Email from Rochester Institute of Technology President Bill Destler to David Ross

By May 6, 2014

From: Bill Destler
Date: Tue, May 6, 2014 at 9:11 AM
Subject: RE: FIRE Blog Post on the Reporter Obscenity Incident
To: David Ross

David,

It is unfortunate that FIRE did not contact RIT to ascertain whether there was another side to this story, and those interested should note that they do not provide a place on their site for a response. To their allegations, I would respond with the following:

1.     RIT never claimed that the issue of Reporter published on May 2 was obscene.  In fact, we have complimented the students publicly on the high quality of the issue and its usefulness in encouraging a campus dialog on sensitive issues related to sex and gender.

2.     The By-laws of Reporter do not preclude prior review.  To the contrary, they require the students to consult with the Reporter Advisory Board when they are contemplating publishing potentially libelous, offensive, or provocative material, something the students did not do in this case.

3.     RIT did not censure the issue or limit its distribution in any way other than to restrict its distribution to those 18 and over during our Imagine RIT Festival.  We took this action because about 10,000 school age children were in attendance at the Festival, and we believe that decisions on when and if these images and issues are to be introduced to children should be the responsibility of parents, not college students. In fact, almost 2,000 copies of the issue were distributed at the Festival.

4.     Our legal concerns came not from obscenity laws, but from New York State statutes on the distribution of indecent material to minors.  There are two parts to these statutes, and if you read them both, you will understand our concerns.

5.     All of us, including our students, have responsibilities to act in the public interest.  RIT would not invite young children to view an “R” rated movie on campus, and even newsstands place sexually explicit material out of the reach of young children even though much of that material does not quality as being obscene under the law. Such actions are not censorship, but rather socially responsible actions taken as we work together within our communities toward shared goals and values.

I hope you will share these facts with your colleagues.

Bill Destler

President, RIT