Ron Liebowitz, President of Middlebury College, has generously allowed us to publish his letter back to me on the HASTAC website. It is important---crucial even---that other educators read this carefully. Despite the media representation of a "ban" on Wikipedia, the History Department was actually extending its policy on citation of encyclopedia's to Wikipedia. On the other hand, even this entirely rational decision was not shared by all, and Middlebury has already used the decision to hold a forum on exactly what Wikipedia is and means. I've been invited to write an Op Ed piece about this issue for the Chronicle of Higher Education and will do so. I'm hoping educators around the country (at all levels) take this moment to think carefully about net learning. The more informed people become informed about this quite incredible intellectual opportunity provided by this moment in the history of the internet, the more we can fight to keep the net as unpoliced, neutral, and "free" (that is a complex word that requires a whole other blog entry sometime) as it is now. We could lose much of what we have if we do not appreciate its social-cultural importance, the labor and laws involved in its sustenance, and its importance to education.
Dear Professor Davidson,
Thanks very much for your thoughtful note on the Wikipedia issue. It certainly has generated a lot of interest, with extensive media coverage both here and abroad.
Advances in technology continue to present a variety of both opportunities and challenges in higher education. I applaud you for your efforts, with both the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC, to get a better understanding of trends, and to formulate thoughtful and coherent policy. I believe that students, academic colleagues, and institutions will all benefit from guidance in these areas.
The specific issue you address in your note, our History department?s recent decision to inform students that Wikipedia may not be cited in course papers, is not a matter of college policy but an academic decision that is appropriately within the domain of individual faculty and departments. I am therefore forwarding your note to Dr. Don Wyatt, chair of our History department. My understanding of the department?s position, however, is that it does not represent a rejection of Wikipedia or lack of appreciation for the value of it or other electronic resources. Rather, the department?s decision that students should be instructed not to cite Wikipedia is consistent with an existing rule in the department that print encyclopedia entries also do not constitute appropriate scholarly sources for college-level work. As Don Wyatt has said in several interviews, he and his colleagues use Wikipedia themselves, as do many of us, to gain a quick overview of a topic. But they expect students writing papers in their courses to do more in-depth research.
I should note that the History department?s stance is not shared by all Middlebury faculty, and in fact last night we held an open forum on the topic, in which a junior faculty member in the History department and a junior faculty member in our Program in Film and Media Culture presented opposing views and invited questions and comments from a large and interested audience. As your own work demonstrates, the continuing evolution of new ways of sharing ideas and information will require that the academy continue to evolve as well in its understanding of how these technologies fit into our conception of scholarly discourse. We are pleased that Middlebury can take part in this important debate.
Many thanks for your interest.
With warm regards,