Saturday, April 23, 2011

UniLeaks: wikileaks for education

I just came across a new website called UniLeaks, which solicits...
restricted or censored material of political, ethical, diplomatic or historical significance which is in some way connected to higher education, an agency or government body working in partnership with an institution, e.g., a University.
As yet, I do not see the point in creating a system targeted at particular institutions. Maybe this is a way to attract specialists who would be interested in these documents. However, my first suspicion is that this is the work of anti-intellectuals who are digging for any possible dirt on academia.

In part, this is because I can't imagine that they would find particularly interesting documents that are distinctive of universities. The most likely "dirt" will relate to fund-raising, resource allocation, and employee relations -- just like with any large institution. My fear is that these people will be digging for documents like the stolen* emails at the center of Climategate, which they can then pass to the right-wing noise machine for selective quoting.

As I suggested in Privacy and Transparency at the University, this strategy seems to be increasingly common among some political factions. Michael Mann suffered legal harassment as a result of the Climategate brouhaha, and Frances Fox Piven was singled out and demonized by Glenn Beck at the height of his popularity. This may be a strategy of attacking soft targets -- mid-level public figures who will never wield political power and do not have a mass-audience.

With that being said, I am cautiously optimistic about the establishment of UniLeaks. I am deeply interested in maintaining transparency and accountability (but also political independence) among universities. I am also hopeful that the proliferation of Wikileaks-style organizations will help to move these whistle-blower systems into the political mainstream, and reduce the risk of retaliation.

Update: I found an article about UniLeaks in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The rhetoric used by the (Australian) administrator of the site seems to be a mixture of academia-idealist (e.g. students are not clients), and government-accountability (e.g. universities get a lot of state money). Also, some articles noted that this is just one of many specialized WikiLeaks clones.

*I say that these emails were stolen rather than leaked, because a leak requires that someone had legitimate access to the documents being leaked. Since no-one should have had access to the email database at the center of Climategate, that data must have been stolen.

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