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Revised porn policy on the table

By Niraj S. Desai

The Academic Council appears to support a new MIT Policy on Pornography that would prohibit the showing of pornographic films in Institute common areas, according to a letter from Faculty Chair Henry D. Jacoby and Associate Provost S. Jay Keyser. But the proposed policy is tentative, Jacoby said, and is still "very much up for discussion."

The proposal states that, except for educational or disciplinary purposes, "no pornographic films shall be shown in common areas" -- including classrooms, lecture halls, corridors, and dormitory common rooms. Films shown by students in their own rooms would not be affected.

The policy is aimed at films that depict the degradation or abuse of individuals, Jacoby said. For example, films meeting this definition might present subjects as enjoying rape or humiliation, or as sexual objects to be physically abused. A policy on such films is needed, according to the proposal, because "everyone who studies or works here has a right to enter and use without being subjected to harassment, intimidation, abuse, or degradation."

The Office of the Dean for Student Affairs and the Committee on Discipline would handle complaints under the policy. The two groups would determine whether the policy was violated, and what sanctions would be appropriate.

Council seeks feedback

MIT's Academic Council, which is composed of the Institute's top academic officials, has discussed the pornography proposal and appears to support it, according to Jacoby and Keyser. But before acting, the council "would like to hear comments and suggestions from faculty, students and staff."

Jacoby and Keyser have been circulating a draft copy of the proposal, which is the product of a year's worth of deliberation, among student and faculty groups. The current draft has been reviewed by the Faculty Committee for Student Affairs and the Faculty Policy Committee, and reflects those discussions. The proposal has also been discussed with the Graduate Student Council and sent to Undergraduate Association President Paul Antico '91, Jacoby said.

The full faculty is scheduled to discuss the draft proposal at its Nov. 15 meeting.

Last week, Jacoby and Keyser sent letters to MIT housemasters and to Neal H. Dorow, ODSA advisor to independent living groups, urging them to "circulate the proposal widely among students, to inform them of the proposal, stimulate discussion, and seek their reactions and suggestions."

Current policy has

no blanket ban

The current pornography policy does not prohibit the use of MIT facilities for showing pornographic films, but it does regulate the time, place, and manner in which they may be shown. A group wishing to show an unrated or X-rated film must have an Institute committee review the film in advance. If the film does not meet the standards of the screening committee, it may not be shown on registration day of either term, during Residence/Orientation Week, or in Kresge Auditorium. Also, the sponsoring group must give six weeks advance notice before the showing.

The proposed policy differs from the present one, Jacoby said, in that it limits its scope to films that use sexually explicit material to dehumanize or abuse subjects, rather than films which are merely X-rated or unrated. Jacoby said he did not foresee a problem in deciding what films meet the policy's criteria.

The draft also does not include a provision for prior restraint, Jacoby said. Groups or individuals wanting to show films would not be required to have them screened in advance. Only after a complaint had been filed would the ODSA or COD involve themselves in a case.

In November 1987, the Committee on Discipline ruled unanimously that the present pornography policy constituted "an excessive restraint on freedom of expression at MIT." The COD's ruling came in a case involving Adam L. Dershowitz '89, who intentionally violated the policy in February 1987. The proposed policy is, in part, an attempt to deal with the COD's criticisms of the present policy, Jacoby said.