Last Updated: August 17, 2020

Statement from EPAG

Academic freedom is a core element of scholarly life and the discussion of controversial ideas lies at the heart of a liberal education. No college instructor should be compelled to modify the content of a course due to political pressure.

Nevertheless, our faculty should be aware that some international students may face pressure from their home-country governments (or the governments in their countries of residence) to avoid discussion of controversial and politically charged topics. Many governments limit or control free speech, monitor their citizens’ private conversations, and limit access to information in the media, including the strict regulation of internet content.

When international students are taking courses on the Macalester campus, these pressures are mitigated somewhat, since students are beyond the territorial jurisdiction of their governments. However, with remote learning in place for the foreseeable future, many of our students will be engaged in a Macalester education while also residing in countries where governments censor or discourage political expression.

Faculty should recognize that there is a risk in having students record themselves, write about, or produce other kinds of academic work dealing with such controversial topics. Such work might become traceable evidence that governments could use to persecute or intimidate our students.

We can limit our students’ vulnerability to such pressure with thoughtful and timely decisions. For example, consider that assigning a paper on a politically controversial subject—to be viewed, in theory, only by the student and instructor—is a relatively safe choice, compared to requiring a vulnerable student to give a recorded video presentation on that same subject. In courses that touch frequently on politically provocative issues, instructors should confer with international students, to the extent possible, to discuss fair and manageable ways to reduce their vulnerability to harm.

International students are valued members of the Macalester community, and we can find ways to protect their interests while also upholding the values of academic integrity and freedom under challenging circumstances.

Technical Considerations and Recommendations

This guide was written in partnership with ITS, International Student Programs, and the Serie Center and draws from similar guides posted by other colleges and universities.  A special thanks to colleagues at Franklin and Marshall and Colby Colleges.

This offers information and options to consider when working with international students remotely, specifically students in China.  Students in other countries may experience instability with their internet connections.  This is the best information we have to date and may change based on changes in regulations in the US and abroad.  We will continue to update this information as we learn about any changes.  Students who have difficulty accessing Macalester digital content from their remote location should contact International Student Programs and the ITS Help Desk.

Considerations:

  • China’s “Great Firewall” blocks access to many tools commonly used in the US including Google and G-Suite products, Netflix, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Onedrive, Wikipedia, BBC, and more.
  • Content from the US is subject to surveillance as it crosses the Chinese border and can potentially put the recipient at risk.
  • Use of VPNs in China is regulated. Only VPNs that have been authorized by the government are fully legal and those are largely intended for corporate use. VPN users may face additional consequences if they are engaging in speech considered unacceptable (for example, on subjects that would be subject to censorship).
  • Many people in China use VPNs, even though their use may not be strictly legal. It is crucial that we do not mandate the use of a VPN to access coursework because that VPN may not be legal and the connection may not be stable.

Recommendations:

  • If a student insists on accessing Google through a VPN, work with them on a back-up plan.
  • Both Moodle and VoiceThread are accessible from China. Use Moodle as your primary means of posting course content. Video content hosted on blocked services like YouTube or Google Drive can also (or instead) be uploaded to VoiceThread and shared via Moodle.
  • Google Docs and Slides can be converted to PDF and accessed via Moodle.
  • Zoom is currently accessible from China. However, at the end of August 2020, Zoom will license their product to Chinese companies.  We do not anticipate issues with accessibility after this change but we will be watching closely.
  • Students may choose to forward their Macalester email to an address that works in their country.