This weekend, Columbia University officials warned students not to talk about WikiLeaks on the Web if they ever wanted a government job. But it seems the institution has now had second thoughts. Previously, the message to students had been “DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter.” But as of today, “students have a right to discuss and debate any information in the public arena that they deem relevant to their studies or to their roles as global citizens.”
Undergrads were originally told not to talk about the leaked cables because an alumnus who works at the State Department called Columbia up and told them to be careful about what they were tweeting, i.e., “Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.” Like Joe pointed out this weekend, this is sound career advice…but the real issue here is the personal freedom to tweet about what pleases you.
After a huge outcry over the social network gag rule, John H. Coatsworth, dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, sent out today’s email reversing the previous advice. Coatsworth emphasized, “Freedom of information and expression is a core value of our institution.”
Here is Coatsworth’s full email to SIPA students revising his opinion (via HuffPo):
December 6, 2010
Dear SIPA Community,
Last Tuesday, SIPA’s Office of Career Services received a call from a former student currently employed by the U.S. Department of State who pointed out that the U.S. government documents released during the past few months through WikiLeaks are still considered classified. The caller suggested that students who will be applying for federal jobs that require background checks avoid posting links to these documents or making comments about them on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter.
OCS emailed this cautionary suggestion to students, as it has done many times with other information that could be helpful in seeking employment after graduation. We know that many students today share a great deal about their lives online and that employers may use that information when evaluating their candidacy. Subsequent news stories have indicated that the Department of State has issued guidelines for its own employees, but has not issued any guidelines for prospective employees.
Freedom of information and expression is a core value of our institution. Thus, SIPA’s position is that students have a right to discuss and debate any information in the public arena that they deem relevant to their studies or to their roles as global citizens, and to do so without fear of adverse consequences. The WikiLeaks documents are accessible to SIPA students (and everyone else) from a wide variety of respected sources, as are multiple means of discussion and debate both in and outside of the classroom.
Should the U.S. Department of State issue any guidelines relating to the WikiLeaks documents for prospective employees, SIPA will make them available immediately.
John H. Coatsworth