Home > President Emeritus Robinson >
Internet Filtering Announcement
April 26, 2001
Dear Campus Community,
After listening to many of you and studying carefully the Internet filtering
issue, I have reached a decision. It is one in which I have conferred
with the president's cabinet and relied heavily upon their judgment. Because
of the areas they represent, I have been particularly sensitive to the
analyses provided by Tammy Reid and Kathy Storm. I'm sorry this has taken
so long, but I wanted to get as many perspectives as possible, and my
schedule this year has made it impossible to operate within a tight timeframe.
Thanks for your patience. Thanks even more for the spirit of understanding
and respect with which you discussed this issue. You have avoided the
rhetorical temptation to reduce a complex issue into something simple
and "obvious." Once again, you have made me proud to be a Whitworthian.
I would like to divide this letter into four sections. First, I want
to make some observations about what we have learned in examining this
issue. Second, I'll outline roughly the decision and how it will be implemented.
Third, I want to be clear about what this decision is not meant to symbolize.
Fourth, I also want you to know what the decision is intended to symbolize.
What we have learned:
- All technologies designed to screen Internet materials are fallible.
Ultimately, individuals determine what they put into their minds and
- Current screening technology is much more discriminating than past
generations of filters. It is impossible to dodge completely the law
of unintended consequences, but services that block specific sites,
rather than key words, reduce dramatically the collateral blockages
that would impede academic inquiry.
- We are doing very little to enforce current policies on the intended
usage of our Internet service. While we heard no concerns expressed
when we instituted a usage policy, a significant number of folks voiced
concern over filtering as a means of enforcement.
- A disturbing number of students have reported habitual and addictive
use of Internet pornography. Many of these students cite ease of access
as a very significant inducement, particularly in their initial use
- A significant number of students are not using any form of Internet
pornography. Many people have avoided this problem.
- Pornography can ensnare very virtuous people.
- Many former pornography users make reference to a support group or
a person who provided a level of accountability that helped them stop
- Screening should not be viewed as the only, and perhaps not even as
the most important, element in reducing the use of pornography. A comprehensive
approach will produce better results than simply screening sites.
- The Internet provides access to other forms of addictive behavior,
such as gambling or watching "The Simpsons" (joke - I hope).
All addictions steal a person's self-control.
- Any form of screening threatens Whitworth's deep commitment to openness
and self-determination, and should be used only in conjunction with
an intentional effort to protect the free exchange of ideas.
The decision and its implementation:
In reviewing all of the reasons for and against filtering, I feel a minimal
screening service is the best decision for Whitworth. The members of the
president's cabinet share this point of view. It is impossible to condense
the rationale for this decision into a paragraph. But personally, it is
my general feeling that the fight to protect the free exchange of information
on this campus can be fought collectively and openly. The battle, however,
against a multi-billion dollar pornography industry is too often fought
alone, in the privacy of one's room. It seems to me that our community
battles are more winnable than the ones we fight in solitude. And if we
lose this particular battle, we can begin to see human beings as objects
with which to please ourselves, rather than as people to be loved. Because
we're an institution built on Christian principles, this decision falls
in line with St. Paul's exhortation to "make no provisions for satisfying
our lusts" (Romans 13:14).
- There's a lot of bad stuff we pipe onto our campus, but we're going
to limit our screening to pornography. The main reason is more practical
than theoretical. The most pervasive Internet problem we have is with
pornography, so if we can reduce its incidence somewhat by "surgical"
means, it makes more sense than using a general filtering approach.
I'll say more about that below.
- This action will be a part of a larger effort to provide support for
students in their efforts toward personal growth. It will not be considered
- While our concern with pornography has been related primarily to issues
raised by students, the rationale for and the benefits of screening
pornography pertain to all campus computer users. So this policy applies
to all of us.
- Some computers in the library will remain unblocked. In the scholarly
environment of an academic institution, it is quite conceivable that
occasions will arise in which studies are facilitated by total access
to the Internet. Our judgment is that the problem we're trying to address
manifests itself less often in the research environment of a library,
although we know that abuse takes place there on occasion. Initially,
we will not use screens in supervised computer labs or in public access
stations in the library. We would reduce the number of unblocked stations
only if abuse occurred.
- We will provide a procedure to unblock anyone's machine temporarily
for legitimate academic purposes.
- Some specific implementation decisions, such as selection of the specific
filtering service, still need to be made. I would also like to get feedback
from both faculty and students about an approval process for unblocking
computers. It could be that the unblocking procedure will be influenced
by the service we use. We'll keep you posted as these decisions are
made, and we may seek your advice once we have a set of good options.
- We will continue the practice of not routinely or randomly monitoring
Internet usage. Currently, our I.T. folks have imposed upon themselves
the equivalent of a "probable cause" restriction. In other
words, we would not look at any aspect of a person's Internet history
without a compelling reason.
- We may well make mistakes in setting this up, so we want your feedback
on whether this action is accomplishing its purpose.
- Along the same lines, if this action turns out to be ineffective on
either technical or moral grounds, we'll change it.
- We'll implement this program at roughly the beginning of this fall
What this does not symbolize:
- This does not imply that we are shifting our philosophy of believing
that it is important for students to make their own decisions and take
responsibility for their actions. As I pointed out in an earlier email,
our hope is that this will provide more control for many of our students.
- This does not imply that we believe sexually related sins to be especially
bad. Having said that, it is true that pornography is linked in some
studies to degraded views of sexuality and, in some cases, to anti-social
behavior directed toward women and children.
- Singling out pornography does not imply that it is necessarily more
pernicious than other objectionable content, such as hate speech. It
does recognize that a) pornography presents a far more widespread and
psychologically insidious temptation than does studying something such
as hate speech, and b) viewing pornography is less likely to serve any
legitimate academic purpose than viewing other potentially objectionable
- This does not imply that we will be a more intellectually restrictive
What this does imply:
- This implies that we find most forms of pornography inconsistent with
all that we stand for as an institution that exalts Christ, believes
humankind is made in the image of God, and believes human sexuality
- This implies clear intention on our part to support the students who
have found pornography to be a counterproductive influence on their
- The pace and process with which we have reached this decision implies
that we consider screening various forms of Internet access to be a
very serious action, one which will be taken only after careful consideration.
- This implies that it is our desire to be a community that is committed
to healthy and respectful relationships. We feel that limiting access
to pornography is in line with this commitment.
Well, this note is way longer than I ever intended it to be. Sorry. I
would rather have communicated this decision in person, but I couldn't
make that happen. Thank you again for your good thinking and respect in
all of these discussions. I know that some of you disagree with this decision,
and I am impressed with your arguments and the ways in which you have
expressed them. I guess this is one of those situations in which you weigh
everything you can, look within yourself, and pray that your decision
will honor God. This is what I've tried to do. Thanks for all of your