Phony Papers vs. Joking Posters

By on April 15, 2005

While this is certainly not a FIRE case, it is, undeniably,
a pretty funny
story
from today’s Chronicle of
Higher Education
(registration required):

Fill a paper with gobbledygook, add some fake charts, slap
on a title dense with highfalutin scientific jargon, and—voilà!—a
highfalutin conference may actually accept it.

That’s what happened when three students at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology submitted a nonsensical research paper to
the ninth World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics, and Informatics,
scheduled to be held in Orlando,
Fla.
, in July.

The paper, called “Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical
Unification of Access Points and Redundancy,” was accepted by the conference
organizers late last month. A computer program the students had created in
about three weeks to churn out phony computer-science language randomly
generated their four-page paper.

Sometimes people seem to think that while it may be
reasonable to oppose government officials’ usurping powers over speech,
association, religion, etc., we should be more willing to give these powers
over to college administrators or faculty because, presumably, they are more
enlightened and will use their power more justly. As I have often had to argue,
the people who run colleges and universities are just people, flawed and
capable of mistakes and abuses of power just like anyone else. The above story
is just a funny example of this fallibility, but it should remind readers that
our civil liberties need to be strongly protected under all circumstances
because errors of judgment and abuses of power can take decidedly un-funny
forms. Let’s not forget last
fall’s case
of University
of New Hampshire
student
Tim Garneau:

DURHAM, N.H., October 28, 2004—The University of New
Hampshire has evicted a student from housing for posting fliers
in his residential hall joking that freshman women could lose the “Freshman 15”
by walking up the dormitory stairs. The public university found him guilty of
violating policies on affirmative action, harassment, and disorderly conduct,
and has sentenced him to mandatory counseling and probation along with his
eviction.

In appealing his sentence, student Timothy Garneau explained
that the flier was intended to make light of the common frustration with people
who delay the elevator by taking it for just one or two floors instead of
taking the stairs. UNH rejected his appeal, and Garneau was ordered to move out
of his dormitory. Garneau reports that he is currently living out of his car.

One of the things that makes UNH different, however, is that
I am still not sure that, despite our eventual victory in this
case, those involved understand that they did something wrong by evicting the
student in the first place. Those of you who are interested might want to
contact UNH to see if Brad Williams, the resident director who was responsible
for this whole ordeal, was ever punished for his cruel and flagrant disregard
of his students’ rights or if he, like so many administrators who abuse their
power, was simply allowed to keep going about his job believing that he had
done his job correctly and that it was rather that pesky Constitution that was
wrong.

Schools: University of New Hampshire