Following Zoom’s repeated interference in academic freedom, the following resolution is going before the Georgetown Executive faculty:

Resolution regarding the use of Zoom (Nov. 20, 2020)

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We propose that the Executive Faculty adopt and promulgate the following resolution (resolution text in plain text; explanatory material in footnotes):

In light of repeated cases of the Zoom Corporation violating freedom of speech and academic freedom by unilaterally shutting down meetings, including campus meetings sponsored by university faculty and approved by universities as campus events, the Main Campus Executive Faculty should call on Georgetown University to:

1. Develop and publicize alternatives to Zoom so that it no longer enjoys a monopoly as on-line classroom platform at Georgetown. These alternatives should be available in time for use by the spring semester 2021.

2. Convene a committee of faculty (MCEF can solicit volunteers) to look at the text of Georgetown’s contracts with Zoom.

The charge of the committee shall be:

· To work with University counsel and representatives of the CIO’s office and CNDLS, to determine whether, to what extent, and in what way the contract allows Zoom to block or censor Georgetown affiliated meetings, classes, conferences, webinars and so on. The committee should discuss language to prohibit, limit and / or penalize Zoom’s ability to curtail on academic freedom in violation of AAUP guidelines and university norms.[1]

· If the committee determines that Georgetown University’s contract with Zoom indeed allows Zoom to censor academic content, then recommendations should be made to preserve academic freedom. If Georgetown University contracts with a third party in such a way that compromises the academic freedoms of the university community, especially when that third party controls the virtual space in which we now conduct all our classes and meetings, that is a violation of the 1940 AAUP principles of academic freedom and of the Georgetown Faculty Handbook.[2]

· Recommend prompt steps to resolve any unsustainable conflict between principles of academic freedom and the contract with the Zoom Corporation.

[1] In the recent case at State University of San Francisco, SUSF President Lynn Mahoney stated that “we also recognize that Zoom is a private company that has the right to set its own terms of service in its contracts with users.” The committee should determine whether Georgetown’s contract with Zoom similarly allows Zoom to cite “terms of service” as a reason to censor academic content on our campus and consider ways to prevent Zoom using it’s own unilateral determination of what is legal or not to censor campus speech. In its censorship of events related to Tiananmen and Hong Kong, Zoom claimed “local laws” in the PRC as a reason to block meetings in the USA, without stipulating which laws. In the Sept. 2020 blocking of meetings regarding Palestine at SUSF, Zoom claimed US laws as a reason, though SUSF itself found that no laws would be broken. Zoom assures universities that it honors academic freedom, but if it can, whenever faced with third party political pressure, unilaterally assert that this law or that law necessitates its censorship, then such assurances are meaningless. Contracts must have teeth to assure proper service from Zoom, just as they would from any other contractor.

[2] Note: The AAUP Principles state, in part, “teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject” (and of course, Zoom now is our classroom). The Georgetown Faculty Handbook section III.C.I states:

Free inquiry and unconstrained publication of the results of inquiry are at the heart of a university. Our University commitment to academic freedom supports all faculty (and professional librarians) in research, teaching, and professional service in and beyond the University by protecting free inquiry and free expression. Faculty enjoy academic freedom in the classroom, the laboratory, the studio, the library, and all the domains of their academic activity.

Written by

James A. Millward 米華健 is professor of history at Georgetown University and mandolinist for By & By.

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