Recently in my inbox, I found a request for advice unlike any I’d received before. Given the detail in the request, I don’t trust myself to paraphrase it. As you’ll see, I’ve redacted the names of the people, university, and government agency involved. I have, however, kept the rest of the query (including the original punctuation) intact.
In 2004 I denounced a music piracy case caused by a [U.S. government agency] contractor and [Research University X] computer scientist: Dr. [let's call him "Jolly Roger"]. This man used peer to peer technology to create CDs for third party distribution to his friends; the home computer lab he was using for his peer to peer activities contained a [U.S. government agency] computer keyboard and he was using his [U.S. government agency] based E-mail account to communicate with third parties about his amateur counterfeit CDs/pirate CDs. [U.S. government agency] and the FBI did not take the case seriously and no legal action was taken against Dr. [Jolly Roger] to my knowledge.
-the agents from [U.S. government agency] who investigated the case told me Dr. [Jolly Roger] confirmed my allegations but that they could not be verified, the US attorney declined to prosecute the case because it had not been substantiated. In fact the [U.S. government agency] agents were purely and simply not qualified for the investigation.
- [Two guys] from IFPI in London, UK insured me they believed my allegations against Dr. [Jolly Roger] (over lunch at a restaurant together).
- I met [Jolly Roger] in 2003 precisely and some of my friends and I were invited to his home together.
- [Jolly Roger] stole an automobile in [a U.S. state] and ended in jail for it… … …
- I lost a national discrimination matter because I could not afford a lawyer at the time of the case (no judgement).
- [Jolly Roger] recently filed a defamation case against me in [the country both Roger and my correspondent are from].
- the RIAA stopped filing against similar cases caused by individuals in december 2008 because it could never bring evidence for these cases (the RIAA is looking for ISP deals).
My complaint is that [Research University X] is mismanaged for employing a scientist with a computer degree like [Jolly Roger] who teaches and steals music like stupid students do online.
What is your position on my complaint please?
I’ll admit it, after the laundry list of sins committed by Dr. Jolly Roger, I expected that my correspondent’s question was going to concern how best to pursue the piracy complaint against him, or how his lack of respect for the law might fundamentally undercut his ability to perform adequately as a computer science researcher or teacher. I did not expect that the big question was going to concern Research University X and its management (or mismanagement).
But since it is, let’s take this opportunity to set aside all those issues that may have tempted us were we dissecting Dr. Jolly Roger’s alleged conduct here — the RIAA’s strategies in dealing with peer-to-peer sharing of copyrighted works, the relevant distinctions (if any) between bootlegging whole albums and putting together the digital equivalent of mix-tapes, selling versus sharing, whether it is only stupid students or also smart ones who obtain music through peer-to-peer and so forth. Let’s also set aside what looks to be significant personal animus for Dr. Jolly Roger on the part of my correspondent.
Instead, consider the question: what oversight should a research university exercise in hiring, and continuing to employ, a scientist? I take it my correspondent is most concerned with issues of the following sort:
- making sure the scientist does not use equipment, resources, or time for unauthorized (or illegal) activities
- making sure the scientist does not endanger the university’s relationship with government agencies or other sources of research funding for its faculty and students
- making sure the scientist does not sully the reputation of the university
- making sure the scientist does not draw the university’s students (or staff) into illegal or unethical activities
Now, I’ll agree that a university has an interest in each of these. The big question is how hands-on a university should be (or even can be, practically speaking) in pursuing each of these interests.
Let me turn the questions over to you, dear readers.
What kind of steps ought a university to take to make sure faculty aren’t misusing resources? What kind of oversight would cross the line from due diligence to draconian?
Do universities have a presumptive interest in closely monitoring their faculty? Do they have an obligation to undertake such monitoring in the face of an outside complaint? (Does it matter how credible the complainant seems?)
And, is there the potential for a total-surveillance approach to faculty management to head off illegal activities (or goofing off) but undermine research and teaching activities?
What is your position on this complaint please?