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


Michigan State University

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Case Overview


In late 2008, Michigan State University revealed plans to shorten the school's academic calendar and freshman orientation schedule. The plans led members of the University Committee on Student Affairs (UCSA), which included faculty, students, and administrators, to meet and exchange emails in order to construct a response. Kara Spencer was both a member of the committee and the Association Director of the student government. She told UCSA that she would send individual faculty her own version of its letter, carefully selecting 391 of them. Within two days, MSU Network Administrator Randall J. Hall summoned Spencer to a mandatory "investigation" meeting. Hall alleged that Spencer had violated as many as five MSU policies by "spamming" the faculty members. After Spencer requested a hearing before the Student-Faculty Judiciary, FIRE wrote to MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon.Despite the fact that her e-mail was timely, carefully targeted, and concerned a campus issue, Spencer was found guilty of violating MSU's "spam" policy. A formal "Warning" was placed in Spencer's file, hurting her chances of obtaining employment or attending graduate school. In response, thirteen civil liberties organizations, led by FIRE and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), wrote an open letter to Simon, challenging both the policy and its application against Spencer. In response to the letter, public pressure, and an appeal filed by Spencer, the University announced that the charges had been "withdrawn." Nonetheless, it has insisted on retaining its unconstitutional e-mail usage policy.