Facebookers force Leeds to trash gagging code

May 27, 2010

The University of Leeds has been forced to remove a social-networking code from its website warning staff and students that it was unacceptable to criticise the university on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The code of practice said: "Social-networking sites must not be used as a platform for airing dissatisfaction or criticism of the university, its staff, students or facilities."

However, it was taken down after provoking a barrage of criticism online.

One of several critical postings on Facebook says: "Once again the University of Leeds excellently demonstrates that it is a bastion of free speech, liberty and rational enquiry."

The Leeds branch of the University and College Union praised the university for acting swiftly to remove the policy once the hostility became clear.

However, a blog posted by the union before the guidelines were revoked pointed out their incompatibility with a "freedom of expression protocol" recently implemented by Leeds.

The protocol states: "The university is committed to promoting and positively encouraging free debate, enquiry and, indeed, protest."

A spokesman for the UCU said that Leeds' response "confirms its commitment to the protocol, which we are very pleased to have in place given the current climate".

A spokesman for Leeds confirmed that the guidelines would not be reinstated in their current form.

"Due to a breakdown in communication, the draft code was released without going through the usual approval process and before it had been brought to the attention of the appropriate senior managers," he said.

"As soon as we discovered the mistake, the item was withdrawn from our website. The draft will be reviewed and revised before being reissued."

He added that the university was "absolutely committed to freedom of expression within the law".

"While we would wish to do all we can to protect students and staff from personal abuse, we would never seek to stifle criticism of the institution," he said.

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com.

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