12 March 2004

Dear Sue

Thank you for your messages about personal web sites.

I have been quite clear throughout the discussion of this issue that personal web sites were not an issue for which there was any reporting mechanism (informal or formal) from Information Services to Senate and no formal requirement for Senate to discuss, take a view on or approve the proposed University policy.

The Legislative Position

The role of Senate is defined in University legislation:

Charter, paragraph (10)

There shall be a Senate of the University which shall subject to this Charter and the Statutes of the University be responsible to the Council for regulating and directing the academic work of the University in teaching examining and research and for the award of all Degrees, Diplomas, Certificates and other academic distinctions of the University and for the discipline of the students of the University.

The Vice-Chancellor and Principal shall chair the Senate ex-officio.

Statutes of the University shall regulate and define the powers and business of the Senate and all other matters relative to the Senate which it may be thought are proper to be so regulated.

Statutes, Section 26: Powers of the Senate

  1. The Senate shall:-

    1. keep under review the overall policies of the University and make recommendations thereon to the Council.

    2. be responsible to the Council for regulating and directing the academic work of the University in teaching examining and research for the award of all Degrees Diplomas Certificates and other academic distinctions of the University and for the discipline (whether intra-mural or extra-mural) of the students of the University and for the enforcement of such discipline.

  1. The Senate shall have power to discuss any proposed change in the Charter and Statutes and to send views to the Council.

  2. The Senate shall establish a committee with such membership as shall be prescribed by Ordinance, through which the Senate shall carry out its responsibilities for the discipline of the students of the University and for the enforcement of such discipline. The procedures of this committee shall be in accordance with the principles of natural justice and students shall have the right to appeal to the Council against its decisions in accordance with the Statutes.

There is no requirement to consider the issue of University policy on whether or not to allow, to maintain server space as a resource for, or to act as an Internet Service Provider for personal web sites.

Alan White wrote on behalf of the BAUT, to ask whether the issue of personal web sites could be raised at Senate. In my response, dated 20 November, I stated as follows:

"It may be appropriate for the issue of personal web sites to be raised through the School and / or Deanery, and hence come to Senate as an issue of academic strategy. However, if it relates rather to Conditions of Service, it should be raised through the University / trade union channels for dialogue (ie: with Personnel Services)."

December Senate

By the time of December Senate, you had previously raised the issue of personal web sites with your Dean, with your School's elected member of Senate (Professor Speirs) and via BAUT mail-list. You, Professor Speirs and Alan White had all asked that the matter be discussed at Senate. As there is a standing item for Deans to bring forward issues discussed at their forum, that was a fourth line of reporting, by which the issue might have been raised.

It seemed sensible to allow the matter to be raised at Senate, so that Professor Speirs could raise the matters you wished to have discussed, the University could explain the reasons for the change in policy and members of Senate would be in a position to explain the reasoning to their constituents (as part of the cascade of information to all Schools).

Formally, Senate received a report that the University intended to change its policy on personal websites for information, the same way as it receives lots of other reports - as something which will be relevant and of interest to the academic community, and in response to the specific request from a member (Ron Speirs) that it be raised.

The Senate Minute confirms that an opportunity was provided as a specific and separate item for Ron to raise the concerns you wished to have raised, and for Senate to discuss them. The relevant Minute runs as follows:

03/40 University Policy on Personal Web Sites


The above issue. It was noted that the proposed policy was in draft, had not yet been issued to staff, would not impact on academic freedom and was subject to further revision prior to introduction.

It was now very easy to set up a personal web site, and staff and student were to be urged to use a separate, commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP) for sites which reflected their outside interests and were not directly related to their teaching and research. Legal advice, based on recent cases, was that hosts (ISPs, including the University for pages on its servers) were liable to face loss of reputation and prosecution for content which was judged to be inappropriate or defamatory. Heads of Schools (covered by the University's liability insurance) would be asked to give approval for the proposed content of web pages, but not for every revision. They were the appropriate source for authorisation, because of their familiarity with the academic area concerned. The proposal aimed only to provide some sort of structure to what was placed on University servers, and would not include constraints as to format or inclusion of the University logo.

The Director of Information Services would be finalising the policy in the light of comments at Senate and would issue it shortly.

Since it was not formally within its remit to do so, Senate could not formally approve the proposal. However, it was clear at the end of the discussion that (subject to further consideration of the mechanisms whereby web pages would be approved by Heads of School) members had noted the legal position, as explained to them and were willing to go along with the proposals.

The same issue was reported to and discussed by Council. The draft Minute (formally subject to approval at Council on 24 March) reads as follows:


The view taken by the University on the basis of legal advice (as explained to and discussed by Senate) that personal web sites should no longer be permitted on University servers. The proposals would not affect legitimate academic use or content, but the University needed to guard itself against legal liability for any personal web content to which exception might be taken.

Thus, you are formally correct that Senate did not "approve" the policy; but the policy was understood by Senate and (formally and officially) endorsed by Council.

Your Complaint

I have set out the official position above, which is that Senate discussed a matter, which you sought to have raised as an issue of "academic freedom". Senate was not empowered to approve the policy, but the discussion ensured that members would understand the basis for the policy and - in that sense - be "willing to sign up to it".

I have not seen the email to which you refer, but note that it was sent by an individual to members of her own administrative area: not issued as a statement of University policy. Within the parameters of informing colleagues within one's own unit, unofficially, I think it is quite understandable that the same constraints and niceties about the formal legislative position are imposed less tightly. In the real world, email is not as carefully crafted as a formal notice or letter and I would anticipate that the emails cascading what went on at Senate from other academic members to their constituents would / could be equally loosely worded. It is understandable that members of I/S should be informed that the issue had been discussed and "approved" in the strict sense of "not being mauled out of recognition".

You may feel you have grounds for complaint, and to continue to press your view. If you wish to do so, I would suggest that you should address your complaint to the Registrar and Secretary. However (notwithstanding the fact that you dispute the legal opinion on which the policy is based), the formal position is as stated in the Minute of Council, that the governing body has endorsed the decision and the policy.

Yours sincerely

Paul Baker