Australia's universities have been forced to grapple with a dramatic new problem: how to set down standards for individual home pages on the World-Wide Web without infringing academic freedom.
With hundreds of staff and students creating new home pages each month, universities in every state have formed or are establishing special committees to draw up guidelines.
At the University of Queensland, where at least 300 academics and students now have their own home pages listed on the university's main Web site, pro vice chancellor Professor Alan Rix is heading a working party to draw up policy guidelines to clarify some grey areas in the use of university resources on the Net.
"We are trying devise the best way of handling the issue: where pages should be located, what style should be used, the standard of presentation and so on," Rix said.
Joining a growing chorus of senior higher educatrion administrators across the country, he said the working party was trying to achieve a result where staff and students fully appreciated that the types of material they put on their Web pages contributed to the university's overall image in the higher education and wider international community.
At Monash University, a multimedia board has been set up to coordinate the explosion of individual home pages. A spokesman said the intention was not to censor or comment on the academic purpose of what was being presented but to monitor what was going out over the Internet in Monash's name. Another university official who preferred to remain anonymous said, "Boy, we've had some lulus. One academic used a photo of his dog to illustrate his home page and we just don't want that."
After months of deliberations at the University of Sydney last year, a committee drew up a "university wide information service policy". Faculties, departments or individuals wanting to link a home page to the main university Web site are expected to follow certain guidelines. If not, "the link will be terminated," the policy states.
Under the guidelines, the head of each department, centre or unit is responsible for ensuring information on home pages is up to date and accurate and meets the normal standards and legal requirements expected of any university publication, as well as projecting a favourable image.
The policy guidelines note that "despite these checks on accuracy and presentation, the university includes on its home page a general disclaimer about its responsibility for currency, accuracy or quality of information it makes available and a statement about the copyright of that material".