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Council adopts porn policy

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By Andrea Lamberti

The policy's stated intent is to "exclude films whose primary theme is to condone the subordination or abuse of any person through substantial use of sexually explicit material."

The most important difference between this policy and the old one, which has been in effect since 1984, is that the new policy "removes the prior restraint aspect," said Associate Provost Samuel J. Keyser. Under the previous policy, groups or individuals that wanted to show X-rated or unrated films were required to have them screened in advance.

"The basic idea has not changed since early in the fall -- instead of having a prior restraint and a procedure to get approval, the policy is now treated under the General Institute policy on harassment," Faculty Chair Henry D. Jacoby said.

In November 1987, the Committee on Discipline ruled unanimously that the previous pornography policy constituted "an excessive restraint on freedom of expression at MIT," and refused to enforce it. The COD's ruling came in a case involving Adam L. Dershowitz G, who intentionally violated the policy in February 1987 in order to test its validity. The new policy was devised, in part, as an attempt to address the COD's criticisms of the old policy.

Under the new policy, the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs and the COD would be notified only if a complaint about a sexually explicit film was filed. The "ODSA or COD shall then decide in accordance with this policy whether or not a violation has occurred," the policy states.

A three-year policy

The new policy will remain in effect for three years. "After that point, if the showing of pornography in public places should continue to be a problem, the Academic Council will initiate a new process of community review to determine what subsequent policy should be," the policy's preamble says.

Jacoby explained that "people anticipate and hope that at the end of three years ... the problem won't arise and that people will know better."

The clause was added "in recognition of the fact that we believe MIT to be in a transition period," Keyser said. The policy's authors are hoping that at the end of this period, "no new policy will be necessary," he continued.

This policy also "tries to define pornography more clearly," Keyser said. "That of course is an extremely difficult problem," he added, "[but] the fact that pornography is difficult to define ought not to be a reason to not attempt to define it ... or to delay ... coming to grips with the problem."

"No doubt the Institute community would find the use of common spaces to glorify racial or religious persecution absolutely unacceptable.... This same principle should apply to presentation of pornography that sanction the abuse of women, or of men and children, or depict their degradation as sexually exciting and acceptable," the preamble to the policy states.

Keyser and Jacoby said they had encouraged input and discussion on the proposed policy from the MIT community. They met with the Undergraduate Association and the Graduate Student Council, and the policy has been considered by the Faculty Policy Committee and discussed by the faculty at its meetings. Copies of the policy were also sent to housemasters, who were encouraged to discuss it with students.

"This policy has really been seen by the entire community. In my mind this policy comes as close to a policy that has had maximum community input of any policy that I know about," Keyser said.