Michigan State Student Receives Warning for Sending a Bulk E-Mail Message

December 11, 2008

A Michigan State University junior accused of violating a campus e-mail policy by sending a message to hundreds of professors received an official warning from the student-faculty judiciary on Wednesday, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Kara Spencer, chief of staff of Associated Students of Michigan State University, told The Chronicle today she plans to appeal the ruling and is working with the American Civil Liberties Union to file a First Amendment lawsuit in federal court.

In September, Ms. Spencer sent an e-mail message seeking opinions from faculty members about a university decision to change the academic calendar. The message, the university said, violated a policy regarding bulk e-mail, which, among other things, prohibits e-mail messages from being sent to groups larger than 30. Ms. Spencer’s message was sent to 390 professors.

The Michigan native, however, argues the policy is a violation of her First Amendment rights. What’s more, she believes that the policy is not content-neutral and that she is being punished for sending a mass e-mail message that calls for faculty and staff members to speak out against an administrative decision.

"I think it raises some questions," Ms. Spencer said, "given the university has never pursued any case against any student under these circumstances."

The international-relations and political-theory major has also worked with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia.

According to the policy, the guidelines are aimed to reduce "the amount of undesired e-mails" and prohibit bulk e-mail messages sent for personal purposes, as solicitations, or to make political statements.

A complaint filed in the university’s Judicial Affairs Office says Ms. Spencer was told what procedures to follow but "flatly refused to obtain the proper permissions, stating that she would continue to send e-mails out." Ms. Spencer also demanded that files be charged against her, according to the complaint.

Kent Cassella, a university spokesman, defended the college’s actions in an interview with FoxNews.com.

"This is a process issue," Mr. Cassella said. "It’s not a free-speech issue."

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