University officials have admitted to monitoring and editing Vice-Chancellor John Hood’s profile on Wikipedia in an attempt to protect his reputation.
Officers working for the University Press Office confirmed that they had made changes over the course of six months, claiming it was part of their job remit to alter “misleading” statements on internet websites.
Parts of the profile were also edited by Brendan Dellandrea, son of University Pro-Vice-Chancellor Jon Dellandrea.
A spokesperson for the University Press Office confirmed that they had altered the page in order to prevent false information from appearing online. “Yes, we have made edits. These were deletions of misleading statements, not additions or editing,” she said.
On December 8 2006, one Press Officer deleted a paragraph that detailed academic staff’s cricitisms of John Hood. One month later another Press Officer left a comment complaining that proposals for University governance reform were being directly associated with Hood himself. “Discussion of governance proposals should form a separate entry,” she wrote.
Her objection was criticised by one Oxford academic active on Wikipedia. Jonathan Jones, a physics fellow at Brasenose, replied, “That’s spin and you know it as well as I do. It’s a bit like suggesting that the Iraq War shouldn’t be mentioned in the article on Tony Blair.”
One Press Officer justified removing a number of statements that did not conform to ‘neutral point of view standards’. In one instance, she dismissed an informal letter of confidence in Hood with only 50 signatories out of 3,000 as “irrelevant”, claiming it was not clear “whether or not every member of Congregation was asked to sign the letter”.
Jones said in a discussion on the site that editing did not always produce better entries. “It would indeed be nice to have some pro-Hood views, but his supporters seem to have confined themselves to deleting large chunks rather than adding anything,” he said.
Nicholas Bamforth, a fellow in Law at Queen’s College, attacked the Press Office’s actions as irresponsible. “I am astonished that people at Wellington Square are being paid to try to censor accurate comment by other members of the University,” he said. “Their clumsiness would be amusing if their behaviour wasn’t so dangerous. What planet do these people think they’re on?”
Funding for the Press Office has increased by almost 50 per cent since 2002 and one senior academic questioned the allocation of the University’s financial resources.
“The Press Office ought to be, first and foremost, a resource for the whole of the University and not for John Hood alone. Changing the image of Oxford is a good reason for Press Office spending to increase but I think there is a question of usage,” he said.
One University member of staff, who wished to remain anonymous, said that Brendan Dellandrea’s actions were suspicious and raised questions of conflicts of interest. “There seems to be something really quite deep and possibly dirty going on to control what people can and can’t find out using the web,” he said. “We have even found certain pages from Auckland disappearing in the past.”
In Wikipedia’s ‘Talk’ section, where editors discuss proposed changes with a moderator, the user ‘BDF1’ responded to a question asking whether he was the Pro-Vice-Chancellor’s son, saying, “I lose points for originality with my username, don’t I? Yes, I am [Brendan Dellandrea], I hope that won’t cause too much trouble.”
Dellandrea supported the Press Office’s changes, saying in the discussion on John Hood’s entry, “Your points are well made and I personally welcome your contributions. Don’t be afraid to step in there and make some heavy edits, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
The University Press Office issued a statement, which read, “Part of any Press Officer’s job is to correct misleading or false information in the media, including new media like Wikipedia, relating to their institution. In a newspaper this is done by discussion with the editor or a published letter, but Wikipedia works entirely differently.”