Group back in court with U over list of ‘unreliable’ websites

The Turkish Coalition of America originally sued the University in 2010.
February 15, 2012

 

 A federal appeals court heard a case Tuesday against the University of Minnesota’s labeling of certain websites as unreliable for academic use.

The Turkish Coalition of America filed the appeal after a federal judge dismissed its case against the University last spring.

In 2010, TCA sued the University for a list posted on the school’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies website which deemed certain websites academically unreliable because they promoted genocide denial. TCA’s website was at the top of the list.

The Turkish government denies that the killing of Armenians in eastern Turkey that began in 1915 should be classified as genocide. About 20 countries worldwide recognize the killings as genocide.

The group claimed the list violated its right of free speech, equal protection and due process.

The list was eventually taken down when a copy of a complaint from TCA’s lawyer was sent to former University President Bob Bruininks. The University’s General Counsel, Mark Rotenberg, told the Minnesota Daily at time the list was taken down for academic, not legal, reasons.

Rotenberg said he was “perplexed” as to why the plaintiffs were still pursuing a court challenge when the information had been removed from the website as they desired.

 “We take academic freedom and free speech very seriously here on the campus,” Rotenberg said after he received the complaint in December 2010, “and the faculty and the University have a right to voice their opinions on the reliability of source materials that are found on the Internet.”

The judge dismissed the case in March 2011, citing the University’s claim to make recommendation for scholarly material under Academic Freedom rights.

But during the oral argument in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday morning, Bruce Fein, the attorney representing TCA, argued the list was not “based on any pedagogical concern.”

“You’re just placed on the list; you have no idea why, no explanation.”

He said the University’s actions “handicapped” TCA and its ability to disseminate information. The effect of the list, he said, was to frighten the students away from using the site in fear of “academic retaliation.”

The University maintains the list was an expression of the center’s view on appropriate sources and was protected by Academic Freedom.

“Context matters,” the University’s associate general counsel Brent Benrud told the three-judge panel.

“Accepting the appellant’s viewpoint would actually restrict free speech,” he said, arguing a ruling in TCA’s favor would set precedent for faculty to fear legal consequences to expressing academic opinion as with this case.

“The center was giving its opinion on what weight should be given to the site in regards to its scholarly value.”

-Staff reporter Jenna Wilcox contributed to this report.

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