Colorado State University at Pueblo administrators have banned email access for sociology professor Timothy McGettigan after he sent an email to people on campus criticizing the administration’s budget cuts, compared the cuts to the Ludlow Massacre a century ago by calling top administrators “hitmen,” and promoted a rally on campus to protest the proposed cuts.
According to the administration, McGettigan’s email violated a campus policy prohibiting “Use of electronic communications to intimidate, threaten, or harass other individuals, or to interfere with the ability of others to conduct university business.” The accusation is ridiculous, and the censorship of email is entirely unjustifiable.
If anyone actually makes a violent threat via email, the proper response is to contact the police and file charges, not cut off their email access. If a professor phoned in a bomb threat, would the university seek to cut off his phone access?
The fact that the university is removing email access and taking no other action indicates that this is retaliation for criticism of the administration, not an actual threat. And, of course, anyone with a brain can tell that this email was not a threat. Someone who truly regards this email as a violent threat should be disqualified from holding an administrative position on the grounds that they are too stupid to run an institution of higher education.
This case, and similar cases where administrators have secretly read faculty and student email, indicate that no professor and no student should ever use a university email address. They should simply forward all email to their personal address. Considering that campus email addresses are cut off once someone leaves, this is the best approach even if administrators don’t act like censorious idiots. The days when universities had to provide email addresses due to the lack of free private hosting are long gone, and it’s time for this anachronism to end.
However, until that happens, colleges need to create better policies for the appropriate use of email. CSU-Pueblo’s policy gives the administration arbitrary power to read anyone’s email and cut off email access without any due process or review. Colleges need clear declarations that IT policies will follow the same standards of academic freedom and free speech as anywhere else on campus. And they need a campuswide committee to evaluate accusations, rather than having administrators make decrees.