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Michigan State University Threatens Student Government Member for Commenting on University Policy – UPDATED!

Posted by iusbvision on December 5, 2008

UPDATE – MSU backs down after FIRE and the ACLU turn up the legal heat. FIRE comments HERE.

Here we go again. IUSB Vision readers know that abuse on campus is one of our pet subjects. Unfortunately there are so many documented cases of abuse such as this on campus that we can only write about a fraction of them.

Via FIRE:

EAST LANSING, Mich., December 4, 2008 A leader of Michigan State University’s student government faces suspension for “spam” after she carefully selected and e-mailed about 8 percent of the school’s faculty members encouraging them to express their views about changes to the freshman orientation and academic calendars. Student Kara Spencer, who faced a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday, has turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

“If e-mailing faculty members with concerns about a university calendar is outside the parameters of acceptable speech at Michigan State, no student should feel safe contacting professors about any relevant matter of concern,” Robert Shibley, FIRE’s Vice President, said. “The difference between Spencer’s message and a typical ‘spam’ e-mail is so obvious that it calls into question MSU’s true motivation for silencing this student.”

On September 4, 2008, MSU’s University Committee on Academic Policy made recommendations challenging the MSU administration’s plans to shorten MSU’s Academic Calendar and Fall Welcome (freshman orientation) schedules, noting that any comments would need to be submitted by September 30. Given the short time frame offered for discussion and the fact that the changes were highly controversial, members of the Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU) and the University Committee on Student Affairs (UCSA) held a meeting on September 11 to tackle the issue. UCSA members, including students, several faculty members, and several MSU administrators, then engaged in a cooperative e-mail discussion about the content and recipients of a coordinated response.

On September 14, Spencer notified the group that she would be sending her version of the group’s response as “an informational email” in her own name. She noted that she had “compiled a database of all faculty on campus” for this purpose. None of the faculty members or administrators involved in the discussion complained about this plan. According to Spencer, on or about September 15, she carefully selected about 391 faculty members out of MSU’s approximately 5,000 faculty, and she e-mailed the 391 faculty members the letter that the group of students, faculty, and administrators had written.

The letter stated concerns about the short amount of time given to the MSU community to consider the changes, “which will greatly affect both faculty and students alike,” and called for “an inclusive dialogue among members of the University community” prior to adoption of the changes. The letter added: “Given the immediacy of the situation, we request that any faculty wishing to be heard on this issue contact their Faculty Council representative or the Provost’s office.”

Of course the spam charge was just the vehicle for trying to punish a student for daring to have the guile to fight a change in university policy. Of course, these are the actions that a good member of the student government is expected to take on behalf of the students. Too many university administrators and faculty consider themselves to be so enlightened they feel perfectly justified to use such Stalinist tactics as FIRE and this publication have pointed out with examples time and time again.

Adam Kissel had this to say:

Threatening a senior member of the student government with suspension for sending noncommercial, relevant e-mails to faculty members is outrageous,” Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, said. “As the Supreme Court held in Garrison v. Louisiana,‘speech concerning public affairs … is the essence of self-government’ and ‘debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.’ MSU is teaching students that they challenge the administration’s plans at their peril.

It never ceases to amaze me how many pointy headed academics and college administrators reigning over their fiefdoms start to behave as if the the First Amendment, civil rights laws, and very often the university’s own policies, simply don’t apply to them. Maybe such things are only for the little people (and where was MSU’s OCR office to stand up for this students rights???).

A word to MSU; I suggest getting legally and ethically correct before FIRE and thier lawyer friends begin to do what they do best.

One Response to “Michigan State University Threatens Student Government Member for Commenting on University Policy – UPDATED!”

  1. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    [Thanks! – Editor]

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