From: Kim Davies
To: "''"
Cc:,,,, 'Sue Primmer'
Subject: RE: Interference with information and communications
Date: Thu, 24 Jun 2004 11:58:10 +0100


Dear Mr. Pottins

Thank you for your email about Sue Blackwell's website at the University. The University's Council adopted a policy about personal websites hosted on University facilities at its meeting in December 2003. The University encourages the use of web facilities by its staff to promote their academic research and teaching and administrative duties. Many staff at the University maintain personal websites, hosted on the University's web address, for that purpose. The Council decided, however, that it was no longer appropriate for such websites to contain information, views or material that are not directly related to the member of staff's academic or administrative work. This is because it is deemed an inappropriate use of University resources for private activities and such activities may also bring with them liabilities for the University, including risks to the integrity of its IT systems, which it was no longer willing to bear.

In pursuance of this policy, all staff with personal websites were given a significant notice period to register their website and its contents with their Head of School. If the Head of School deemed that the website met the University's criteria with regard to its support of the individual's academic work, the website continues to be supported and available. In some cases, staff have been asked to remove material that did not meet these criteria and to find an alternative host for that material. Links between the personal website of the individual hosted by the University and the new site for the private material have also been set up with an appropriate disclaimer for liability by the University.

In hundreds of cases, this process has been understood and carried out without any difficulty. The judgement about the appropriateness of the material on any particular site has been made through peer review by the individual's Head of School. We offer support in finding an alternative host for private material and we have agreed to maintain links between the University's site and the new site established by the member of staff for his or her private material.

The University has received some messages about the impact of this policy on Sue Blackwell's website. It has been suggested that the University is operating a policy of censorship. This is clearly not the case. It is up to an individual to determine what material and what opinions they wish to promote through the medium of the web. All that the University has wished to clarify is that it will only make its resources available for legitimate academic or administrative purposes and that any material that is not deemed to be for these purposes is a matter for that individual to resource and to take full responsibility."

Dr. J. W. Nicholls
Registrar and Secretary

Kim Davies
PA to Registrar and Secretary
The University of Birmingham

Tel: 0121 414 3977

Fax: 0121 414 4534


-----Original Message----- From: []
Sent: 16 June 2004 00:17
Subject: Interference with information and communications

To: Dr. J.W. Nicholls: (Registrar and Secretary of the University of Birmingham)
and other persons concerned:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to express concern at what seems to be totally unwarranted and heavy-handed interference with the rights of one of one of your colleagues, Susan Blackwell, to communicate, and with the rights of members of the public to seek information which she was providing.

I am a freelance journalist and researcher, and a member of the editorial board of Jewish Socialist magazine. I have found Sue Blackwell's website a helpful source of information, stimulating ideas, and useful links, and I consider her a person of integrity.

I have recently been gathering information about a somewhat enigmatic writer and journalist called Israel Shamir, formerly with the BBC, about whom little that is reliable is known; and I remembered that Ms.Blackwell had commented on his literary style, and had reported some curious exchanges and connections which might throw more light on the man.

I was surprised and frustrated therefore to find on trying to access her website to seek this information that I was denied access, apparently by some university decision, for which no explanation was offered, and I suspect, no good reason can be given.

I really find it unpleasant and objectionable that a university should behave in this way, effectively censoring a member of your academic staff and denying access to knowledge and ideas to interested members of the public. You should really be proud to have someone like Sue Blackwell on your staff, and you should be ashamed at behaving in a repressive manner which is surely alien to academic traditions of humanism and free inquiry, and looks suspiciously redolent of hidden pressures.

Charles Pottins

Last updated: 17th September 2004