Coming Home for the First Time: History, Family and University in Malta

Scott C. Brown
Mount Holyoke College

Colleges and universities provide a galvanizing backdrop where students continue to forge their personal identities. As an educator, I have assisted students on their journey towards greater self-knowledge, to help them discover who they are and how to frame that moving picture of their own evolving identities. I am able to assist them because I have come to a more nuanced understanding of this question in my own life, exploring life within the many hyphens that link my own multiple identities and roles. This holds true except for one aspect, the country of my mother’s origin: Malta. I have always had some envy when other educators could draw on their ethnic backgrounds to give them their own map and compass when working with students. Throughout my life I have felt the presence of that absence, looming large in the mythology of my own history.

Last summer, I delivered a paper and participated in a conference at Oxford. Going to England got me closer to my dream of going to Malta with my parents. I persuaded them to delay a long planned trip, so that we could see the island together. Given that my wife and I have three young children, it would be unlikely that I would be going to Europe under any other circumstances any time soon.

I knew this trip to Malta was to be a pilgrimage of sorts to find out what, I was not quite sure. But I did know that I would need to search within the web of history, family, and university.

Malta is not a country one hears about frequently. It is often left off of smaller maps and for the last 4 televised Olympics, one never saw the small but proud Maltese delegation (“Malawi, Mali…commercial break”). But it does flicker into consciousness every once in a while. Popeye, Cutthroat Island, Gladiator, and Troy were all filmed on the island. Yes, the Maltese Falcon is from here, a yearly tribute from the Knights of Malta to the King of Spain for the use of the island in the 16th century. I have no idea where the Maltese dog figures in.

Malta is approximately 60 miles south of Sicily, an archipelago of five small islands totaling just 122 square miles, about 1/10 the size of Rhode Island. However, because of its strategic location and deep natural harbors, Malta has been a critical player in world history, linking Europe and Africa and the East and the West. It has a Semitic language that bears the mark of those that have invaded or inhabited the island throughout the course of its long history, including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Arabs, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Turks, French, and British. The Ggantija megaliths, massive stone structures, predate the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge. Saint Paul is believed to have been shipwrecked here.

Two great sieges have left an indelible mark on the Maltese people. The first was from the powerful Turks in 1568 and the second was from 1942-1945 when it was the most bombed country on earth during World War II. There is still a saying “O Turks” when individuals are being inconvenienced–hearkening back to the days when villagers would have to travel far to get behind the garrisons of the walled city of Mdina from yet another attack from Sulieman the Great. The Maltese were ill equipped to fight any opposing force that could launch such an offensive. Although they always fought fiercely, the Maltese have survived by their ability to accommodate the invaders without sacrificing their core identity. They are a gutsy, resilient, and improvisational people and no matter who comes to the island they remain Maltese. The ancient buildings that the island is centered upon stand as an accusation and affirmation to the Maltese, a testament to being both conquered and unconquerable. But history is more a reference point than a shackle, and the Maltese people keep their eyes squarely pointed towards the future.

Before this trip I had little contact with the Maltese side of my family. My mother and her family fled Malta after WWII, lived in Tunisia for two months, then immigrated to America. I met my Maltese grandfather once, and only saw my Maltese grandmother a handful of times. She didn’t speak much English, was 4’ 9”, could crush tennis balls with her old world strength, and used to go in our garden and pick snails for escargot (“Mom, what is ‘deadly pesticide’ in Maltese?”). Because my father is Jewish, my mother’s family did not approve of their marriage. To this day no one in Malta knows my mother converted to Judaism. When my grandmother visited us, my mother would take her to church everyday as if she were still a practicing Catholic.

With little biological family (my father never met his own father), we have much “chosen” family. As blessed as my “aunts” and “uncles” were and continue to be in my life, they could never fill my need for a larger past. Somehow I believed the island would connect and accept me into its ancient history. As a boy, my conceptions of the island were very much a romantic idealization (what if I were of royalty?). But as I grew older, I simply hoped Malta could be a balm to my lingering affliction of rootlessness. What did it mean? What did it mean to me?

Despite having little connection with the island, I was reminded of being Maltese in one small way, my appearance. Because I am straight out of central casting for ‘dark males of indeterminate origin’, I have always vaguely reminded people of someone else they know. Sometimes people wonder about my ethnicity-they have guessed everything from Arab, Latino, Italian, Greek, light-skinned African American, and given the location and history of the island, they are not too far off. I joked that any swarthy Mediterranean male with mid-digital hair could be my cousin. But, to be honest I had never seen anybody Maltese aside from my own family. So when our Air Malta flight touched down, I sort of expected all the people to look like a version of myself. I mean, the place is only 14 x 8 miles long. But it was staggering to see the diversity. Olive skinned people with light green or blue eyes, lighter skinned people with dark eyes, and everything in between.

When we arrived in the resort town of Sliema, we were greeted by my mother’s first cousins, who immediately set to taking care of us for the entire trip. They practically stopped their lives for the week we were there. On the first night there was a party with all of my family. Photo albums were taken out, and the room filled with laughter and a delightful euphony of joyous reunion and remembrance. Coming from a family where we were first-generation college students, my Maltese relatives are engineers, hotel managers, dentists, architects, and surgeons. One cousin self-published a treatise entitled Living and Meaning when he was 14. I learned my great-uncle Emmanuel was awarded Member of the British Empire for his work as the chief telecommunications officer on the island during WWII.

They took us swimming in the pool blue waters off the island of Comino, introduced us to Maltese cuisine of pastizzi (pockets of phylo dough stuffed with ricotta), ftira (sandwiches of fresh Maltese bread, capers), aljotta (fish soup),fenek (rabbit), bragioli (beef olive), gbejna (homemade pepper cheese) and drinking Kinnie, a local soft drink made with oranges and spices.

Through our family, I learned much about my mother and the context where she grew up. They helped fill in blanks that were never explained, or underscored what was less understandable before the trip. I learned because of the war, my mother did not attend school until 5th grade. I learned she still won’t eat dark bread in Malta because it reminds her of the dirt they put into the bread to create more sustenance during the war. She is terrified of birds because the shadows they cast trigger memories of bombers. I learned what it was like to live with constant hunger. She recalled with shame how her grandmother called her into her bedroom to tell her that she was very ill and may not live much longer; my mom asked for her ration of bread. On our walks, my strong mother wept silently when we came to memorials. In the beginning of the trip there were so many monuments that I often hurried past them. They were still an abstraction. But I realized that they were her monuments, my monuments.

There were also many funny stories. When my father first visited Malta in 1961, people kept giving him whisky, their impressions of America shaped by John Wayne westerns. On their last visit to Malta, my parents went to my great-grandmother’s home. As they approached the front door, a very old man sitting across the alleyway bolted from his chair and asked my mother: “Are you Fabiola from New York?” He wagged a finger at her and said, “You stole fruit from me 50 years ago!!” I visited the church in my mother’s village of Balzan. When she was a girl she would knock on the parish priest’s bi-sected door and hold the top side so when he would open it up, he would invariably smack himself in the head. The same priest would continually hear about my mother’s pranks in confession eventually telling her, “If you would stop doing that to me you would have to come in here less often.”

My visit with my relatives was extraordinarily ordinary. I was accepted for no other reason than I was family, and they didn’t understand why I was so grateful. It was what families do. My genetics were my access pass, instantly unlocking the wonders of the island. They were genuinely concerned we spent so little time on the island, and they made me promise I would bring Anne-Marie, my wife, and the kids next time. Before I came here, I never believed I would return. Now I know I must.

Before coming to Malta, I did not know quite how to reach out to others that were Maltese. Would I just start accosting strangers once I arrived? What would I say? So I figured if I couldn’t immediately connect as Maltese, perhaps I could as a colleague. Not that I had ever had a connection with my profession and my background before. There has been little groundswell or legitimate need for Maltese Student Unions (or advisors) on our American campuses, and I have never seen caucuses, standing committees, or commissions in our national associations.

Before I left for Malta I looked on the University of Malta website, and to my surprise, they have functions within the institution that are very similar to our student services. Just before I left, I sent a note saying that I was a Maltese-American administrator who would love to chat with anyone who had a moment to speak with me. Once in Malta, I had one shot during my visit to get to the University. I took a vintage bus to the village of Msida. Although this campus was built in 1968, the University dates back to 1592 as the Collegium Melitense, where it is still located within the walled capitol of Valletta. After following a student up the hill to the campus, I found myself in the middle of registration. I am not sure what I was expecting, but seeing the long line of anxious incoming students and their expectant parents, I could have been in Massachusetts as easily as Malta.

As they were closing up to leave for the day, I met Nadia, an advisor in Students’ Advisory Services. After quickly explaining why I was there, she caught Manwel the director, and Noel, another advisor, to chat with me. In Students’ Advisory Services, a two-room office, they cover academic advising and increasingly do career counseling. Because of registration they had to unplug their phones so they could get through the long student lines without interruption, and worked from early morning into the afternoon without even a bathroom break. This was possibly the worst time for an “I happened to be in the country so I dropped by” visit, but they were gracious and patient with all of my questions.

Mercifully, we had much in common. The university currently has 8000 students, a ten-fold increase from 800 students only 15 years ago. They lamented not having enough staff, and the low status that they had where the professors have all of the resources. I was going to tell them that in America student affairs is at the center of the institution, and faculty spend much time wringing their hands wondering why we don’t respect them-but I figured the joke would get lost in the translation. We talked about assessing outcomes, and I shared some strategies for collaborations and creating more powerful learning environments. Throughout this conversation, I couldn’t believe I was talking about student affairs 6,000 miles away in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.

It is now fall and the students have returned. As a student of my own history, I have returned as well. It is difficult to help a student answer the question, “Who are you?” if you cannot answer, “Who am I?” My visit to Malta allowed me to question the evolving answer of where I came from- to discover my past, and have my past discover me.

Journal of the Minnesota College Personnel Association

Journal of the Minnesota College Personnel Association

Interview with Daniel Macari, Editor

This fall marks the launching of the Journal of the Minnesota College Personnel Association. The journal states that its purpose is to “…provide opportunities for professional development through communication and sharing of ideas among practitioners within the state of Minnesota….” This is a celebratory occasion as the journal is one of the first among the ACPA state/international divisions. Developments took a moment to interview Dr. Daniel Macari, editor of the new journal. Daniel is a faculty member in the Department of Counselor Education and Educational Psychology at St. Cloud State University.

Q: What was the inspiration for the journal?
A: As a new member to the MCPA board, and as the faculty liaison, I was looking for ways to have a larger impact on the organization. The journal seemed to be a wonderful publication opportunity for MCPA members, as well as statewide student affairs practitioners and faculty. It also seemed appropriate in my role as a faculty liaison that a faculty member lead this effort. The idea was vetted among the organization last fall and received tremendous support from MCPA. The goal was to have the first issue published by early fall 2005. T. Todd Masman, then-president of MCPA and current MCPA president, Lisa Mueller were key players in seeing that the publication became a reality for the organization.
Q: Does the journal have a particular focus?
A: Not right now. Presently, any topic that might be of interest to practitioners or faculty members working in Minnesota is considered for the journal. There might be in the future a theme or special focus for an issue.
Q: Will it be readily available to ACPA members?
A: Yes. The idea was first to have it be an online journal. A hard copy for MCPA members was produced as a way to introduce the journal at this year’s state conference. The journal is now available online for free, so anyone can download the first issue. I’m happy to report that the reception to the journal has so far been positive. Right now the plan is for the journal to be published twice a year and posted to our state division website where it can be viewed and downloaded by anyone. Because the journal was so well received at the conference, we are talking about making hard copies available to MCPA members on a regular basis.
Q: What gap do you think this journal fills?
A: That’s a good question. This journal provides a publication opportunity for student affairs practitioners, particularly those enrolled in master’s program. Also, the state is large and “frontier-like” so the journal enhances communication between folks in different parts of the state.
Q: Does it focus solely on research?
A: No, it doesn’t – it’s a real mix of research, book reviews, best practices, etc.
Q: Can anyone submit articles and, if so, how?
A: The submission guidelines are restricted to professionals currently working in the state. The guidelines are posted on the MCPA website. Again, this reflects our desire to make this a publishing opportunity for those in the state of Minnesota.
Q: Any advice MCPA would like to give to other state CPA’s thinking of doing something similar?
A: Yes, try to get faculty involved. The faculty connections are important particularly for motivating graduate students to publish. Oftentimes, faculty are not as closely connected to the state CPAs so an idea such as this works well for connecting both scholars and practitioners in the field. Give it a chance and it can be a success.

For anyone interested in reading and/or downloading the Journal of the Minnesota College Personnel Association, please visit

From One Dupont Circle: Quarterly Update

You have made it to the half way mark!

Fall 2005 opening is a memory and the anticipation of finals and the accomplishments of completing the first semester for the class of 2009, reflects the hard work and dedication to a talented group of educators – college student educators!

Thank you for your devotion and attention to the needs of so many students and others in the university community. I extend a special thanks to the many campuses that came to the “rescue” of our colleagues from the Gulf Coast Region following the natural disasters of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In addition to the routine task of the fall, college campuses across the country (and beyond) offered assistance to students, support to faculty and administrators, and prayer for the loss of life and property. What a small world in which we live and these natural disasters are evident of our dependency on one another for survival. This recognition is something we must continue to instill in our students and reinforce by our actions with one another.

“Together we can accomplish everything”

Other activity of the Association this fall focused primarily on the work of our two appointed task forces:

  1. Certification – Under the leadership of Dr. Merrylee Dunn (GA) and Dr. Kent Porterfield (MO) this group continue to assess the results of the survey from the membership that emphasized a need for intentionally structured professional development that might lead to a professionally certified credential or transcript. More information is forthcoming as the Task Force continues their work throughout this academic year.
  2. Governance – Under the leadership of Dr. Patty Perillo (MD) the diverse group of association members have advanced their work following a three-day retreat and numerous conference calls, looking at ways the Association can conduct its business in a more efficient and “nimble” governance structure. This group intends to present a model (s) for membership reaction at the Annual Convention in Indianapolis.
  3. ACPA Educational Leadership Foundation (ELF) – Under the leadership of Dr. Leila Moore (NH), former ACPA president and currently President of the Board of Trustees of the ACPA ELF, the ELF Board of Trustees are currently attempting to re-engineer the Foundation to strategically identify means to increase revenue in support of ACPA’s strategic goals. Many Association members have been invited to participate in focus groups held throughout the east coast this fall. I thank you for sharing your honest thoughts and concerns related to fundraising challenges facing higher education and our Foundation. The current ELF Board of Trustees will hold their annual orientation of new Board members and their next planning session in January 2006.
  4. State/International Divisions – Under the leadership of Dr. Ann Groves Lloyd (WI), this group continues to encourage and support quality professional development conferences, workshops and seminars throughout the country. I have had the pleasure to attend several state conferences and am most impressed with the quality of programs with specific emphasis on how these organizations welcome new state educators at these events. Many educators find the state meeting to be their only opportunity to interact with other colleagues away from campus. I encourage continued support and appreciation to each state and to our international division in the Caribbean.
  5. 2006 Convention – Dr. Boyd Yarbrough (SC) and the Convention planning team is in the thick of planning what will be the professional development extravanzga of the year in the NEW Indianapolis. The theme, “Making a Difference in the Lives of Students” will set the stage for the exchange of ideas, theories, and practices in our profession. Mark your calendars for March 18-22, 2006 to join us there. If you have not been to Indianapolis in the past eight to ten years, you are in store for a real treat. The downtown of Indianapolis has been completely transformed into a modern, accessible, destination site for visitors (downtown city center shopping mall), conventioneers (new convention center), sports fans (NCAA headquarters) and educators in particular (the huge downtown campus of Indiana University – Purdue University at Indianapolis and other higher education campuses in and near the city).

This is just a brief snapshot of the many events that occurred since we last communicated. A special thanks to the many state divisions who have held conferences this fall. I had the opportunity to attend a few and the quality and resourcefulness of the state leadership is admirable.

Until next time,


Hummingbirds and Hurricanes

Jane Fried
Chair of the Ethics Committee, Associate Professor
Central Connecticut State University

The hardest part of handling an ethical dilemma is knowing that you’re having one. Harry Canon, former Chair, ACPA Ethics Committee

This past summer as I sat on my patio watching the hummingbirds dive bomb their feeder, I began to wonder how so many of them lived in the woods near my home without being visible. After looking carefully into the foliage, I was able to pick out a few of the most obvious hummingbirds lining up for a drink, but I was also amazed at how quickly they disappeared into the background once they were satisfied. Shortly afterward, we experienced two overwhelming, mind-boggling hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. The contrast between hurricanes and hummingbirds moved into my awareness. Nobody in the country could escape the information about the hurricanes, the human and physical catastrophe, the confusion, the suffering and the muddled attempts to address an issue that was apparently bigger than all of our human service agencies could have imagined. Hummingbirds are easy to miss and hard to see. Hurricanes knock us over and keep us down for a long time. The size of most ethical dilemmas seems closer to a hummingbird than a hurricane. The question for student affairs practitioners becomes “How do we learn to notice the hummingbirds?”

We are used to thinking about the five ethical principles first articulated by Kitchener (1985), but less familiar with the ethical virtues of our profession (Meara, Schmidt & Day, 1996). We need to know about these ethical principles when we become aware of an ethical dilemma. We need to use the ethical virtues every day of our lives. The development of those virtues allows us to see less visible but equally significant dilemmas.

Virtues are habits of behavior and thought. They represent our default approach to handling whatever issues face us in the course of our work, the attitudes and personality characteristics that we typically use in addressing professional issues. For helping professionals there are four primary virtues which serve as the foundation for our work with others – prudence, integrity, respectfulness and benevolence. Prudence and integrity are considered “self-regarding” virtues; respectfulness and benevolence are “other” regarding virtues.

Self-regarding virtues: Prudence, the first self-regarding virtue, suggests that we should develop the habit of moving slowly and thinking carefully when dealing with difficult ethical situations. Anyone in student affairs who is called upon to help resolve student or staff conflicts can easily see the power of prudence in carrying out this responsibility. A conflict that only has two sides is generally a simple conflict. Most conflicts have as many sides to them as there are stakeholders. When the student center staff holds its scheduling meeting to consider conflicting requests for major events requiring large amounts of time, space and student support, a great deal of information must be considered prudently before decisions are made. When a student charges another student with assault and nobody observed the incident, but both students are bruised, prudence is required when deciding appropriate penalties. Prudence, when managing conflicts, generally involves careful examination of evidence, awareness of various perspectives on any issue, exploration of values and principles that may be involved and refusal to be pressured into an expedient but unfair resolution.

Prudence, used over an extended period of time, leads the way toward personal integrity, a sense that the ethics and judgment of the decision-maker are consistent. Integrity also implies that the decision-maker has an internal anchor, a set of principles and standards by which judgments and actions are evaluated. A person with integrity can be trusted by the students who work with her or him because they will not experience drastic differences in value criteria from one situation to another. A person with integrity treats everyone with fairness and thoughtfulness even when circumstances differ and the details vary. If a person behaves with integrity, the reasons for different judgments under different circumstances are clear and transparent.

Other regarding virtues: Respectfulness and benevolence are the two “other regarding” virtues. Other regarding virtues are oriented toward creating good for people in the community or client population which the professional person serves. Learning to treat other people with respect has become challenging because ideas about respect vary from culture to culture. On our campuses we have students and staff from all over the world. Behavior which is respectful in one culture can be construed as disrespectful by people from another culture. Male/female handshaking as a form of greeting is respectful in the US, but is considered rude and unacceptable to people who are observant Muslims. For Americans it is respectful to begin a meeting promptly (when the time on the clock conforms with the time announced for the meeting), to conduct business with little personal conversation, even though attendees are often addressed by first names. In other cultures, particularly those where relationships are very important and age is a mark of rank, meetings may begin later than the announced time, with inquiries about family and the welfare of the participants. People may expect to be addressed by title or family name. It is not unusual to have people with differing sets of expectations about respect in the same meeting trying to move toward a common goal. Even when the virtue of respect is shared, the details of cross-cultural respect must be learned.

The Golden Rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, now has a corollary, Do unto others as they would be done unto. In other words, we have all had to learn to treat others in the way that they consider respectful, not necessarily in the way that we consider respectful. This particularly extends to the issue of including family and accepting many definitions of family. US law defines an adult as a person over the age of 18 but in many cultures that distinction is meaningless as long as the student is not married. For those students, there is an ethical issue to be untangled when it comes to deciding whether or not to include parents in some conversations. Another issue of respect is generational. Students who live in an IM, text message world, may not have the same idea of how to approach a receptionist or speak to an administrator who grew up in a face to face, complete sentence, “Hello, how can I help you?” world. Students may act in a manner that seems appropriate to them and yet be perceived as disrespectful by those whose services they are seeking. There is certainly a large amount of overlap between cultures and generations when it comes to respect, but it is prudent not to take anything for granted.

Benevolence is intertwined with respect. Benevolence involves taking the other person’s wellbeing into account. Benevolence suggests “opening ourselves to many others, to family, to friends and even to strangers, forming genuine and deep bonds based on our common humanity” (Dalai Lama, 1998, p.84). When we are able to find our common humanity, regardless of perceived rudeness or communication difficulties, we can develop benevolence. We can begin to realize that a remark that might hurt another person, if aimed toward us, would also be hurtful. Cultivating the virtue of benevolence leads inevitably to the development of respect. If I care about a person’s well-being and I unintentionally act in a disrespectful manner, I will be able to apologize and change my behavior out of consideration for the other person. Their welfare becomes more important than my loss of “face.”

Virtues are formed after a great deal of practice. In the midst of a crisis a person’s character comes to the fore, and their behavior reflects their habitual responses and thought processes. The cultivation of the ethical virtues allows us to “see” the hummingbird sized dilemmas and to respond appropriately. A prudent person does not worry about jumping to conclusions in a difficult situation and then making the wrong choice. A person with integrity is fairly predictable and students and colleagues know that he or she can be trusted. A benevolent person doesn’t take advantage of another person or humiliate others even if they have done something wrong or offensive, or broken a rule. A benevolent person habitually treats others with respect. The cultivation of virtues takes a long time, and the road is filled with missteps. Nevertheless, it’s the virtues that let us know when a hummingbird is in the area. If we take care of the hummingbirds, we’ll be able to figure out what to do about the hurricanes when the need arises.


  • Dalai Lama & Cutler, H. (1998). The art of happiness. NY: Riverhead Books.
  • Fried, J. (2004). Ethical standards and principles. In S. Komives & D. Woodard (Eds.) Student services: A handbook for the profession (pp. 107-127). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Kitchener, K. (1985) Ethical principles and ethical decision-making in student affairs. In H. Canon and R.D. Brown (Eds.), Applied ethics in student services. New Directions for Student Services, 30, San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Meara, N., Schmidt, L., & Day, J. (1996). Principles and virtues: A foundation for ethical decisions, policies and character. Counseling Psychologist, 24, 4-77.

From the Editor

From the Editor

In this issue you will hear a fresh new voice in our legal issues section. Jason Lane, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of North Dakota joins Developments as an author for our Legal Issues column. He has agreed to share this responsibility with Robert Hendrickson who continues to write two articles each year. Dr. Lane has agreed to write the other two articles. His first article provides new information on file-sharing at college and universities. Please take a look.

In addition to his piece, Greg Roberts provides his quarterly report. Jane Fried provides a thoughtful look at ethical virtues. Scott Brown offers a personal reflection about his Maltese identity and Developments interviewed Daniel Macari, editor of the new Journal of the Minnesota College Personnel Association. Enjoy the articles and have a safe winter.

Colleges, Courts, Congress, and Napster: Student Affairs’ Role in Reducing Illegal Copyright Piracy

Jason E. Lane
Assistant Professor
University of North Dakota

Colleges and universities remain at the epicenter of the file sharing movement, and thus at the heart of concerns regarding copyright infringement and piracy. College students created file sharing software such as Napster and i2hub. Postsecondary institutions number among the most networked organizations in the world and provide access to millions of colleges students, with limited oversight as to how students use these networks. Further, college students are arguably one of the most egregious groups of current copyright violators in the United States. In 2002 downloading music from the internet was an almost exclusively illegal activity as legal alternatives were only in their infancy. A 2002 study by Pew’s Internet and American Life Project found that college students had a significantly higher propensity for downloading music from the internet than any other group of internet users (Jones, 2002).

Recent legal and political developments suggest that file sharing on college campuses remains a primary issue of concern for many of higher education’s external stakeholders. Campus based piracy has been the focus of Congressional hearings since Napster first attracted public attention. In 2002 higher education and recording industry officials formed the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities “as a way to help combat copyright piracy on campuses nationwide” (Boliek, 2005). In one of the more aggressive moves by Congress, Reps. Lamar Smith (R, TX) and Howard Berman (D, CA), indicated that they would request that the General Accounting Office (GAO) investigate college and university anti-piracy policies and provide a “ranking” [check] of their effectiveness. The signals from Congress suggest a growing external desire for colleges to take responsibility for the illicit uses of their campus networks.

Interestingly, such expectations extend far beyond requirements of federal statutes, which protect universities from being held liable for activities engaged in by users of their networks, so long as the university abides by a set of minimal reporting, monitoring, and educative requirements (see Hawke, 2004; Hendrickson, 2004; and Lane & Hendrickson, in press for detailed discussions of institutional safe harbor requirements). However, some universities have begun to set expectations for institutions by engaging in high profile activities such as partnering with providers of legal, digital downloads of music. Pennsylvania State University began the movement in 2003 by partnering with Napster and as of September 2005, nearly 70 institutions had entered into similar partnerships. Another preventive measure recently attracting media attention is the University of Florida’s controversial filtering software: Icarus. UF officials attest to the software eliminating a vast majority of illegal file sharing on their networks, but critics believe the software unfairly restricts students’ privacy and the “student newspaper referred to Icarus as ‘invasive’ and ‘evil’” (Read, 2005b).

The battle over campus-based internet privacy is not only being waged in Congressional hearing rooms, but also in the hallowed halls of the federal judiciary. Lawsuits and subpoenas, including the thousands filed by the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) and the Movie Picture Association of America (MPAA) against individual users, initially garnered a great deal of attention from the media and, as of January 2005, resulted in the identification of approximately 260 potential copyright infringers on 85 campuses (Read, 2005a).

Additionally, the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. et al. [MGM] v. Grokster Ltd, et al. (2005) brought additional public scrutiny to the file sharing debate. In this case, a group of copyright holders filed suit against companies that distribute free peer-to-peer [P2P] software (such as Morpheus and KaZaA). P2P software allows users to connect directly to each other’s computers to search for and download digital files such as documents, music, and movies. Evidence suggested that billions of files were transmitted across these networks each day and that most users of the software engaged in downloading illegal versions of copyrighted files. MGM and other copyright holders sought damages from these companies believing them to be liable for enabling the illegal activity. The Court acknowledged that the decentralized nature of the networks prevented the distributor from direct monitoring of the network and that the software could be used for non-infringing activity. However, the distributors of the software could be held liable for the illegal use of their software as they profited from the illegal activity on their networks and knowingly positioned themselves as alternatives to Napster, the original file sharing network. Such activities, the Court decided, indicated the distributors intended the software to be used for illegal purposes. The Court determined that many of the distributors of software designed for file sharing could be held liable for the copyright infringing activity engaged in by the users of the software.

Other than drawing attention to the issue of copyright violations and campus-based piracy, what is the meaning for student affairs practitioners? While the MGM v. Grokster (2005) has for the moment limited the availability of P2P software, the case has little direct legal impact on colleges and universities. Students do use campus networks to engage in infringing activities, but colleges and universities do not profit from the illegal behavior nor were the networks created to encourage illegal file sharing. As such, college and university legal liability does not necessarily increase due to this ruling. However, it does not mean that stakeholders will not expect aggressive institutional responses to piracy. Already, many campuses across the nation are assuming more active roles in confronting and preventing infringing activities.

While college and university legal requirements are limited, the issue raises a number of questions regarding the educational and ethical requirements of an institution. If there is a major outbreak of illegal activity on campus, how should a campus respond? What if there were some questions as to students’ awareness about the legality of their actions? What obligations do colleges and universities have toward developing good citizens and ethical leaders? As Rep. Lamar Smith stated in his opening remarks at a recent Congressional sub-committee hearing, “Universities have recognized that part of their educational mission is not only centered on turning out architects, lawyers, nurses, musicians, and economists. Their mission also includes creating well-rounded individuals with respect for others and the laws of our country.” If one believes the latter part of Smith’s statement to be true, then universities have an obligation not only to provide legal alternatives, but also to educate students about copyright law and the implications of their illegal activities.

Institutional responses garnering the most media attention are technological based such as making legal alternatives available to students and aggressively monitoring network activity; yet the most important responses fall to student affairs practitioners. While the aforementioned programs may change student behavior, they do not necessarily alter the mindset or moral development of students (Lane & Healy, 2005). One of the requirements for universities to be eligible for legal protection from liability is educating students about copyright law. While compliance could possibly be achieved with passive activities such as posting of flyers or inclusion of an informational statement in the student handbook, many institutions are viewing the educational requirement as an ethical responsibility and implementing more active educational measures. Some institutions make students complete a module and pass a quiz about copyright law before issuing them an e-mail ID and network access account. Others are supplementing their orientation activities with discussions of copyright law and appropriate use of campus networks, sharing time with such topics as appropriate alcohol use and campus safety.

In many ways, student governance organizations such as Student Government and Residence Hall Associations are also being included as key players in the development of institutional responses. As colleges and universities debate the provision of legal music and movie downloading services, campus administrators look to these organizations for support. In some cases, these organizations are being asked to approve fee increases to subsidize the expenses associated with offering services such as Napster, Cdigix, and Ruckus. As organizational advisors, it is important to be aware of the issues involved in the file sharing debate and help students process through the associated array of ethical grey areas.

Unlike some other issues where the law provides a clear path for institutions to follow, the legal components of the file sharing debate open the door for institutions to consider their obligations toward the development of the “well-rounded individual.” Should institutions merely provide legal alternatives to downloading? Without concurrent educational experiences, will students understand the legal and ethical concerns surrounding copyright violations? Will they return to illegal activity when the institution stops subsidizing the legal access to online music? As institutions develop responses to online piracy, administrators should consider more than simply the legal requirements, but also the responsibility they have for developing good citizens.

Brief Points for Administrative Contemplation

  • Become familiar with the legal requirements for educational institutions. Protect institutions from legal liability that could be incurred due to activity engaged in by individual users.
  • When developing institutional responses to campus-based digital piracy, consider the ethical and developmental responsibilities of educational organizations. Should the institution’s response be solely about altering illegal behavior or about developing ethical decision-makers and good citizens?
  • What role should organizations such as student government and the residence hall association play in creating the institutional response? Consulting with members of these groups could give you key insights about students’ current behavior and possible effectiveness of proposed responses. In the digital world, users’ trends and behaviors can change very quickly and students are often aware of these changes before staff and administrators.
  • Consider the possible precedents institutional responses may create. How far is the institution willing to go to monitor and alter student behavior? Will or should the same efforts be applied to other illegal or controversial student behavior?


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  • Hendrickson, R.M. (2004, summer). Students’ downloading of music creates legal issues. ACPA Developments. Accessed on October 4, 2005 from
  • Jones, S. (2002, September 15). The Internet goes to college: How students are living in the future with today’s technology. Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved January 15, 2005, from
  • Lane, J.E. & Healy, M.A. (In Press). File sharing, Napster, and institutional responses: Educative, developmental, or responsive policy? NASPA Journal.
  • Lane, J.E., & Hendrickson, R. M. (In Press). Digital copyrights and student file sharing: Educational responsibilities and legal liability for schools, colleges, and universities.West Education Law Reporter.
  • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. et al. v. Grokster Ltd., et al. 545 U.S. (2005).
  • Hawke, C. (2004). The P2P file sharing controversy: Should colleges be involved? (184 Ed. Law Rep. 681).
  • Read, B. (2005a, January 28). Is there a pattern to the music industry’s file sharing lawsuits? The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A39.
  • Read, B. (2005b, September 23). Lawmakers will seek a federal study of colleges’ success at stopping file swapping. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed October 3, 2005 from