MSU Community Responds to ‘Spam’ Case Online

By December 15, 2008

Following last week’s press release about Michigan State University student Kara Spencer, who was found guilty of "spamming" for criticizing the administration’s plan to change the school calendar, MSU’s student paper, The State News, published an article about the outcome of the case. The article’s comments section attracted attention from several members of the campus community. The majority of comments expressed displeasure with the college’s decision. "Kevin" wrote:

What a slap in the face it would be to MSU if the right to communicate freely with faculty is not upheld within the university. Almost scary.

Another student echoed that disappointment:

What a horrible decision by our university. I’m glad to see they encourage us to be advocates and free thinkers, and to communicate with them. Obviously we’re not as important to them as the money they rake in per student to pay their salaries. It’s a disgrace.

While most of the comments were in support of Spencer and her rights, one or two seemed to support the university’s decision.

The University owns the servers, manages the back-end, and makes you agree to terms of use when you set it up. So if the charge was misusing University resources, which this official did, th[e]n the ruling was correct. If I understand their interpretation here, using your University email address to send out a bulk mailing is like using a professor’s office phone to do cold calling – and no one would argue that that is appropriate or reasonable.

This post reveals an ignorance of both constitutional law and the facts of the case. As another commenter later clarified, Spencer was not using her MSU e-mail account, but rather an outside Gmail account. Besides, the e-mails of an engaged student government leader can hardly be compared with the hypothetical professor-turned-telemarketer (if that’s what the commenter means), using college resources for commercial gain. The facts of the case demonstrate that Spencer was punished for sending a timely, relevant, non-commercial email to faculty members she assumed would be interested in upcoming changes in the college calendar.

Moreover, as Adam has explained previously on the Torch, in addition to the unacceptable ways in which the policy was applied, the university’s anti-spam policy contains numerous constitutional infirmities on its face.

Appearing to sum up the thoughts of the majority of comments, "Katie" wrote:

This [Spencer's email] is simply an engagement of the community. An example of free thought and free speech. You know, the things that college campuses EXIST for. I completely, 100% disagree with MSU here. This is a shame.

It is shameful indeed.

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