ASMSU association director appeals spam charge, makes civil liberties claim

January 11, 2009

ASMSU Association Director Kara Spencer, who was found guilty in December of sending a "spam" e-mail to faculty, has appealed to the University Student Appeals Board and hopes for a decision in the coming weeks.

In September, Spencer sent an e-mail to 391 faculty members, or about 8 percent of MSU faculty and staff, which raised concerns about proposed changes to Welcome Week.

The e-mail encouraged increased communication among faculty before the proposed changes went into effect.

On Dec. 2, the Student-Faculty Judiciary held a hearing where Spencer was accused of violating two policies of the Student Life Code as well as the Network Acceptance Use Policy.

MSU policy on bulk e-mail states that a bulk e-mail can be sent to as many as 20 or 30 people during a two-day span without proper permission. All bulk e-mail must receive prior approval by appropriate university offices.

Academic Technology Services representative Randall Hall said Spencer had violated the policies by not getting her e-mails approved.

"It was a violation of a university policy in a procedural way," he said.

"I talk to many people every semester about this exact same thing."

On Dec. 10, the Student-Faculty Judiciary found Spencer guilty of misusing university resources.

As punishment, she received a formal warning in her student file. Spencer filed an appeal to the University Student Appeals Board on Dec. 12.

While Spencer is fighting the ruling, she also is fighting the policy.

"I think that there are parallel issues here," she said. "One of them is the limited scope of my particular case but I think there is a bigger issue here that needs to be addressed. (The policy) is incredibly vague."

She has yet to be informed if the board will decide to hear her case because it hasn’t
been in session during the winter break.

"The goal here is to get them to take a hard look at the policy," Spencer said. "They have been unwilling to do that thus far so it may need a federal court to tell them they need to."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, has been defending Spencer since she was accused of violating university policies and has been contacting the university.

On Dec. 17, FIRE sent a letter to MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon that was signed by 12 other civil liberties groups asking to overturn the ruling in Spencer’s case.

"We’re going to give MSU every opportunity to come into full compliance with the First Amendment," FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy William Creeley said.

As a result of this case, FIRE has placed MSU on its Red Alert List.

According to FIRE’s Web site, the list "is reserved for the ‘worst of the worst’ when it comes to liberty on campus."

The University Student Appeals Board will be back in session and make a decision on Spencer’s case as classes resume.

"I never would have imagined that this would even be an issue when I sent out the e-mail," Spencer said. "I think it is also dangerous when you have a policy that is that vague and is open to that much interpretation, that it can be broadly applied however they see fit."

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Schools: Michigan State University Cases: Michigan State University: Student Government Official Threatened with Suspension for E-mailing Faculty about University Scheduling Concerns