Because of its associations with UNIX and the Internet, WWW is perceived by senior academic managers as being in the province of the Centres. Thus they look to the Centre to see that the University has a good quality WWW which reflects credit on the institution.
The reality of the technical situation is that it is rather simple for anyone with a UNIX workstation to mount a WWW server, and any campus can expect to have a significant number of WWW servers on campus, with each one able to mount what ever the Webmaster chooses on the server. Thus unless there is an agreed set of campus guidelines for the mounting of material the Centres face a classical dilemma i.e. being held responsible by the university management without the power to control the situation. However, even if they were given such powers, they would still face the Catch 22 situation of being regarded by their users as exercising academic censorship, which indeed they would be.
Thus while WWW offers Centres the chance to earn brownie points with university senior managers, it also carries with it the danger of being crushed between a rock (of the University) and a hard place (the users).
How can Centres best deal with such a situation? In simple terms 'if you cannot beat 'em, join 'em'! Thus the need is to establish a set of guidelines to govern the material mounted on a WWW server that is acceptable to both the University and the users in general. How do we achieve such a situation? There are a number of ways, but this talk is concerned only with the way the issue has been dealt with at Imperial College.
An essential preliminary is to identify the issues that govern the operation of a successful WWW server and the possible role of the Centre in managing the overall operation of the WWW servers on campus. Once this is done a set of guidelines need be established that should be observed by contributors to any WWW server on campus. Then comes the hard part of persuading everyone from the Vice Chancellor downwards that the guidelines are fair, reasonable and acceptable to the majority of people on campus. Finally it is necessary to place the responsibility for observing the guidelines with the person who is designated as responsible for a particular WWW server.So what are the relevant issues that need to be taken into account?
There are some additional points that a Centre is wise to recognise:
Taking into account the above issues, Imperial College assembled a Code of Practice which was discussed at a Heads of Departments meeting, agreed, and then authorised as College policy by the Rector. The Code itself, shown below, was formulated in the most general terms possible i.e. it tried to avoid proscriptive detail. Its form is also related to the management structure of the College i.e. as many functions as possible are devolved to departments, with Heads of Departments operating under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between themselves and the Rector. Such a form may not be suitable in those institutions where e.g. faculties play a large part in the management of the University.
Departmental WWW systems will obviously be concerned information about their own department, but since the Coll of its parts' it is desirable that on the Home Page there should] 'pointers' corresponding to:
There are three areas of the College that are likely to be implementing WWW systems. These are the central College i.e. Administration, Centre for Computing Services and the Library. The Departments (and research groups), Centres and Units. The ICU and its associated clubs.
The Centre for Computing Services is discussing with the Administration and the Library how best to implement a central College WWW. The Centre will provide the facility, and initially implement the mounting of material. When it is fully established it should represent a significant College asset, and the Rector will need to decide how best it should then be managed.
Several departments are already running WWW systems, and several research groups in one department. It would seem most appropriate if any WWW system associated with a department obtained the Head of Department's agreement before it was established, and the Head of Department informed the Centre of its existence. The Centre would then ensure that the Marketing Division was informed, and able to view it. Similar rules should apply to Centres and Units.
The ICU and its clubs will no doubt wish to use a WWW for informing students of campus activities. The Centre will provide a WWW facility for use of the Union, but would recommend that its viewing be restricted to the IC campus, and that the President of the Union be required to authorise its use by any club, and inform the Centre of each authorisation. The Union would need to be responsible for seeing that the use made of the WWW met the various legal and College requirements concerning material mounted on the system.
Failure to observe this code of practice by either students or staff will be considered a serious matter by the College. Where College regulations are breached the College will invoke the appropriate disciplinary procedures. For students this could involve fines, suspension of access to computing facilities or, in extreme cases, rustication or being sent down.
In either case, upon authorisation of the Rector or Deputy-Rector, the Centre will isolate the WWW system to its local subnet until the offending material is removed. Any breaches of the criminal or civil law are beyond the remit of the College. If the DPP decides upon a criminal prosecution this will be a matter for the department/individual. Similar considerations apply to any civil law case.
In addition to the above statement it contains some general guidance on the legal requirements that should be borne in mind by those responsible for a WWW server.
Initial response to the Code has been very good. Departments have tried to observe the guidelines without being unduly bureaucratic, and apart from the one or two enthusiasts who were not aware of the Code, and mounted some rather unsuitable material (in terms of the image of their department) it has worked well.
However, in an environment that is developing as rapidly as WWW, new issues are going to arise for which the Code is not particularly well formulated. One such issue that has arisen in the last few months concerns Personal Home Pages (PHP). These are pages on a WWW server which are devoted to information about an individual. They seem to have originated in the USA, and can contain information varying from purely professional information e.g. research interests, CV, lists of publications, to very personal details of the individual's lifestyle.
The issue of whether these should be permitted on Imperial College WWW servers arose after the Code of Practice had been issued. While the Code covered the issue in a very general way, a situation arose where some departments banned them, while others allowed them with various conditions attached. The situation also arose where UGs started to request them. The Centre felt that a situation was arising where individual users in this particular instance were being treated very unequally.
The Centre consulted with the Departmental Computer Representatives Committee (the main channel of consultation between the Centre and the departments) on the issue and found widely varying views. After consultation with the Chairman of the College Information Systems Strategy Committee (ISSC) the Centre wrote to Heads of Departments and asked them not to agree to any further PHPs until the issue could be discussed by the ISSC. The Centre then wrote a brief paper summarising the views expressed by the Departmental Computer Representatives, listed the possible options from a complete ban to a situation with no limitations, and provided some examples of PHPs which varied from the sober to the frivolous!
If PHP were to be permitted then the issues were concerned with who should be allowed to mount a PHP e.g. academic staff, RAs, PGs, UGs, and what sort of material should be mounted. A particular issue on which there were strong views concerned RAs and final year PGs who were very keen to put up their CVs and publications lists with the information that they were in the market for a job!
The ISSC met in January 1995 and agreed a policy. This policy is shown below.
First reactions from the campus are just beginning to come in. They largely relate to two points. One is relatively trivial, and concerns the use of 'thumb nail' size images. The College is most likely to modify the guidelines to request a limit on the size of any images used. The second is more significant. It concerns the issue of links being confined to within the PHP document. There are two schools of thought. One suggests that the limit should be to links 'on campus' so that research papers mounted on research group WWW servers can be linked to the PHP. This is not unreasonable except that once links are external to the PHP they cannot be limited to just 'on campus'. The second suggestion is that links to anywhere in the world should be allowed, since links can then be made to research papers at other sites.
The original constraint on links was made because the College had an example of a PHP where links were made world wide to material that had no conceivable College purpose. However the basic issue seems to be that while the suggestion being made, which is to create a sort of electronic journal, is a perfectly sensible one, its place is not a PHP but possibly on a research group WWW server. This issue will be debated in the College, and may result in the guidelines being changed on the links firstname.lastname@example.org
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