I've been reading through the comments below my post on the "filtered professor", and I remain conflicted about the wisdom of colleges and universities barring academics from accessing certain sites. I'm grateful that the college allows us to ask for specific sites to be unblocked, and I'm confident that I could defend any of my requests if I needed to. If there were no way to get sites unblocked, then I would have much more of a problem with this filtering business. Ultimately, I really liked what Jenell had to say:
There are few instances in which porn or gambling would be useful for academic work. It happens much more frequently that professors become addicted, or feed addictions, in ways that jeopardize their jobs. I think the filtering helps protect our jobs, and protect us from ourselves, at least at work. It might be a bit paternalistic, but I don't mind.
I think this may be where faith comes into play. Jenell works in a Christian college; I am a Christian teaching at a secular institution. My faith (and my experience) tells me that human beings are weak and vulnerable to certain temptations. For most folks, porn is unlikely to be a research interest, and much more likely to be an unhealthy obsession. I suspect the same is true for gambling. Internet porn and gambling (or gaming) are thus more likely to be accessed to feed addiction than for research -- even on a college campus. Again, I think provision must be made for those few instances where there might be legitimate reason for us to access one of these sites. But while I think we ought to have the academic freedom to ask for an override, I do think we are up to the challenge of having to ask. If our reasons are legitimate, we should have no qualms about requesting access to a blocked site.
I teach courses that touch on sexual history. (Women in American Society; Men and Masculinity; Beauty, the Body, and the American Tradition; Introduction to Lesbian and Gay American History.) At one point, a couple of years ago, I thought seriously about doing a course on the history of pornography. Such courses do exist in many departments, ranging from history to film to women's studies programs. I developed a syllabus, looked at some source texts, and was very close to teaching it under the rubric of a Humanities class. (Believe me, there are plenty of texts out there; go to Amazon and type in "pornography history" as your key words. Plenty comes up, and I've read some of it.) Ultimately, after talking with some folks close to me, and praying about it, I decided not to do the course.
I am not saying we shouldn't have courses on pornography at colleges and universities. But I am saying that I have come to respect the immensely addictive power of porn. We know well what porn has done to the lives of many men and not a few women. While some people may have healthy relationships with visual erotica, a great many folks do not. As a teacher, I have an obligation to challenge my students. But I am not willing to expose them to that which could, in some way, harm them. The chances that exposing my students to porn could help create a new addiction (or encourage a pre-existing one) is too great for me to take. The likelihood that all thirty or forty students in a class of mine are going to be immune to porn addiction is pretty damn low.
Of course, one could teach a class on porn without showing any porn, but that would be fairly dull and difficult. The research topics would invariably lead students to do outside work with pornography, many armed with the academic legitimacy that my course would give them. For some, it would simply be an interesting experience that left no enduring mark. But for others, it is all but certain that I would be sanctioning what for them would become very unhealthy behavior. And I'm just not willing to do that.
For the record, if one of my colleagues were to teach a course on porn here at the college, I would share these same concerns with him or her. If he or she still wished to teach the course, I would advocate that they be allowed to access any sites they felt necessary in order to teach the class. The fact that I'm not willing to do teach such a class, and am troubled by the whole idea of doing so, doesn't mean that I wouldn't enthusiastically support a colleague if he or she were brave enough to take it on.