Taking a Leak on Academic Inquiry | Blogh

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Taking a Leak on Academic Inquiry

Posted By on Wed, Dec 15, 2010 at 6:06 PM

Clearly it's taking more and more for me to emerge from my torpor and blog these days. But I can't let this Pitt News story pass without comment:

A number of Pitt professors and administrators warned students last week against sharing controversial information released by WikiLeaks -- especially if they have aspirations to work for the government ...

Jessica Hatherill, associate director of Alumni Relations and Career Services for the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said [Pitt is] warning students about the implications of sharing WikiLeaks or their opinions on the controversial release of documents.

... [Career services Donald] Rieley urged students to be aware of the consequences of discussing WikiLeaks on Facebook or Twitter. He said though many consider WikiLeaks public information, the government still considers it illegal activity.

"This could potentially be a stumbling block for security clearances if they identify themselves as sharing WikiLeaks," Rieley said.

It's not that I object to Pitt administrators warning students about such consequences. The government has already advised current federal employees that material can still be classified even if everyone has already seen it. And the military has begun to bar not just access to WikiLeaks, but to media outlets carrying news about it -- like The New York Times. Pitt administrators are, in fact, merely echoing job advice given elsewhere. And they wouldn't be doing their jobs if they didn't pass such cautions along. 

Still, the message being sent here is this: If you want to serve your country tomorrow, you have to lobotomize yourself today. If your government demands it, you have to turn a blind eye to realities seen by everyone else in the world. 

Which is the sort of mindset that's gotten us into far more trouble than anything WikiLeaks has posted.

Of course, such a screening test arguably will produce the sort of employee bureaucracies most value: someone who is willing to not ask questions or venture opinions. Someone who doesn't ask, and won't tell.

Truthfully, I can see where the willingness to honor security protocols is important. Really, I can. But what a lamentable farce this is.

First of all, are we any better off if terrorists can read this stuff, but not the would-be State Department employees who may someday seek to curb their influence?

And then there's that warning about "sharing opinions" on the WikiLeaks release. How to square that with the fact that my local daily newspaper has a columnist -- an old State Department hand, no less -- who has written a pair of thoughtful columns about the matter? Is it OK for former ambassadors to discuss WikiLeaks in a general-interest newspaper, but dangerous for future ambassadors to discuss their impact on Facebook?

To play it safe, students should probably avert their eyes from the Post-Gazette's op-ed page entirely. (Sorry, kids! No more Jack Kelly for you! I know he hasn't written about wikileaks himself -- Jack loves America, after all -- and I know how popular he is with young people. But you can't be too careful!) While they're at it, students should probably avoid  The New York Times as well, which has been covering the WikiLeaks disclosures extensively.

I haven't looked at the WikiLeaks site myself; like all Democrats, I'm awaiting the onset of socialism so I can get a cushy government job bulldozing creches and mocking the American family. But if I were a bright young college student interested in global politics and government service, I'd be sorely tempted to check out WikiLeaks. Not because I hate my country, but because it offers something you can't get in a textbook: a chance to see how diplomacy actually works in the real world.

But as it turns out ...  if you want to work for our government, you have to deprive yourself of the chance to see how our government works. Ignorance isn't just bliss: It's one of the job requirements.

Oh well. My guess is that students are learning a much different lesson about their country. And given the way things are going, it may be a much more lasting one.  


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