Resolution Charges That Zoom Violates Academic Freedom

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Georgetown U May Ditch Zoom Over Censorship; Resolution Charges That Zoom Violates Academic Freedom

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Zoom Violated Freedom Of Speech And Academic Freedom

WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 19, 2020) - A proposed resolution which may be considered by Georgetown University charges that the Zoom Corporation violated freedom of speech and academic freedom, and that the University should consider severing its contractual relationship with Zoom if necessary to prevent this censorship - e.g., develop "alternatives to Zoom so that it no longer enjoys a monopoly as on-line classroom platform at Georgetown."

It argues that "if Georgetown University contracts with a third party in such a way that compromises the academic freedoms of the university community, especially when that third party controls the virtual space in which we now conduct all our classes and meetings, that is a violation of the 1940 AAUP principles of academic freedom and of the Georgetown Faculty Handbook."

An annotation to the resolution reminds professors at Georgetown that "the AAUP Principles state, in part, 'teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject' (and of course, Zoom now is our classroom)."

Public interest law professor John Banzhaf of George Washington raised similar issues weeks ago when he wrote that "Zoom is apparently going beyond what other tech giants are accused of - censoring news and comments which they find objectionable - by not permitting campus scholars and academic organizations to hold meetings on some topics the company disagrees with, even including meetings to discuss such censorship."

Discussing Zoom's Censorship Policies

Another professor complained that we cannot even discuss Zoom’s censorship policies on Zoom. The AAUP chapter at NYU wryly noted that it is “an act of sick comedy to censor an event about censorship."

Banzhaf charges that this form of censorship is especially disturbing now when so many academic conferences, symposiums, and other important meetings must be held on line, rather than in person as in the past.

Indeed, he argues, many if not most college classes are now being taught on Zoom - so many that students often griping about having to attend “Zoom University” - so cancellation of events based upon what is planned to be discussed can have a devastating effect on free speech and academic freedom.

Scholars and their organizations – for example, the Association for Asian Studies, the Middle East Studies Association, Council of University of California Faculty Association, and the National Coalition Against Censorship – have all protested bitterly, even when the censorship occurred in China when Zoom could argue with some plausibility that it was necessary in order to comply with Chinese law.

A Very Worrisome Example Of Censorship

It is an astonishing and very worrisome example of censorship when a speaker can be blocked from platform after platform on the Internet - thereby not only effectively preventing her from speaking, but also preventing those who are interested from hearing her - because she is deemed controversial or otherwise objectionable, suggests Banzhaf.

As one university professor put it: “We wouldn’t let the contractor who builds our classroom tell us how to teach in it. The phone company doesn’t tell me what to say on the phone. Xerox doesn’t dictate what I photocopy or scan. Canvas or Blackboard [two other on-line teaching platforms] don’t vet my syllabus. . . . A third party service provider simply cannot be allowed to determine content on our campuses. If they say their corporate policies require them to do so, our university policies must require us to cancel our contracts.”