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Censorship at U of Michigan
From: David Farber <farber () central cis upenn edu>
Date: Tue, 7 Feb 1995 20:59:52 -0500
Sorry for more of this but I both found this a good
overview and after reading the UofM rules (chase down
gopher://gopher.itd.umich.edu/ ) believe the President
violated the rules the administration set (in spirit if not
really in fact).
I do NOT like what the student did. I DO NOT defend his
actions but we are a nation of laws. Going outside the law
and above the law seems particularly inappropriate for
institutions that are surposed to transmit the spirit of
the nation to its youth.
From: pjswan () engin umich edu (Peter Swanson)
University of Michigan Student Suspended for Pornographic Writing on Net
For those who haven't already heard, a student here at UM
was summarily suspended last week after posting a violent story
to the newsgroup alt.sex.stories. Here is his story, as best I
understand it from newspaper accounts.
The student, Jake Baker, wrote a sexually violent story and posted
it to the alt.sex.stories newsgroup. Though I haven't read the
story myself, the Michigan Daily reports that it involved "torturing
a woman with a hot curling iron, and mutilating and sodomizing her
while she is gagged to a chair". Unfortunately for Mr. Baker, he
used his own account to post the article, and used the name of a
female student in one of his classes as the victim.
A UM alumnus in Moscow read the story, and complained to the
University President's office about its content. The President,
James Duderstadt, summarily suspended the student without a hearing,
despite a student court system on campus. Duderstadt cited Regents'
Bylaw 2.01, which gives the president the power to maintain the
"health, diligence, and order among the students." Mr. Baker was
notified of his suspension on 2/1/95 by several armed police officers,
who took him to his dorm room for clothes, and then escorted him to the
edge of campus with instructions not to set foot on university
property. Mr. Baker is now living in a hotel room off campus.
The FBI is also investigating Baker for violation of federal
anti-obscenity laws, under the new computer-trafficking pornography law.
Duderstadt claimed that Baker presented an immediate threat to the
female student, and required immediate removal from campus. It should
be noted that Baker has never even spoken to the female student, or
threatened her in any way aside from this story. (perhaps someone
can repost the story to this thread, so we all know what the big deal
is? The story was apparently called "Pamela's Ordeal", posted 1/9/95.)
The female student (her name was mentioned in local news stories)
apparently was unaware of the existence of the story until interviewed.
The local press reports that Baker has never been in trouble with the
law or the university before.
According to university spokesperson Lisa Baker, "It's not the policy
of the university to punish people for pornographic messages. There
are other issues around this that I can't discuss." University
law professor and "constitutional scholar" Catharine Mackinnon
has called the issue not one of free speech, but of violence against
women. As Capt. James Smiley of the Department of Public Safety
put it, "He was asked to leave and he's outta here." No questions
Since the story was leaked to the press, the administration has
scheduled a hearing this Thursday, 2/9/95, to determine whether
he poses a threat. This hearing will be closed to the public, and
although he is allowed to have an advisor (who may be an attorney),
he must represent himself. (That is, he may not be represented by
an attorney.) The standard of evidence used will be "clear and
convincing", as opposed to "beyond a reasonable doubt" used in the
US justice system.
Civil liberties groups, including the ACLU and Student Civil Liberties
Watch, are upset over the university's actions. The ACLU has a case
pending against the university regarding the closed hearings and
lack of legal representation for the defendant. In one recent hearing
which was apparently only opened under pressure from the ACLU and press,
a single administrator acted as prosecutor, mediator, and advisor to
the jury; the defendant was openly ridiculed by university
representatives and railroaded into a conviction. After another
recent (closed) hearing which found the defendant guilty of stalking, the
plaintiff was charged with leaking the story to the campus newspaper.
Participants in the hearings are not allowed access to transcripts
of the hearings, and in the one open hearing recording devices
and cameras were not allowed. The university cites FERPA as forcing
them to hold closed hearings on non-academic conduct, even though
lawsuits at other universities have demonstrated that this is not the
Given such a track record, it does not appear that Mr. Baker has
much of a chance; the university hearing system has been called
a "kangaroo kourt" in the local press.
The ACLU has raised the questions of why the university waited so long
to act (3 weeks) if Mr. Baker is such a threat, why the university
considers him a threat if they hadn't investigated or interviewed him,
why the university did not follow due process in the first place, and
why the university would hold a hearing to consider reinstating him
if he is considered too dangerous to walk on university property.
I would provide references, but the Michigan Daily and Detroit Free
Press are not available online. The people mentioned in this article
all have email addresses which may be found by fingering their
names @umich.edu . The story has appeared in AP, so you might
find it online somewhere.
| Peter J. Swanson | pjswan () engin umich edu |
| PhD Candidate | controls specialist |
| Electrical Engineering:Systems | impact, chaotic motion, |
| University of Michigan | vibratory part orientation |
- Censorship at U of Michigan David Farber (Feb 08)