Free Speech Group Takes Aim at UMass Lowell’s Prohibition on ‘Offensive’ Internet Use

UMass Lowell Chancellor Dr. Julie Chen. (Courtesy photograph.)

A national free speech group is criticizing UMass Lowell’s internet “Acceptable Use Policy” against accessing or distributing “offensive” material.

Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, FIRE for short, Monday named UMass Lowell as its August monthly example of “a university policy that hinders students’ free expression.”

“Since most online content could be called offensive by someone, the policy has earned the dubious honor of FIRE’s August Speech Code of the Month,” the group said in a press release.

FIRE gave UMass Lowell what it describes as its “worst, ‘red light’ rating for placing a clear and substantial restriction on free speech, putting UMass Lowell in the bottom 18.5% of schools rated in FIRE’s Spotlight database.” In response to a WHAV request for comment, UMass Lowell Director of Media Relations Emily Gowdey-Backus issued a statement.

“Computing and networking resources are intended to support the academic, research and business needs of the University community. UMass Lowell continually reviews all university policies to adhere to national best practices consistent with local, state and federal law.”

UMass Lowell’s statement on “offensive” internet use appears in a 2017 policy. In full, the section of the policy prohibits using “information technology resources or services for intentionally transmitting, communicating or accessing pornographic or sexually explicit material, images, text or other offensive material except when clearly required to do so in the course of their work.” The policy applies to any “active member of the University community” such as registered student, staff or faculty member, contractor, or university partner.”

FIRE added “A policy like this makes it all too easy for the university to crack down on select, disfavored speech.”

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