FIRE Chairman Questions Response to Rutgers Tragedy

October 1, 2010

Over at the Boston Phoenix Phlog, FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate responds to the coverage of a recent tragedy at Rutgers University.

A front-page article in yesterday’s New York Times discussed the events leading up to, and following, the suicide of a Rutgers freshman, three days after his roommate secretly recorded and broadcast online a video of his sexual encounter with a male. Reporter Lisa W. Foderaro noted that this "was the latest by a young American that followed the online posting of hurtful material." Harvey believes that both the Times‘ emphasis on the emotional pain caused by the act and Rutgers’ new "civility" initiative trivialize the criminal conduct at issue:

The problem with what the video-recording student did was not that it was "hurtful," but rather that it was a crime — a despicable act, but nonetheless and most fundamentally a crime.

Foderaro reports that on the same day as the student’s suicide, Rutgers "kicked off a two-year, campus-wide project to teach the importance of civility, with special attention to the use and abuse of new technology." With this thought-reform nonsense, the administrators are wasting students’ time and taxpayers’ money — Rutgers, after all, is a public university with serious budget problems.

If the school really wanted to help students, it should have simply circulated a memo as to the legal violations attendant upon gross invasions of privacy under federal and New Jersey law, and remind Rutgers students that they are expected to obey the law, period. To say that secretly video-recording a roommate’s tryst and then posting it on the Web is "hurtful" utterly trivializes what is a serious felony.

Read Harvey’s full post here.