The Tech: Extropians Case The Tech

The Extropians' Case

Source Materials from the Involved Groups



Background

For additional information on the Extropians Case, see the Thursday, August 21 issue of The Tech.


Extropians' Brief


Brief Concerning The ASA Allegations against The MIT Extropians Prepared by Jason Davis and Han Huang, Co-Founders, MIT Extropians

The Alleged Policies/Rulings that we Allegedly Violated:

Alleged Violation #1: The MIT policy, appearing on the Registrar's Office mailing label request form, prohibiting unauthorized use of the MIT mailing list and prohibiting mailings not authorized by the Dean's Office.

Plea #1: Not Guilty. The comment referred to on the Registrar's Office mailing labels and lists request form refers to only those labels requested and received through the Registrar's Office. We did not obtain our labels from the Registrar's Office.

Ms. Romano, Assistant Registrar in charge of Student Information, confirmed that the policy on the Registrar's Mailing Label Request From applied only to those labels or listed requested and obtained from the Registar's Office.

Alleged Violation #2: The MIT policy, appearing in the Residential Life handbook, prohibiting unauthorized use of MIT student data.

Plea #2: Not Guilty

From Standards and Procedures for Students: (http://web.mit.edu/residence/www/standards/sapfs/1_Intro/intro.html)

First, from the PURPOSE section:

"The Institute publishes a number of documents regarding the behavior of its faculty, students, and staff. In this section, we have summarized from these sources those rules, regulations, and procedures that apply to students. Much of this material has been quoted or summarized from two documents published by the Institute, the M.I.T. Bulletin and M.I.T. Policies and Procedures."

Next from the OTHER REGULATIONS section:

"This is not intended to be a complete list of Institute, legal, and departmental regulations applying to students, nor a substitute for the wording of the regulations themselves. In every case, it is the wording of the applicable regulation, not the synopsis here, that governs."

By their own admission, the Standards and Procedures for Students guide is not meant to be a substitute for the exact wording of the applicable regulations. Thus, the only acceptable course of action is to act on the exact Institute Regulation concerning the Privacy of Institute Records, section 4.21 of the Institute Policies and Procedures publication of the President's Office.

In fact, Ms. Kelly, secretary to Ms. Willmore, Executive Assistant to the President/Director of Public Relations/Secretary of the Corporation, said this concerning the primacy of the Institute Policies and Procedures in all matters: "The Policies and Procedures of MIT are the policies of the Institute." When asked if all other documents are merely interpretations and summaries of the Policies and Procedures Ms. Kelly said, "Yes." To emphasize the point, she asked that her secretary photocopy the cover page of the soon to be approved September 1997 Policies and Procedures for use in these proceedings for the MIT Extropians.

The current version of the the Policies and Procedures, approved in 1990, state (sec. 4.21): (http://web.mit.edu:1962/tiserve.mit.edu/9000/23422.html)

"The availability of computerized information about individuals may appear to encourage the use of those records for purposes beyond those for which the information was originally collected. Such secondary uses of information about individuals are inappropriate, unless undertaken in accordance with the Institute's policy on privacy."

The Institute's Policy on Privacy of Information is included in the same document in section 3.18. The pertinent paragraph states:

"Personal information, other than directory information about students and standard personnel information, should not be released to anyone outside MIT without the permission of the individual, except in the case of court orders and or legal process (see Section 3.18.1) or in cases where such release would be clearly expected (employment references, award nominations, etc.) or in extraordinary circumstances. Directory information about students comprises name, term and permanent addresses, term phone number, term electronic mail address, department, class, degrees received, dates of attendance, and for an intercollegiate athletic team member, weight and height (see also Section 3.19.2 Disclosure of Information About Students). "

Restrictions on the release of directory information of students are made nowhere else in the document. Where no restrictions exist, no violation can be made.

Alleged Violation #3: The UESA/ASA policy that no student group is permitted to send a mailing to freshmen other than the general ASA mailing.

Plea #3: Not Guilty

We submit that no such policy existed at the time of our mailing (it may have subsequently been created). When ASA President Light was asked if any ASA Rules and Regulations had been constructed he responded that he couldn't appear to find any not explicitly mentioned in the ASA Constitution. Later, he pointed out some references in the ASA Constitution compelling all students to comply with all ASA rulings. Of course, no further mention of the inappropriateness of a separate mailing is mentioned in said document.

The UESA had no written policy concerning the inappropriateness of a student activity mailing not included in the general ASA mailing at the time of our mailing (it may have subsequently been created). We challenge any member of the Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education to produce such a policy. In fact, to date, no such policy has been produced, and when asked to produce such a policy, Dean Bates said, "I consider that question highly disingenuous. Even asking the question is...well, the word for it is: disingenuous." Certainly, there are members of the "Dean's Office" (as they are colloquially referred to) who are personally angered by our mailing-including Dean for Student Life Margaret Bates-but no such policy existed just the same.

Alleged Violation #4: Kathryn Willmore's ruling that the text presented to her, or any comparable text, was not permitted to be mailed to the incoming freshmen.

Plea #4: Not Guilty by Reason of Ignorance

At no point were we told that Kathryn Willmore, Executive Assistant to the President/Director of Public Relations/Secretary of the Corporation, made any ruling which states that our text or any comparable text was not to be mailed to the freshmen. Dean Margaret Bates, speaking for the administration, told us that Ms. Willmore had been involved in a decision to bar us from the General Student Activities Mailing. No other mention of any rulings of Ms. Willmore were made.

For the September 1997 rush issue of Counterpoint an article entitled "Speak No Evil," concerning the censorship of our mailing, Counterpoint interviewed Dean Margaret Bates. From the article: "Thus Bates emphasizes that the constraints applied were specific to the situation of the ASA Mailing." No further constraints from the administration were issued.

Answers to requested Questions:

1)Han Huang received the labels in the W20 athena cluster at 5:05 p.m. on Tuesday July 29th 1997.

2)The envelopes were addressed with freshman names and addresses in the standard form on standard labels on standard envelopes with United States Postal Service fifty-five cent "Love" stamps. See example.

3)The envelopes were return addressed with an ink stamp purchased at University Stationery. The title "The MIT Extropians" is in italics and a post office box number is mentioned. See example.

4)The flyers were made on standard Xerox copy machines. Each document is 16 pages.

5)We, Jason Davis and Han Huang, paid for the mailing with personal funds. The total is close to 1000 dollars and it has been paid in full.


Decision


ASA Disciplinary Hearing

In the matter of the MIT Extropians

August 18, 1997

Representing ASA: Susan Born, Van Chu, Geoffrey Coram, Heather Drake, Edwin Karat, Russell Light

Representing the Extropians: Jason Davis, Han Huang

The MIT Extropians, a student group seeking ASA recognition, are charged with four violations of MIT policies/rulings related to an unauthorized mailing to the incoming freshman class. For the benefit of members of the community not involved in the hearing or ASA's deliberation, we briefly summarize our judgment on each count.

Count 1 (Unauthorized use of mailing list)

Count 1 charges the Extropians with violating the MIT policy, appearing on the Registrar's Office mailing label request form, prohibiting unauthorized use of the MIT mailing list and prohibiting mailings not authorized by the Dean's Office. In their defense, they assert that this policy only applies to labels obtained from the Registrar's Office; this is a misunderstanding of the situation. The policy applies equally to all mailings, although an individual who obtains labels from a source other than the Registrar's Office may in good faith be unaware of the policy.

In this particular case, however, the Extropians were aware that Dean's Office approval was required for the ASA mailing, and the FSILG from which the labels were obtained was required to sign an agreement with Neal Dorow that the labels would only be used for approved mailings. Any group seeking to legitimately send the mailing in good faith would have at least inquired about whether it was subject to Dean's Office approval. Ignorance of the need for approval on the Extropians' part could only have come as a result of a deliberate effort not to find out. The Board concludes that the Extropians either knew or should have known that Dean's Office approval was required, and they are therefore judged guilty on count 1.

Count 2 (Unauthorized use of student data)

Count 2 charges the Extropians with violating the MIT policy, appearing in the Residential Life handbook, prohibiting unauthorized use of MIT student data. In their defense, they assert that MIT Policies and Procedures is the sole acceptable basis on which to assert a violation of MIT policy, and that their action is not prohibited by MIT Policies and Procedures. This is a misreading of those guidelines. Section 3.19.2 states, "Providing the [Student] Directory or similar listings to persons outside MIT or using the Directory or similar listings for non-Institute purposes is prohibited.

Clearly, the mailing list for the incoming freshman class is a listing "similar" to the MIT Student Directory. The question therefore hinges on whether the unauthorized mailing was for "non-Institute purposes." The Board concludes that a mailing made contrary to explicit direction from the Dean's Office cannot be viewed as anything other than for "non-Institute purposes." In addition, the mailing addresses of the freshman class are not publicly available until the freshmen come to campus, so this information would not fall under the "student directory" exception to the privacy policy in any case. Therefore, the Extropians are judged guilty on count 2.

Count 3 (UESA/ASA prohibition on non-ASA mailings)

Count 3 charges the Extropians with violating the UESA/ASA policy that no student group is permitted to send a mailing to freshmen other than the general ASA mailing. They assert that no such policy exists, since it cannot be found in writing. This argument is specious. The fact that a policy is not in writing may make it more difficult to find, and may support a claim of ignorance, but it makes the policy no less enforceable.

In this particular case, had the Extropians taken any reasonable steps to send out the mailing, such as contacting ASA or the Dean's Office about such a possibility, they would have been informed of the policy. However, the Board believes that it would be excessive to hold the Extropians responsible for this policy, since the Board cannot reasonably conclude that the Extropians made a deliberate effort to avoid finding out about this policy. Therefore, the Extropians are judged not guilty by reason of ignorance on count 3.

Count 4 (Kathryn Willmore's ruling)

Count 4 charges the Extropians with violating the ruling of Kathryn Willmore (Executive Assistant to the President, Director of Public Relations, and Secretary of the Corporation) that the text of the original Extropians flyer, or any comparable text, was not permitted to be mailed to the incoming freshmen. The Extropians assert ignorance of this ruling; however, this is simply not believable.

The Extropians have conceded that they were informed by Margaret Bates that their flyer was not permitted to go in the ASA mailing; whether it was made clear that this was Kathryn Willmore's decision is irrelevant. The Extropians have further conceded that they never went back to Margaret Bates for approval to send out the revised mailing, and they admitted that they thought there was a significant chance that Margaret Bates would not approve them had they requested permission. In addition, the preface on the mailed flyer states that the flyer was sent in spite of administration censorship. The Board concludes that the Extropians knew that the prohibition on their inclusion in the ASA mailing applied also to this mailing, and deliberately avoided requesting permission through the proper channels to avoid being rejected again. Therefore, they are accordingly judged guilty on count 4.

Conclusion

In summary, the Extropians are found guilty on counts 1, 2, and 4. They are found not guilty by reason of ignorance on count 3.

This unauthorized mailing is one of the most severe infractions of MIT policies by a student group in several years. Student groups that followed the rules and participated in the ASA mailing have had their submissions overshadowed by the Extropians' separate mailing. This abuse of the freshmen mailing list also jeopardizes the continued use of the mailing list for legitimate purposes and will lead some in the administration to suggest that students should no longer have access to the mailing list. Strict sanctions must be imposed to match the severity of the infractions, as well as to clearly establish that student groups that do not participate in the ASA mailing may not send separate mailings, in violation of Institute policy and to the detriment of participating student groups. Therefore, ASA has decided to deny recognition to the MIT Extropians, to strip the Extropians of any ASA privileges heretofore obtained, and not to entertain any further petitions for recognition for the Extropians or any substantially similar group until September 1, 1998.

Approved unanimously by the ASA Executive Board

August 19, 1997


Extropians' Statement

The Extropians' Public Statement Concerning the ASA Trial of August 18th

In typical bureaucratic style, the administration has passed the buck to the ASA. Keep in mind that it was originally the administration and not the ASA who censored us. Ours is an act of protest against an administration who cares more for preserving their regime than upholding academic freedom of speech. Imagine how bad it would look if the same administrators who censored us personally retailated against our act of civil disobedience by forbidding our existence as a student group. This is simply the Deans' way to get the ASA to do their dirty work.

We find it amusing that four separate charges from four separate policies concerning four different offices, all of whose policies are ambiguous and inconsistent, were brought up against one act. This demonstrates the highly interpretable nature of MIT's policies, and the overgrown bureaucracy that enforces these "policies" to further its own political ends