Listserv to return at unspecified date, with added moderation

A new committee has been formed to discuss the future of the campus faculty and staff discussion listserv, which was shut down over the summer following a heated exchange between participants.

The exchange, in which a faculty member questioned the validity of terms such as “systemic racism” and “white privilege,” brought about racial tension that led to the Office of the Chancellor’s decision to shut the listserv down. 

Kim Durr, the chief of staff for the Office of the Chancellor, is the coordinator of this committee, the Discuss List Working Group. Their first meeting was Thursday, Sept. 10.

“We met [Thursday] morning and the chancellor gave us a ‘charge,’ kind of our ‘marching orders’ as far as what he would like to see accomplished, and the timeline involved in that,” Durr said. “We anticipate having another one or two [meetings] … The intent is to have our work done by Oct. 1.”

Nicole Klein, a professor in the Department of Applied Health, said this charge included a review of the listserv’s history, an examination of its purpose to promote scholarly discord and a discussion over the capacity of its return.

As for the status of the listserv itself, Durr said this is a temporary suspension, not a permanent shutdown. A specific date for the listserv’s return has not yet been determined. 

Klein said the committee identified the listserv’s lack of moderation as one of its potential problem areas.

“It is currently really a non-moderated listserv at this point, so we talked about … who is the monitor in place, or if we don’t have that, do we want that, and is that the way to kind of make sure that people are following the policy?” Klein said.

The listserv’s current policy states that posts must be respectful, and discriminatory or offensive language is forbidden. According to Klein, there is someone monitoring the listserv for obvious instances of solicitation or spam mail. However, there is no specific monitor on less obvious instances of offensive commentary. 

What constitutes “offensive commentary” depends on one’s perspective, which may be impacted by their race, according to Faculty Association President Mark Poepsel. 

“It leaves the realm of academic discussion when it’s your ass who’s worried about getting killed by cops,” Poepsel said. “I don’t feel that directly, but I understand when people do, and they’re saying ... ‘There [are] people being killed in the streets now, and so listen to us and knock it off,’ and then the guy doesn’t knock it off … then it becomes more of an instigation than a discussion … you can say things, but you can’t say things without consequences.”

Poepsel said administration’s proposal of an external moderator would be more effective than leaving the participants to moderate themselves.

“Community policing only goes so far, because people only have so much time, energy and interest in protecting or defending a listserv space. It’s not people’s first priority,” Poepsel said. “What are they going to do, go be a tattletale and complain to the provost every time someone says something offensive? They would have to do it once a week sometimes, so if you had moderation, that would be a good step in my opinion.”

So far, any updates faculty have received on the status of the listserv have been vague, according to Poepsel.

“The last thing I heard, like maybe a week ago, was that they were looking into how to restart it and they would let us know,” Poepsel said. “I don’t know if I can go with that news to my union members, because it’s kind of not news, it’s kind of like, ‘still working on it.’” 

According to Durr, administration will be more transparent going forward.

“We regret the fact that it’s taken a little bit longer than we anticipated, but there’s been so much going on that was also very pressing that needed to be dealt with immediately,” Durr said. “We don’t have a clear answer yet about what [the listserv’s future] will be, but … we’ll make a recommendation to the chancellor, and then he will make the final determination on next steps, and that will definitely be communicated to the campus.”

For more information about the listserv’s purpose and code of conduct, review Employee Listserv Policy 6B3.

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