Resolution proposed

Academic Senate to vote on website filtering issue


Academic Senate resolution

Perry Continente and Adria Watson

The conversation about the Contra Costa Community College District’s blocking of websites on campus last fall continued Feb. 12 at the academic senate meeting as faculty discussed the new internet security measures.

Librarian Roseann Erwin and history professor Joshua Bearden proposed a resolution opposing the filtering of websites, which was placed on the agenda for action at the upcoming meeting Feb. 26.

District Director of Information and Technology Satish Warrier attended the meeting at the request of Academic Senate President Silvester Henderson and fielded questions from faculty about the blocks.

Faculty took issue with the automated nature of the blocks and the idea of censoring any content at all.

During the meeting Warrier said that the blocks were necessary and unobtrusive responding, “This is not a censorship issue, it’s a security issue.”

The proposed resolution emphasizes the importance of open communication while opposing the blocks, “filtering software that preemptively blocks access to websites by category is, in essencecensorship.”

It also claims that filtering “goes against the district’s professed value of academic freedom.”

This value is identified in the Core Beliefs section of the District Strategic Plan, 2014-2019, specifically “open communication at every level” and “academic freedom.”

District Chancellor Fred Wood responded to the concerns raised in the proposed resolution.

“I want to validate that librarians are often some of our best stewards of free speech,” he said adding, “They are the ones who most strongly react to things like book burnings.”

Wood continued, “At the end of the day we have to weigh the critical importance [of security] and the belief in free speech…This is a conversation we should have had before we put on the filter.”

One of the conversations brought up at the senate meeting centered around the 

possibility of the blocks contributing to inequity on campus.

“Students who can’t find something at school can just look it up at home,” said Business professor Theodora Adkins at the meeting adding, “unless they don’t have access to a computer. This is an equity issue and I’m all about equity.”

Wood also weighed in on the equity issue.

“Students could look it up at home but then there is an equity issue, not everyone has access to a computer at home,” he said.

Wood remained open about the possible future of the system.

“If we maintained a filter like this, or maybe we will decide not to at the end of the day, how can we make it easy for students to say, ‘Can you please release these sites’?”

Warrier acknowledged the nuanced nature of the debate while also affirming the 

need for security.

“It’s a delicate balance, but I can’t allow everything to be open,” said Warrier.

One of the major complaints about the web blocks is the difficulty students have in overturning a block because the message indicating blocked content does not provide contact info or instructions for requesting the content be unblocked.

The proposed senate resolution describes this as “a policy that authorizes the District IT department to solely determine the educational value of content viewed over the campus network.”

Wood said he was unaware of the message that displays when a site is blocked that states the content is against company policy rather than school policy.

“I’ve never heard of a program saying something about company policy, that sounds a little like Big Brother to me,” he said.

Warrier responded to the concerns about the message, and said the district has reached out to Palo Alto Networks to see if it can be altered.

“One of the things we are trying to do is talk to the company to allow us to change that default message… What I am trying to do is to get it to say something like, ‘If you are in the library tell the librarian.’”

Despite efforts to contact Palo Alto Networks to change the block message, little progress has been made.

“My network manager is out on vacation, she will be back next week and will call them again,” said Warrier.

The Academic Senate will take up the issue of the resolution at its meeting Monday, Feb. 26, 3 to 5 p.m. in the Library Community Room, L-109.

Members of the campus community interested in expressing their views on the issue can share them during the public comments portion of the meeting.