ASMSU association director found guilty of misusing resources

By December 12, 2008

On Wednesday, ASMSU Association Director Kara Spencer was found guilty by the Student-Faculty Judiciary of misusing university resources when she sent an e-mail to MSU faculty and staff in September that raised concerns about proposed changes to Welcome Week.

As punishment, Spencer will receive a formal warning that will be placed in her student file. Spencer said she plans to appeal the decision.

"Of course I was disappointed," Spencer said. "I think it’s disappointing that there wasn’t recognition that the policy that the board was being asked to evaluate is unconstitutional."

The e-mail, which encouraged increased communication among faculty about the proposed changes, was sent to 391 faculty members, or about 8 percent of MSU faculty and staff.

The Student-Faculty Judiciary held a hearing Dec. 2 when Spencer was accused of violating two policies of the Student Life Code and the Network Acceptance Use Policy.

Academic Technology Services representative Randall Hall said Spencer had violated student laws by sending a bulk e-mail without going through the steps required by ATS.

MSU policy on bulk e-mail states that a bulk e-mail can be sent to as many as 20 or 30 people during a two-day span without proper permission. All bulk email must receive prior approval by appropriate University offices.

"This case was a procedural matter. It was a violation of a university policy in a procedural way," Hall said. "I think a policy or guideline with no one to interpret it isn’t really worth anything."

In the allegations form, Hall claimed that Spencer refused to obtain the proper permission needed to send the e-mail, which violated the first policy. The second violation claimed Spencer used MSU computing resources by sending the e-mail through the MSU network. Hall also claimed Spencer broke the Network Acceptance Use Policy by sending bulk unsolicited e-mails.

Throughout this case, Spencer has been supported by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE.

"MSU’s decision is in defiance of the first amendment," FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy William Creeley said. "If MSU’s decision is not overturned, it sends a chilling message to students and faculty on campus about the dangers of protesting administrative decision and about the dangers of engaging other members of the campus community."

FIRE is not a litigation organization, but Creeley said FIRE will use all of its resources to help Spencer.

"We always hope that schools will see the light," Creeley said. "If MSU is telling its students it can no longer write professors about an issue that affects the campus community at large, then students and faculty should ask themselves what kind of institution they are attending."

Despite the decision, Spencer and FIRE will continue to fight with an appeal.

"(The policy) does violate states’ laws but I accept what they had to say and will go ahead and appeal it," Spencer said.

Spencer planned to submit notification of her appeal to the Office of Judicial Affairs by this weekend.

"I think that there’s two parts to this. One is that it is part of my student record which is the basis for part of my appeal," Spencer said. "The other part of this is what I’ve learned through this process the last couple of weeks. I do feel like… I have a responsibility to help address this policy as well."

Schools: Michigan State University