the university of Erasmus, Newton and Darwin
January 19, 2011, 1:05 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , ,

Influence peddling at a University contradicts the essential mandate of a good institution, according to this letter.  A masters student at the University of Cambridge posted a thesis that criticized a local credit card company’s product, which tried to have it censured.  The head of the university’s Security Engineering department had this to say in response.

I’m afraid the centuring business woman wasn’t wrong  about the gap between a normal University’s mandate and actual operations:  our universities are crawling with conflicts of interest between parties with fundamentally different missions.  The power of the department head’s letter is the take no prisoners restatement of what it means for an important institution to remain high minded and relatively pure.  That way, scholars and faculty can say challenging and new things without fear of reprisal.

From the head’s letter:

Second, you seem to think that we might censor a student’s thesis, which is lawful and already in the public domain, simply because a powerful interest finds it inconvenient. This shows a deep misconception of what universities are and how we work. Cambridge is the University of Erasmus, of Newton,and of Darwin; censoring writings that offend the powerful is offensive to our deepest values. Thus even though the decision to put the thesis online was Omar’s, we have no choice but to back him. That would hold even if we did not agree with the material! Accordingly I have authorised the thesis to be issued asa Computer Laboratory Technical Report. This will make it easier for people to find and to cite, and will ensure that its presence on our web site is permanent.

–from a letter to Melanie Johnson UK Cards Association by Ross Anderson FRS FREng Professor of Security Engineering, University of Cambridge