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ACLU Calls on URI to Halt Censorship of Professor’s Website

Posted: May 27, 2004|Category: Free Speech

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The ACLU of RI has called on URI President Robert Carothers to intervene and correct “a very disturbing issue of academic censorship” at the University. It involves Women’s Studies Professor Donna Hughes, an expert on the international trafficking of women and children.

Last October, prompted by a London law firm’s letter threatening a defamation suit against URI and Professor Hughes, university officials removed from her university website two articles she had written in her area of expertise. At the time, the professor reluctantly agreed to the action because URI officials indicated that the removal was a temporary measure while they examined the legal ramifications of the threat. Seven months later, however, the articles still have not been reposted.

In a two-page letter sent yesterday to President Carothers, RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown expressed concern about both the University’s censorship and the “lackadaisical manner” in which the matter has been handled. Following the initial “temporary” removal of the article, Professor Hughes heard nothing further from the university until March, when she advised the school’s legal counsel, Louis Saccoccio, of her intent to repost the articles. Mr. Saccoccio responded that Professor Hughes could not do so using the university’s resources “until a final decision has been made on this issue.” No decision has been forthcoming. Thus, said the ACLU’s Brown in his letter, “some seven months after this incident first arose, two articles written by a distinguished professor remain censored by the University.”

Calling the ramifications “enormous,” Brown’s letter noted the great cost to URI “ when it allows the mere threat of an action by an individual overseas to result in removal of speech of public importance on the university’s web site. The University’s failure to quickly deal with this threat to academic freedom sends an extremely poor message to Professor Hughes’s colleagues and the institution as a whole. In an age when so much information is transmitted, read, researched and stored electronically, the University’s unilateral decision to remove the articles and force Professor Hughes to fend for herself if she wishes to defend her academic work is extremely troubling.”

The ACLU’s letter concluded by urging Carothers to “reverse course and show support for academic freedom by agreeing to represent Professor Hughes should any action be taken against her. Only in this way can the true mission of the University be fulfilled.”

Professor Hughes said today: “Academic freedom is essential to my work on sexual slavery and exploitation of women and children. My scholarly work includes researching and writing about organized crime, corruption, and harmful government policies. The University of Rhode Island’s capitulation to intimidation threatens the progress of my work and the work of other scholars in the future.” Calling URI’s actions “shocking,” Dr. Frank Annunziato, executive director of the URI Chapter of the AAUP, added: “ Professor Hughes is one of the leaders in the fight against the trafficking of women and children. This University should extend to Professor Hughes, and to the women and children whose horrible lives she is struggling to bring to the light of day, all the support necessary for her work to succeed.”

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