A number of top academics in my public university have been suspended by its registrar pending an internal investigation. This was related to alleged involvement of those academics in a large scale commercial project.

Shortly after this was announced, the staff members began to receive a series of anonymous emails.

The purpose of these emails, as claimed by the anonymous sender, is to expose the truth. The sender criticized the suspension, and has so far sent leaked a number of correspondences and documents that "expose"/"implicate" the registrar and other parties.

I, as many of my colleagues, were not aware of these "secret" details before, but personally I've found them very interesting and enlightening so I welcome them and don't see them as "spam".

However, the sender claims that the University's management is actively trying to block these emails from reaching the staff members. As a result, he/she keeps changing his/her nickname and email address.

My question to you is, in principle, is the university right in trying to block such anonymous emails? Does that, in some way, violate academic freedom?

  • 2
    There could be good or bad reasons for blocking such mails so it is hard to judge. The university is probably worried about its reputation (bad reason) but may also be concerned about slander (better reason). An open enquiry would be better than anonymous mails, of course. I'll also guess that since the actions are directed against the mails and not the person, it may not be a question of academic freedom. It would take deeper analysis to be sure.
    – Buffy
    Feb 6, 2019 at 21:50
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    Seems unlikely to be US, since the 'registrar' would not be suspending academics (professors?). Local laws may require the university to try and limit the distribution of material about the matter, particularly if law enforcement is actively looking into it. If such emails are in violation of the country's laws, then 'academic freedom' is a secondary issue.
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 6, 2019 at 22:10
  • Do you know if your university hosts its own email services or outsources them to, e.g., GMail?
    – Nat
    Feb 7, 2019 at 5:13
  • Why don't the so-called whistleblowers just make a blog and email out the URL to the university staff, lol? Why dance around the email filters. Feb 7, 2019 at 15:17

1 Answer 1


This is quite an interesting question. I may be wrong on this, but I do not think blocking those emails would constitute a breach of "academic freedom". Academic freedom usually protects the freedom of inquiry and publication for academics in relation to their academic work, but it would not ordinarily extend to give them any special right of inquiry and receipt of information with respect to their employment conditions and the administration of their employment (beyond the normal expectations of workers in other fields). From your description, the emails relate to the employment treatment of academics, rather than a subject of academic research/investigation, and so it would be likely that the university would have the same rights as any other employer in respect of these emails. While it may be unseemly for the university to block communications to its staff that criticise the administration of their employment, it is unlikely that this would constitute a breach of the principles of academic freedom.

One simple solution that strikes me as obvious in this case would be for any interested recipients of these emails to reply to the sender and supply their personal email address, so that future correspondence can be sent to them at an email account that is not controlled by the university. If the goal of the sender is simply to alert relevant employees of alleged misconduct by the university, then that can be accomplished by sending the email to their personal email accounts.

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    It's not hard to identify the non-US university involved. It's relevant that the suspended "academics" are (or were) high-level administrators who've apparently been accused of public corruption in a real-estate project involving the university. If the communications are coming from outside of the university it isn't at all clear that the outsider has any right of "academic freedom" to make allegations or that university has any responsibility to help an outsider communicate with faculty, staff, and students. Feb 7, 2019 at 5:03

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