THE Scholarly Web - 21 November 2013

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

November 21, 2013

Many university employees like to blog. They do it to gather their thoughts in one place, pass comment on current affairs, or vent their frustration at the annoyances of everyday life.

However, when their posts get too close to the bone for their employer, it can lead to conflict, as has happened at Chicago State University in Illinois. The institution’s lawyers have sent a “cease and desist” letter to staff running an online publication initially titled the Chicago State University Faculty Voice Blog – the self-declared “uncensored voice” of faculty.

After receiving the letter, signed by Patrick B. Cage, vice-president and general counsel at Chicago State, the bloggers reacted to claims that “unauthorized use” of the university’s name and logo constituted an infringement of trademark by changing its name to the Crony State University Faculty Blog. They also adopted a new slogan for the blog: “Where we hire our friends.”

In a post on the blog, contributor Robert Bionaz, associate professor of history at CSU, writes: “I can only speak for myself here, but I will say this to Mr Cage and to the Chicago State administrators who have now made four attempts to stifle dissent on this campus…You may bluster and threaten to your heart’s content but the criticism of the administration will continue.”

Professor Bionaz adds that he is expecting “more attacks of this nature, designed to deflect the discussion into areas that are simply not germane to the issue at hand”.

According to an article on the Chicago Tribune’s website, the blog was founded by Phillip Beverly, a faculty senate officer and associate professor of political science at the university. “I know, as a faculty member, I don’t run the university. I can’t stop what’s going on there,” the Tribune quotes from a blog post by Professor Beverly. “But I can shine the light of day on it. That’s the purpose of the blog, to put into the public sphere what is happening in the name of the citizens of Illinois.”

But Tom Wogan, a university spokesman, claimed that the legal notice was not related to the criticism of CSU posted on the site. “That’s not why they got the letter…it’s because they’re using the trademark without authorization,” he told the Tribune.

This is not the first time CSU has been accused of being heavy-handed in handling employees’ online communications.

Last year, the institution withdrew a controversial policy that would have required staff members to seek official approval if they wished to conduct any interviews with journalists, or issue any university-related communications on social media.

An April 2012 post on the University Diaries blog published what it said were extracts from an email sent by the university to its faculty the previous month. “The policy applies to media interviews, opinion pieces, newsletters, social media and other types of communications, stating that they must be approved by the university’s division of public relations,” the blog post summarised, going on to quote the email as saying that “all disclosures to the media will be communicated by an authorized CSU media relations officer or designate”.

On the Crony State University Faculty Blog, Professor Bionaz says that the ill-fated policy had made “a laughing stock” of CSU – something that he believes might also be true of the latest saga.

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