The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 56.0°F | Overcast

After Unauthorized Mass Mailing, Extropians Denied ASA Status

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Associate News Editor

The MITExtropians, a group of students advocating an end to affirmative action and new admissions policies, were banned Tuesday from petitioning the Association of StudentActivities for membership until September 1, 1998.

The ASA, a student-run organization which governs student groups on campus, found the Extropians guilty of sending an unauthorized mailing to incoming freshmen after the Office of the Dean for Students and Undergraduate Education ruled that the mailing's content was inappropriate for the general ASAfreshman mailing.

In addition, the ASAfound the Extropians guilty of violating the MITpolicy prohibiting unauthorized use of mailing lists and student data. The Extropians were found not guilty by reason of ignorance of violating the ASApolicy prohibiting non-ASAmailings to incoming freshmen.

"This unauthorized mailing is one of the most severe infractions of MITpolicies by a student group in several years," wrote the board in its decision.

"We thought the ASAtrial was a farce,"said co-founder of the Extropians Jason B. Davis '98 in response to the ruling. "We thought it should have never come to that. Our academic freedom of speech should not have been curtailed in the first place."

Dean's Office rejects mailing

The Extropian controversy began in mid-July when the group submitted an eight page brochure for inclusion in the ASAactivity information packet sent to incoming freshman in mid-July.

The ASAis overseen by ODSUE, which reviews the brochures from student groups for appropriateness before sending them out. Former Associate Dean for Residence andCampus Activities Margaret A.Jablonski "pulled this one out and said she thought it wasn't appropriate," said ASA President Russell S. Light '98.

In addition, the ASAinitially believed that it would block the mailing because the group was not fully recognized as a student group, Light said.

"Later on it seemed that it was possible that their lack of recognition was a clerical error on our part," he said.

However, further investigation discovered that they were not ASA-recognized, Light said. TheExtropians disagreed. "We had been an ASAgroup before we were at last year's [Activities] Midway," Davis said.

The ASA decided to recommend that the Extropians be included in the mailing because there was still a dispute about the status of their membership, Light said.

TheDean's Office, however, continued to have problems with the mailing. "I took it out for [Dean for Student Life] Margaret R. Bates to look at, and then after some discussion it eventually went to [Secretary of the Corporation and Executive Assistant to the President] Kathryn Willmore's office and she made the decision to exclude them from the mailing,"Light said.

Extropians advocate new policies

On their World Wide Web page, the Extropians describe themselves as "a force for increasing order, spontaneous organization, and life."

The Extropian's presentation of their views on affirmative action concerned members of the Dean's Office, prompting debate over their inclusion in the mailing, Bates said.

"The concern was, in effect, they were getting into a series of issues that were perfectly appropriate for discussion in other venues but did not seem appropriate for a freshman mailing,"Bates said.

Included in the mailing was a section entitled "Affirmative Action at MIT:The Big Coverup,"which explained the view that affirmative action has diluted the intellectual atmosphere at MIT.

"There's a lively debate nationwide on affirmative action; these are very legitimate issues,"Willmore said.

Yet the mailing was inappropriate to send to incoming freshmen because "it was sending a message to the incoming students saying We don't think you belong here,'" Willmore said.

There were also questions about including the views in an officialInstitute mailing, Willmore said.

The final decision to exclude the Extropians was made by a group of individuals including Willmore and Bates.

"Essentially, there were four of us who looked at it that evening, and we talked through it and came to the conclusion"that it should not be sent,Bates said.

Extropians proceed despite ruling

After the ASAmailing was sent to incoming freshmen without the Extropian pamphlet, the Extropians decided to separately send their brochure, now extended to sixteen pages, to the incoming freshman.

"It's an act of civil disobedience against an unjust censorship," Davis said. "We thought our only recourse was to mail it independently."

To obtain the list of incoming freshman, the Extropians approached a member or members of fraternities, sororities and independent living groups, Davis said.

FSILGs are allowed access to the list for the specific purpose of mailing rush materials to freshman.

At the ASAhearing Monday, Davis said that getting the lists was easy. "We approached them, told them our situation and several people said they would be glad to give them to us."

"The FSILGmembers who gave the lists to the Extropians were not told what the list would be used for. I just said Iwanted to do a mailing for a group that had missed the ASAdeadline" said Han Y. Huang G, co-founder of the Extropians.

ASA holds disciplinary hearing

In mid-August, rumors surfaced that the Extropians had sent out their mailing to freshman. The Extropians confirmed the rumors through a posting on their World Wide Web site.

When the Dean's Office discovered that the mailing had been sent out without permission, the Office asked the ASA to hold a disciplinary hearing against the group for violating ASAand Institute policies, Light said.

At the disciplinary hearing held Monday night, the Extropians vehemently denied having broken any of the Institute's procedures or ASArules. "We did not obtain our labels from the Registrar's Office" where a prohibition exists on the use of mailing labels for outside use and as a result the restrictions on the mailing do not apply to the Extropians, a rebuttal brief provided by Davis said.

The Extropians also felt that the mailing was for Institute purposes, Davis said, thus making it allowable under the Registrar's Office policies covering the privacy of student information.

In response to the charge of violating the ASApolicy prohibiting mailings other than the general ASAmailing, the Extropians argued that since the policy could not be found in writing, groups could not be punished for violating it, Davis wrote in the brief.

On Tuesday, the ASAfound that the Extropians violated three out of the four policies that it was accused of violating.

"The Extropians were aware that Dean's Office approval was required for the ASAmailing 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," wrote the ASAExecutive Board in its decision.

Extropians plan to continue

The Extropians plan to continue their activities despite the setback caused by the failure to gain ASArecognition, Davis said.

Because they are not recognized by ASA, the Extropians cannot gain office space, a locker on the Athena computing system, postering space, or the use of the MITname.

"We intend to respond to all freshmen [interested in the Extropians] and attempt to meet with them,"Davis said.

In the end, the Extropians feel that they were singled out for extra scrutiny, Davis said. "It's an act of political censorship."

The Tech has made the full text of the ASA Executive Board's decision, the Extropians' prepared brief on the matter, and their public statement available on the World Wide Web at <\>.