Academentia: An Internet inquisition?

Published December 18, 1998 11:52AM (EST)

Craig Hunt, an anthropology major at the University of Oregon, uses the
Internet to keep up with such abstruse interests as Satanism, paganism and
Barbra Streisand. Logging on to his university computer account recently,
he was surprised to discover that some of his favorite newsgroups were
missing. Alt.pagan, alt.magick and alt.satanism had been deleted.
Hunt soon learned that Joe St. Sauver, the assistant director of the
computer center, had dropped them from the university's list of 35,000
newsgroups -- and he wasn't putting them back. Since the university carried
18 other occult-related newsgroups, such as alt.divination, alt.astrology
and alt.atheism.satire, St. Sauver considered the deleted groups

Hunt and psychology major Kerry Delf filed a religious discrimination
complaint with the university's office of affirmative action and put out
word on the Net, garnering a blizzard of angry e-mails and articles in the
campus and town newspapers. The computer center responded with a 3,000-word document defending its policies and musing on whether Satanism was a religion at all, or "merely a cultural practice ... such as ... tailgate parties ... [or] Scandinavian folk songs. "Finally the office of affirmative action pronounced its solution to the
matter: a committee. Holding that St. Sauver's actions "could be perceived
as discrimination, albeit unintentional," it ordered that "formal general
guidelines regarding university newsgroups be developed."
Meanwhile, the students say, St. Sauver has retaliated, sabotaging the
Usenet system with a technical trick. He reduced the amount of time
messages are kept on the system from the standard week or two to a single
day, making discussion difficult.

By Etelka Lehoczky

Etelka Lehoczky is a freelance writer living in Chicago.

MORE FROM Etelka Lehoczky

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