MSU responds to group’s criticism

March 20, 2007

Critics of an MSU’s disciplinary program said they’re confused by the university’s response in reviewing the program.

In February, MSU officials said the seminar was an optional punishment for students found violating a university regulation.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, said the Student Accountability in Community Seminar stifles students’ constitutional rights and demanded the program’s termination, prompting the university review.

The accountability seminar was presented by officials from Student Life and MSU Safe Place at a 2002 Association of Student Judicial Affairs’ International Conference, which FIRE’s president, Greg Lukianoff, attended.

“Every day they run the SAC (Student Accountability in Community) program, they’re violating the Constitution of the United States,” Lukianoff said.

In a March 7 letter to the foundation, Lee June, MSU’s vice president for Student Affairs and Services, responded to the criticism by saying “For those students who have been sanctioned through the judicial process, we see no problem in their participating in the SAC program.

“Students will not be required to enter this program as the only sanction for a violation, but it will be offered as an option,” he wrote.

But Lukianoff said his organization is “trying to figure out what the letter actually meant.”

“It wasn’t very clear,” he said. “We want to hear from students participating in the program. If (university officials) have rewritten all the SAC material, they should send those right away, so we can make up our mind about this.”

June said the program is currently not operating, but not because of FIRE’s inquiry. He added the organization “did not have all the information correct.”

“(The program) would be one of the sanctions within the judicial process, that was the process all along,” June said. “We’ll be clearer in terms of describing how the program operates. We’re going to take this chance to further review.”

But other than updating the Student Life Web site, and changing how students can be referred to the program, the letter never outlines the specific actions university officials will take to ensure students’ First Amendment rights.

In June’s review of the program, he said he examined various material, conferred with staff, consulted with legal counsel, looked at how the program actually operates and reviewed Student Life’s Web site, which lists the program.

Student Life describes the seminar on its Web site but does not mention it as an optional program. On the Web site it says students could have a hold placed on their accounts if they fail to pay the $50 initial fee and the additional $10 charge for missing a program session.

However, as of Monday, links to information on the Student Accountability in Community Seminar on the Student Life Web site did not work.

No more than a dozen students participated in the program, which has not been enacted for more than two years, June said.

FIRE also blasted MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, and what it called a university-sponsored “thought control” program reminiscent of George Orwell’s classic “1984.”

Lukianoff said the disciplinary sanction should only be used in situations where people committed serious offenses.

“Not a fight with your boyfriend,” he said. “It must be optional with informed consent. People have to know what SAC actually is. They should reconsider the whole program. At the same time, if they’re desperate to maintain the program, those are the reforms that have to take place.

“FIRE will continue to monitor the program.”

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Schools: Michigan State University Cases: Michigan State University: Program of Thought Reform