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Bad Mouthing Rules Changed

By Jeremy Hylton
Editor in Chief

The Dormitory Council will not be enforcing its official "bad mouthing" rule this year, because of concerns that the rule may limit constitutionally protected speech, according to Tariq M. Shaukat '95, DormCon president.

The Inter-Fraternity Council ban on bad mouthing is still in effect, however. "You don't say anything that will hurt another fraternity, sorority, or independent living group," said Prashant B. Doshi '95, IFC president.

The Mediations Committee, which handles conflicts between DormCon and the IFC, issued rules early this month that warned: "Spreading false and/or malicious information about other living groups can result in charges filed under various Institute policies with the IFC, DormCon, the [Residence and Campus Activities Office], or a combination of the three."

After Robert M. Plotkin '93 lodged a complaint with MedComm and Assistant Dean for Residence and Campus Activities Andrew M. Eisenmann '75, DormCon decided to suspend the rule until MIT's lawyer could be consulted, according to Shaukat.

MIT's attorney will be unavailable until Monday, so DormCon suspended the rules. The free speech issues will be reviewed with an attorney and rules will be finalized before next year's Residence and Orientation Week.

In place of the original restrictions, MedComm now "strongly encourages living group members to refrain making false and malicious statements about other living groups."

Plotkin's concerns, detailed in a lengthy article in yesterday's Thistle, were based on the policy distributed to dormitories and not the current revision of the rules described to dormitory R/O chairman and Judicial Committee members at a meeting yesterday.

The bad mouthing rules no longer prohibit false and malicious statements, or threaten stiff fines for making such statements, in what Plotkin described as "a textbook case of attempting to effect a `chill' upon free speech."

Students could violate the Institute harassment policy by making malicious statements about another person or group, Shaukat said. He cautioned, however, that an individual would have to file charges for a specific incident that he or she found injurious.

Because victims of harassment must file charges through standard Institute channels and not through MedComm, members of JudComm will not enforce the harassment policy. "We've sort of decided that we'll let the Institute take of Institute policies," Shaukat said.

Shaukut remains hopefully that bad mouthing will not be a problem during rush. "I don't think there will be a problem," he said. "It has not been a problem in the past."

IFC rules unaffected

The change will not affect the enforcement of IFC rush rules, Doshi said. Doshi, who is a member of MedComm, had not been informed of the changes in dormitory rush policies yesterday afternoon, however.

While he admitted that the IFC rules do limit freedom of speech, Doshi contended that the bad mouthing restrictions have many benefits. "The whole idea is to create a positive and unbiased environment for the freshman," he said.

"There's a fine line, but because rush is only a few days. ... [There is a need] to create a fair and equal playing ground for all the ILGs," Doshi continued.

Because of this fine line, Doshi said that the "false and malicious" standard used in the suspended DormCon policy was not as strict as the IFC policy. There were some cases in which factually true statements could be considered bad mouthing under IFC rules, Doshi said.

The case of the racial incident at Phi Beta Epsilon during the spring semester will be particularly troublesome, Doshi said. "The only thing that is fair to say is what [the Committee on Discipline] decided. If there is no conclusion drawn up by MIT, then it is best not just to say [anything] to avoid coming on the border," he said.

"There are many other sources beside the fraternities that freshman can go to find out these things," Doshi emphasized. "We want to make sure that fraternities or sororities don't use this kind of information to their advantage or to bad mouth another house."