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ACLU Investigates Utah Administration Misconduct

compiled from University Wire

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is looking into reports that University of Utah administrators improperly used student academic records.

Carol Gnade, executive director of the Utah ACLU, said that the most "egregious," complaint against the University was filed by freshman Brandon Winn, a Daily Utah Chronicle sportswriter who, in the Oct. 13, 1997, issue of the Chronicle, offended parks, recreation and tourism chair Professor Gary Ellis and undergraduate advisor John Crossley.

In his column, Winn complained about the "fair-weather fans" of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "The problem with these fans is they are about as bright as a parks and tourism major," Winn wrote.

Crossley and Ellis obtained a copy of Winn's academic record and confronted a Chronicle reporter in their office on an unrelated assignment. Crossley vocally expressed his opinion regarding Winn's "stupid[ity]" and "level of brightness" and referred to Winn's confidential academic record.

In a letter to Chronicle Editor-In-Chief Robert A. Jones and Business Manager Robert McOmber, Crossley and Ellis exposed details contained in Winn's academic records, which, according to Gnade, is a "gross" violation of the Family Education and Privacy Act (FERPA) and university policy.

When asked about the memo regarding Winn, Ellis said, "The Chronicle feels that it can print irresponsible and immature information," and refused to comment further.

Crossley said he "felt that the letter was appropriate in dealing with [Winn's] stupid statement," and that he was "going through the appropriate channels."

Later, he said he did not believe he had obtained Winn's records appropriately. He said that illegitimate access of student academic information "probably happens all over the university."

University legal council said that "The university is compliant [with privacy laws] in policy and practice."

[Daily Utah Chronicle, 01/26/98]

Georgia Tech charters ReJOYce

Under threat of a lawsuit, the Georgia Institute of Technology's Undergraduate Student Council and Graduate Student Senate voted to charter ReJOYce in Jesus Campus Ministry after more than a year of discussion.

Both groups were concerned about the groups constitution, which states that "a voting member of this organization shall agree to conduct himself or herself in accordance with the following standards of personal conduct set forth herein." One of these standards states, "A voting member of this organization shall not commit those acts which are expressly forbidden in Scripture, including idolatry, premarital or extramarital sex, homosexual behavior, drunkenness, coveting, theft, profanity, occult practices, and dishonesty."

Some members SGA balked at the exclusion of homosexuals as voting members. While some current groups have similar restrictions on officers, none have them on voting members, said Elaine Newton, Vice President of Undergraduate Student Council, who broke a deadlocked 21-21 vote in USC by voting for the bill.

The Board of Regents' policy reads, "no student [of the] University System, on the ground of race, color, sex, religion, creed, national origin, age or handicap, [may] be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or otherwise be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity conducted by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia or any of its several institutions now in existence or hereafter established."

The Georgia Tech policy adds sexual orientation as another ground by which a person may not be discriminated against.

Last Spring, ReJOYce obtained a lawyer. In a letter to the Chair of the Joint Campus Organizations Committee, Steven McFarland from the Western Center for Law and Religious Freedom stated that "Governing law requires the university to recognize the RIJCM chapter." He ended the letter with an allusion to possible lawsuit. "We look forward to resolving this matter without litigation, if at all possible," he said.

SGA went to its advisor, Dean of Students Gail DiSabatino, who, in turn, went to the Georgia Tech Legal department, who in turn went to Board of Regents' Legal Council, who asked State Attorney General, Thurbert E. Baker his opinion of the situation.

Barker said that Georgia Tech, would violate the constitutional rights of its students and ReJOYce organizers by refusing to recognize the group as a student organization.

[Technique, 01/26/98]

Sofield may sue Penn

After University of Pennsylvania freshman Bill Sofield's acquittal on disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges, his family is now mulling an option that has always been on the back burner - a civil suit against the University alleging that police were unnecessarily brutal when they arrested him.

On October 30, Sofield, 18, his older brother Richard, and their friend Warnell "Yode" Owens were arrested for disorderly conduct outside the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house on Locust Walk. Owens allegedly assaulted several police officers before he was subdued forcibly, and Bill Sofield was charged with resisting arrest.

In the course of the arrest, according to Fiji brothers who witnessed the incident, police unnecessarily beat Bill Sofield after he fled into the fraternity house. The Sofields never filed a formal complaint.

But the Division of Public Safety has investigated those allegations. The one and a half month probe concluded that the 15-20 officers who entered the Fiji house to arrest Sofield did not act improperly, because force was necessary in order to handcuff Sofield.

On Wednesday, however, Court of Common Pleas Judge James Deleon acquitted Sofield on charges that he resisted arrest, reasoning that what police called "resisting arrest" - primarily kicking and flailing his arms around - did not amount to a criminal charge.

Because the investigation's rejection of the police brutality allegation was based on the premise that Sofield resisted arrest, the Sofields have acknowledged that they may "take things further" now that Sofield was found not guilty of the charge.

In November, when the Fiji eyewitnesses first came forward with their allegations, a source close to the Sofield family said that while they would not rule out anything, their first priority was to "take care of the criminal charges" and they would not make any formal complaints until then.

Now, with the charges cleared, a civil suit is a likely possibility. The Sofields' lawyer, Walter Phillips, has already written a letter to the University blasting the findings of the investigation.

"I pointed out what I thought were major flaws and deficiencies in that investigation," Phillips said yesterday. "The campus police just completely rejected what the [Fiji brothers] had to say."

But yesterday, Deleon said that while he thought Bill Sofield "was not truly the culprit," a civil case could hurt the family because of the actions of Richard Sofield.

"If anyone had a problem, it was [Bill's] brother," Deleon said. "He was just drunk... and if his father wants to keep on pressing this, he's got to look at what his older son did."

Unlike his two companions, Richard Sofield did not leave the scene and allowed University Police Officer Jeff Dougherty to handcuff him and arrest him. But Dougherty testified that Sofield was also belligerent and used his status as an assistant U.S. attorney to taunt the officer.

Although Sofield denied making such remarks, two Fiji brothers testified that he was "visibly intoxicated" and the fact that he supplied his underage brother with a great deal of alcohol during the evening could potentially mar his career if it is further publicized.

Little information about the incident came out during Bill Sofield's non-jury criminal trial, which lasted only 3 and a half hours.

"You know, he's an attorney and he took his younger sibling around with him and they were drinking at every place, margaritas and Jagermeister, and then they went back to the [Fiji] house and had 40s," said Deleon. "That's not going to look good."

Managing Director of Public Safety Tom Seamon said that even though Deleon acquitted Sofield, he still believed the freshman had resisted arrest and that the charges were proper.

"The district attorney agreed with us," Seamon said in reference to a preliminary hearing where Sofield's charges were upheld.

"We were disappointed with the ruling, but I still don't believe that changes the facts of anything that happened that night," Seamon said.

[Daily Pennsylvanian, 02/02/98]

U. Arizona engineering students

University of Arizona student engineers are petitioning NASA to give their satellite a free ride to outer space.

The satellite, still in the conceptual stages, is part of a student-science project aimed at studying sprites, unexplained red glows that rise above thunderclouds during storms.

Students hope the satellite can get a piggy-back launch on a NASA space shuttle's Hitchhiker Ejection System, said Chris Lewicki, aerospace and mechanical engineering graduate student and student satellite project head.

Lewicki said he is optimistic they will get NASA's approval for the launch.

"It's a good opportunity to show a group of college students at a university have the capability to do real science and real work," he said.

The satellite will be ready for launch in 2000 - just when NASA will be helping build the International Space Station, a collaborative project between several nations to build a lab in outer space, Lewicki said.

"Our satellite could literally be just a few feet from some of the hardware for the International Space Station," he said.

Once in space, the satellite will orbit the earth once every 90 minutes, sometimes pointed toward distant stars to assess their brightness, Lewicki said.

The idea for the fully student-built and designed satellite came up casually during a November 1996 lunch between physics Professor Ke Chiang Hsieh and aerospace and mechanical engineering faculty. "We were munching our pizza and I asked them, You guys in aerospace engineering - you ever build a satellite?'" said Hsieh, mentor for the satellite project. "They said no,' so I said, "Let's do it.'"

The satellite passed its conceptual design review in November, when 17 student proposals were reviewed and ideas were culled from each by a panel of professors and top industry engineers.

The project is now moving into the preliminary design phase where different aspects of the satellite - from radio control to structure and stress - are split among seven teams that will formulate and test designs in the laboratory.

The seven plans eventually will be pulled together to build the satellite, which will be able to be controlled from a radio station atop the Engineering building. The radio station was built to guide the University of Alabama-Huntsville's student-built SEDSat satellite.

The 150-pound satellite will surpass the SEDSat and Arizona State University's student-built ASUSat satellite in size, Lewicki said.

Hsieh said students swiftly came on the project and enthusiastically pushed it forward in a short amount of time.

Lewicki said students are excited because the project is a shot at doing real-world design - far different from class projects like building a better doorstop.

"After you do those design projects, they go in the closet," he said. "Here, we get to apply stuff people only get to do in big corporate places."

A free ride from NASA would cut costs greatly for the $1.5 million project, Lewicki said, after factoring costs for student stipends and travel expenditures.

About $10,000 is needed to launch one pound of anything into space, which would make the cost of launching the 150-pound satellite too much, Lewicki said.

Creighton Anderson, a structure and stress team member, brought in a $1,000 grant from NASA so he could continue with the project.

"I never dreamed I'd develop a satellite, yet here we are," said Anderson, a material sciences junior.

The group filed approval papers this week with NASA's Wes Huntress, associate administrator for space science.

[Arizona Daily Wildcat 02/02/98 ]