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University has right to control porn on college computers, but at what cost?

March 25, 1997

The issue:

Internet porn

Our view:

The University can create its rules, but how will they enforce them?

The U.S. government is struggling with the issue of pornography on the Internet.

The University faces its own dilemma in dealing with salacious digital darlings.

Written University rules state that no pornography can be requested. Other changes are coming next year, including the banning of pornography displayed on University computers.

Enforcement in computer labs seems easy enough. Lab assistants and students walk around all the time in the lab. Software is available to block off certain sites if the University so desires.

The cut gets a little finer in dealing with such a violation outside the lab. The University is spending a great deal to wire the residence hall rooms with computer connections.

If a student looks at such material on the Internet using the University server in his or her own room, can the student get in trouble? Can the University track who is using the Internet and where they go on it? Do they have the right to monitor the homepages University students access?

With the residence halls being wired, students may bring in their own computers and be hooked up to the server. Already, some students have purchased Internet access for their home computers through the University. Students can now use the University's system to access Internet porn.

Will they be in trouble next year? Though not technically using University computers, they are still using a University service. What's the difference?

Can the rules be enforced? Who will enforce them? Will smutty forays on the Internet be an offense no more enforceable than removing tags from mattresses?

There's little question of the University's right to pass regulations about the use of its computers. This is a private university and owns the computers and provides the service. Nowhere in the Bill of Rights is there a provision requiring access to the Internet.

What lessons can be taught by restrictions, though? When do the restrictions become censorship?

Electronic learning tools have become more and more prevalent. With the Internet, there is an assumed risk. With the relative anarchy allowed on the World Wide Web, there will be the danger of exposure to elements not in line with Baylor's values or mission statement. In order to become educated and be able to to survive and succeed in the world, this is an acceptable risk.

By the time students reach the University, they are expected to have achieved some modicum of maturity. After all they are adults--a demographic historically resistant to changes in what they can and cannot do in their free time. The University should remember this when creating the rules governing the access of pornography or anything else on the Internet.

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