adviced their students against checking the recent WikiLeaks stories:

Days after Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) caused an uproar by warning its students against linking to Wikileaks or discussing the secret-spilling website’s latest cache of diplomatic cables online, the prestigious training ground for future diplomats has changed tack and embraced free speech.

Last week, the SIPA Office of Career Services sent an email to students saying that an alumnus who works at the U.S. State Department had recommended that current students not tweet or post links to Wikileaks, which is in the process of releasing 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables — many of them classified — because doing so could hurt their career prospects in government service.

“Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government,” the Office of Career Services wrote.

Now the guidelines have changed:

SIPA Dean John H. Coatsworth has clarified the school’s policy and issued a ringing endorsement of free speech and academic freedom.

“Freedom of information and expression is a core value of our institution,” Coatsworth wrote in an email to the SIPA community Monday morning (full email below). “Thus, SIPA’s position is that students have a right to discuss and debate any information in the public arena that they deem relevant to their studies or to their roles as global citizens, and to do so without fear of adverse consequences.”

SIPA Professor Gary Sick, the prominent Middle East expert who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan, went even further in repudiating the memo.

“If anyone is a master’s student in international relations and they haven’t heard of WikiLeaks and gone looking for the documents that relate to their area of study, then they don’t deserve to be a graduate student in international relations,” Sick told in an interview.

It is vital that universities remain free and it is good that Columbia didn't sacrifice it's view on that. As a political scientist, I cannot do anything but agree to Gary Sick's view either. It is important that students of international relations are interested in the world and whatever information is out there, especially when it offers as good insight into world affairs as WikiLeaks do. It is sad, however, that Columbia got to the point where they had to clarify this position.

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