Inside Higher Ed Censors Comments On Articles

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Inside Higher Ed is a great resource to complement The Chronicle, if for no other reason that it’s free and accessible. As a blogger, I appreciate this because I can count on being able to access articles I want to write about. I also have found the quality of the reporting to be exceptionally detailed and reliable. Unfortunately, it seems the editors of this site are prone to censor comments from its readers without explanation or notification.

This has happened to me twice. Most recently, I was responding to a comment directed at me on the “Seeing the Light” article (which I wrote about here). I expected my comment to only be read by the enigmatic Jeff C. and to be tl;dr for anyone else who might still bother to visit that page. I took time in my comment to address the idea of questions which cannot be answered, why atheism is not a belief system, the cognitive implications of religion being imprinted before the development of concrete reasoning skills, and how Christianity (and its most basic beliefs of Christ’s resurrection and the forgiveness of sins) could never stand up to open scrutiny or serious inquiry. That was last Tuesday night.

On Wednesday afternoon, my comment had still not appeared on the site, so I sent the following email to Inside Higher Ed‘s general inquiry email:

Hello,

I am curious to know why the thoughtful comment I posted last evening on this article (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/12/29/schuman) has yet to appear. I understand Inside Higher Ed has the right to reject any comment, but I would please like an explanation if this has been the case.

Because I took quite a bit of time composing the comment, I hope you might at least consider sending it back to me so that I have it for my records. Thank you.

–Zack Ford

Six days later, I have not received any response, not even a “touch luck, we have the right” courtesy email. Even if there was a glitch and my comment just hadn’t gone through, they could have explained that, and then I wouldn’t have a reason to write this post. But I was ignored. Was I censored for openly criticizing religion (which is ironically what my comment was about)? Are the moderators and editors too busy to read a slightly longer comment? What is their policy on discussion on the site?

This might all seem petty, but I think it’s a worrisome precedent. As a blogger, I pride myself on writing openly on challenging issues. That’s my whole MO. I take it as a gesture of profound disrespect that my ideas might be silenced in this way. Further, higher education is a venue that prides itself on critical inquiry and uncensored discussion. I really like the way Wikipedia defines “academic freedom“:

Academic freedom is the belief that the freedom of inquiry by students and faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts (including those that are inconvenient to external political groups or to authorities) without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment.

Inside Higher Ed explains its goal of achieving just that blend of hard-hitting and up-to-the-minute coverage on its “About us” page:

Inside Higher Ed is the online source for news, opinion and jobs for all of higher education. Whether you’re an adjunct or a vice president, a grad student or an eminence grise, we’ve got what you need to thrive in your job or find a better one: breaking news and feature stories, provocative daily commentary, areas for comment on every article, practical career columns, and a powerful suite of tools to help higher education professionals get jobs and colleges identify and hire employees.

So how or why does it have such a narrow policy for comments? That’s just the thing: Inside Higher Ed has no official comment policy.

At the bottom of the comment submission module, it says simply:

Your comment will appear as soon as it has been approved. Inside Higher Ed reserves the right to post or reject any submissions.

Surely, it’s important for Inside Higher Ed to protect itself from spammers, trolls, and those who would try to attack or disrespect other readers. But with no explanation for how this “right to post or reject” is being scrutinized, it definitely seems it is open to abuse.

On its Rights and Permissions page, the site offers this answer for commenting:

May I comment on stories, either for public view or not? Every article has an link you can click to make a comment or read others’ comments. The editors also welcome your private comments on articles. Please send toeditor@insidehighered.com. The Web site also has open forums where you may wish to make comments on general issues that don’t relate to an individual article.You may also submit letters to the editor on general topics or cases where you do not wish your comment to refer only to one article.

Clearly, that does not explain any policy for posting vs. rejecting. What’s even more interesting is that just above that question, it says this about opinion pieces:

Our Web site is open to all views, so if you see a piece on one side of an issue, don’t hesitate to propose something that takes the opposite stand – in fact, the timing may be perfect for such a piece. And don’t hold back on your views – whatever they are – we love strongly argued pieces (and much prefer them to mushy “on the one hand, on the other hand” articles).

So they welcome strongly argued writing, but when it comes to the comments, they get to decide what to accept and what to reject? Sounds pretty arbitrary to me.

This is the full extent of policy that I can find on Inside Higher Ed‘s website. If we are entrusting this site with providing extensive coverage of the issues facing our field, we need to be able to trust them. I encourage my fellow higher education and student affairs professionals to write to Inside Higher Ed demanding they do better by their readers. Blatantly disregarding reader feedback without explanation or the courtesy of responding to an email inquiry is unprofessional. We should expect more from all arenas of higher education, including our news outlets.

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