RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Some of what we know about the inner workings of the Egyptian government come from the recent release of American diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. And some college professors are now using WikiLeaks cables in the classroom. But as NPR's Jessica Diehl reports, there's a debate within the academic community, about whether that is ethical.

JESSICA DEAHL: Were in a classroom at one of the countrys premier policy schools. Its called SAIS, the School of Advanced International Studies. It's part of Johns Hopkins University in Washington.

Students here will go on to work in the State Department and in embassies around the world. But first, they have to learn the fundamentals of how U.S. foreign policy is made. And following the release of thousands of classified diplomatic cables, through the Web site WikiLeaks, the professor in this classroom has some new teaching materials.

Professor PIERO GLEIJESES (American Foreign Policy, Johns Hopkins University): I thought it was a positive thing, quite frankly. I'm very glad that Assange has published these documents, has made available these documents.

DEAHL: That's Professor Piero Gleijeses. He's referring to Julian Assange the man behind WikiLeaks. Gleijeses says he has no reservations about using these secret cables in his classroom. As raw documents from contemporary diplomats, he believes they offer the kind of insight that no book or article could provide.

Professor GLEIJESES: Obviously they're extremely valuable - extremely valuable.

DEAHL: He already has one cable he's thinking about using in his class. It's written by a U.S. diplomat in Mexico. It expresses concern that Venezuela and Cuba are using goodwill programs in Mexico to spread anti-U.S. propaganda.

Gleijeses says he could use it to illustrate the assumptions that exist behind U.S. policy.

Professor GLEIJESES: And then a thinking student might ask himself whether our hatred for Cuba or our dislike for Venezuela, justifies such concerns and what should be the policy, et cetera, et cetera.

DEAHL: So that's the content of the cables, but their structure could be considered useful too.

Here's Ambassador Marc Grossman. He teaches across town at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.

Professor MARC GROSSMAN (School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University): In India apparently, theyre showing their own diplomats the cables to say this is what we want we want, you know, kind of this shape and this size, you know, and very interesting.

DEAHL: Grossman says these cables could give aspiring diplomats cues on effective writing style, length, tone. And on top of all this, he thinks the cables could be a great recruiting tool for the State Department, where he worked for almost three decades.

The cables give glimpses into the life of a U.S. diplomat; prepping the secretary of state for a meeting with the king of Saudi Arabia, reporting from a lavish wedding ceremony in the former Soviet Union, assessing corruption high up the ranks in the Afghan government.

Prof. GROSSMAN: There are probably people out there who will look at these and say, gosh, Id like to be a diplomat, Id like to be a Foreign Service Officer, Id like to be part of something that interesting and that good.

DEAHL: Despite all of these reasons to use them, Ambassador Grossman will not be bringing the cables into his classroom.

Prof. GROSSMAN: I feel morally obligated not to. You know, theyre stolen documents, as far as Im concerned.

DEAHL: He understands why theyre enticing. But he worries that by asking students who want to be diplomats to read stolen classified cables, he could be hurting their future job prospects.

Prof. GROSSMAN: I have to be careful in my class about not putting those people into any jeopardy. They need their security clearances; they want to have their careers.

DEAHL: But the State Department has not yet issued any authoritative instructions to those who are not current employees.

And the schools where these professors teach are taking a hands-off approach. They're considering the use of the cables in the classroom an academic freedom issue. And they're letting instructors decide what's best for them and their students.

Jessica Deahl, NPR News, Washington.

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