June 05, 2007

Facebook at Nottingham

Writing about web page http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/registrar/

Browsing Nottingham’s web site the other day I was interested to observe a few things:-

  • The Registrar there (Paul Greatrix, formerly of Warwick) has his own blog about all things Registrarial, called Registrarism, and linked to from the Registrar’s department home page.
  • The Registrar’s department home page also has a warning to students to think carefully about their Facebook publishing:-

You also need to remember that you remain subject to the University’s regulations covering acceptable standards of behaviour; IT facilities usage; harassment and bullying. In the event of a serious breach of these regulations, on Facebook or elsewhere, the University will not hesitate to take action which could lead amongst other things to withdrawal of your IT access, and to a fine or suspension (or even in the most extreme case to expulsion) under the University’s Code of Discipline for Students. So, do think carefully before posting comments about others.

And the page also includes a link to the Nottingham Students’ Union web site which has their own version of the same warning:-

University Staff members have brought to the Students’ Union’s attention that there are a number of groups on Facebook that are bringing the University’s name into disrepute. The University has advised us that they may consider disciplinary action against students who have created or are members of offensive or defamatory groups.

It raises an interesting question: to what extent can a university take disciplinary action against someone for publishing web content outside the university? The AUP for IT equipment usage doesn’t apply in such circumstances (assuming a student didn’t use university equipment to publish the content); a university could conceivably try to sue its students for defamation, perhaps, but it would be something of a nuclear option. Could a university throw a student out for bringing its name into disrepute even if it was done entirely outside of the university? Do students sign something when they arrive at university to say that they won’t do this? Or if the student posts something on Facebook (or wherever) which could be seen as harassment or abuse of another individual, does the university have the right to punish that behaviour? If so, where are the boundaries of a university’s powers to react? Is it only when the behaviour in question affects other staff or students or the institution? This social networking stuff is a great big can of worms.

- 5 comments by 4 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Chris May

    What would be a university’s options if a student started putting up posters that were offensive (or defamatory ) to its staff around town? Or paid for a half-page ad. in the local paper?

    It seems to me that Facebook is in broadly the same category. The fact that it’s electronic rather than physical means that it’s cheaper and easier for the student to implement, but I’m not sure I see a difference in principle between the two.

    05 Jun 2007, 14:15

  2. The University could probably refuse to grant the student a degree.

    05 Jun 2007, 15:30

  3. Side-stepping the issue here, at least until I’ve had time to do more than skim the post, but: hooray for Paul for having a blog and using it properly as a member of University management.

    05 Jun 2007, 15:33

  4. Jenny Delasalle

    Also Keele are apparently warning students of disciplinary and legal action with regard to inappropriate Facebook usage (defamation and harassment):


    07 Jun 2007, 11:22

  5. Eleanor Lovell

    Yeah, I heard about that when it was reported on the BBC website, although the BBC suggested that Keele had emailed ALL students warning them with disciplinary action which I think would have been a foolish move by Keele. My cousin studies at Keele and said that it was only a particular group of students who were warned.

    There was another interesting piece on the BBC about Facebook though, Facing up to Facebook Fears

    07 Jun 2007, 11:35

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