Okla. professor takes university to court for blocking access to sexual material online





OKLAHOMA — A University of Oklahoma professor has sued the school for violating his First Amendment rights after it implemented a new policy blocking campus access to sexually explicit material on the Internet.

University President David Boren, a former U.S. senator, agreed with the appropriateness of the suit, saying this was a matter that needed “guidance” from the courts. The case is scheduled to be heard in January.

Last April, the university prohibited the transmission to students, faculty and staff of hundreds of Usenet bulletin boards that contained sexually related graphics or information. Administration officials explained that they had been warned by a state senator that by providing previously unrestricted access, they could be in violation of state obscenity laws.

Bill Loving, an assistant professor of journalism and an adjunct professor of law, filed the suit in federal district court in May to restore the blocked material. Loving claims the school took a “meat-cleaver” approach to cutting access to computer news groups on campus. He cites a discussion group for sexual assault victims that was blocked.

The school later reversed itself and opened a few blocked sites. The administration admits that the university does not have the ability to examine all the news groups, so they act on information that certain addresses contain pornographic material.

After the sites were blocked, the student government voted against the new policy. Students outraged with the university’s actions say the content of what is being restricted is irrelevant. But Lori Brooks, the editor in chief of the student newspaper, the Oklahoma Daily, said that overall, “Students have a mixed reaction. Some say the university was within its rights, others believe it is clearly a case of censorship.”

After the incident, Boren set up a task force to review the university’s computer access policies. In September, it recommended a compromise that would provide two separate servers. One with unrestricted access would be available to students, faculty and staff for academic purposes. A separate restricted server would be created for the non-university community.

The official policy from the university is due out soon. Depending on the results, Loving says he may have to adjust his lawsuit. He believes, however, that improved measures would ultimately “do nothing to deny the president the right to censor again when he feels like it.”

Loving claims that the school1s effort to block material is unjustified in any form. “The Internet is a public forum. The current policy would restrict that public forum and [it] thus violates First Amendment rights,” Loving said.


reports, Winter 1996-97