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Proposed bills would monitor university Web use, catalogs

By Kristen Roberts
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
January 18, 1999
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PHOENIX-UA students who surf the Web or peruse racy sites on university computers could be disconnected if two bills sponsored by Arizona State Rep. Jean McGrath, a Republican from Glendale, become law.

One bill would prohibit university students from using campus Internet connections for "any activity that is not directly related to a specific educational purpose." This proposal is scheduled for discussion today in the House Public Institutions and Universities Committee, which McGrath chairs.

Another bill would require universities to install or subscribe to Internet filters on their computers to prevent access to sexually explicit material. This proposal was discussed and passed out of committee last week and is being held.

McGrath described the filtering bill as a fix for an oversight in university Internet access. The American Civil Liberties Union described it as a "frankly, absurd" attempt to "denigrate the very existence of the First Amendment."

The ACLU's Eleanor Eisenberg was one of several opponents of the bill. She argued that university students are private citizens, not employees. Therefore, regulations are an inappropriate infringement on academic freedom and research. She added that no state court has upheld such regulations.

Greg Fahey, UA associate vice president for state relations, represented the university opposition to the bill. He said the university has 32,000 work stations, which makes enforcement of such a law "highly questionable."

"We don't have computer police on this," he said.

Rep. Dean Cooley, R-Mesa, responded with disappointment.

"If you do not, you should," he said, adding that his granddaughter held such a position supervising Internet use at Arizona State University.

Fahey also said the bill would obstruct research on breast and testicular cancer and would be costly.

No money is provided in the bill to cover filtering costs.

"We don't have any money to fund anything this year," McGrath said.

Cooley defended the Arizona State Legislature's power to regulate university Internet use.

"It is our responsibility to establish policy," he said.

Cathi Herrod of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy spoke in support of the bill. She said the filters do not screen out cancer-related sites, and therefore would not stop research.

A third McGrath bill echoes her previous attempt to force the UA to state in its catalog which courses contain homosexual content.

The current bill would require university course catalogs and syllabi to provide an "accurate and complete summary" of course content and allow students who feel they have been misled to drop a course without academic or financial penalty. This proposal was discussed in committee last week and is also being held.

McGrath said the bill encourages "truth in advertising" and is a result of the "lesbian component" in some Women's Studies courses.

"I don't think we have these problems very often," Fahey said. "We do try to deal with these situations fairly."

McGrath agreed that the problem is rare, but she said she wanted to try to save students the nuisance of the drop/add process.

"I would hope that you would trust the regents and administration," Fahey said.

Rep. Dan Schottel, R-Tucson, suggested a compromise, putting syllabi on-line in advance of registration.

Kristen Roberts can be reached at city@wildcat.arizona.edu

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