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Law May Protect Free Speech in Michigan Colleges


A bill that would prevent colleges and universities from punishing student speech, even if it is considered offensive or hurtful, is being debated in the Michigan State Legislature.

Michigan State University doesn't enforce any speech codes, but the bill would protect future decisions to prohibit speech, said Henry Silverman, president of the Lansing branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"This sounds very encouraging that this kind of safeguard may be built into legislation," he said.

MSU President M. Peter McPherson issued statements in The State News in past years stating his "strong beliefs in the First Amendment of the Constitution." The letter emphasized "individual responsibility" and the "spirit of [MSU's] core values."

The proposed legislation isn't the first time the issue of free speech on college campuses has surfaced. In 1989, a speech code at the University of Michigan resulted in 20 cases of white students charging black students with offensive speech. The code, which lasted 18 months, was declared unconstitutional after a Black student was punished for saying "white trash" in a conversation, said an ACLU Web page.

Another case, published in the Chicago Tribune on May 5, 1991, involved a University of Connecticut student ordered to move off campus because of a sign she posted on her dorm room making fun of "preppies," "bimbos," "men without chest hair" and "homos." After a federal lawsuit was threatened, the student was allowed to move back on campus and the university revised its code of conduct.

[State News, Sept. 2]

SAEchapter pleads in LSUcase

Prosecutors investigating the death of a Louisiana State University pledge last year made progress in the criminal case surrounding the death of Benjamin Wynne.

The lawyer for the suspended Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter pled no contest to 86 criminal charges against the fraternity Monday, according to Prem Burns, assistant district attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish. Pleading no contest is the same as admitting guilt, but the plea cannot be used against SAE in a civil lawsuit, Burns said.

LSU will receive $100 for each count, totaling $8,600, which will be used for alcohol awareness education, she said. SAE will also compensate the LSU and Baton Rouge police departments for half of the money spent during their criminal investigations, she said. The DA's office is asking Murphy's Bar to pay matching fines to the two police organizations.

A trial is scheduled for Nov. 4 to bring the 86 criminal charges against the bar, Burns said. They will go to trial if they do not make a plea before then.

Wynne died on Aug. 26, 1997 of acute alcohol poisoning after a bid night party at Murphy's Bar. Wynne's autopsy revealed his blood-alcohol level to be .588, with traces of the drug Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate.

Prosecutors contacted a medical doctor who indicated the GHB, combined with so much alcohol, was a lethal combination, Burns said. GHB can knock a person unconscious. Mixed with alcohol, it can suppress the ability to breathe and vomit, she said. It is "very likely" Wynne died because he could not vomit the alcohol and GHB out of his system.

[The Reveille, Sept. 2]

Marajuana suit continues

A ruling by a federal court judge Wednesday left the door open for cannabis cooperatives throughout California, including one in Berkeley, to continue their distribution of medicinal marijuana, even though it is illegal under federal law.

Meanwhile, the city of Berkeley joins other city governments waiting for a federal decision before trying to aid the cooperatives in legally distributing the drug.

"At this point we are taking a wait-and-see-attitude," said Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean. "It is obvious to us that everyone in Berkeley supports being able to utilize marijuana for medicinal purposes."

Dean added that pending the decision, the city may have to look at a different method to dispense medicinal marijuana. "Because we have a city health department, we may examine the option of dispensing it ourselves."

The city has already tampered with marijuana law on several occasions. For instance, it passed an ordinance that states that cannabis clubs within city limits cannot be within a certain distance of schools.

John Pilka, co-founder of the Berkeley Cannabis Buyers Cooperative declined to be interviewed. When asked about the decision regarding the Oakland clubs, he replied that he had no comment.

Wednesday's court decision concerned an Oakland ordinance passed earlier this year which made the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative a city office.

On this basis, the officials in the club tried to fight for dismissal of the Justice Department's federal charges on the grounds that the federal government could not tamper with offices of the city.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer denied the Oakland cooperative's request to have the lawsuit dismissed. He also denied a motion filed by the Justice Department that claimed the Oakland cooperative was in contempt of court because they were continuing to operate during the proceedings.

A hearing has been set for Sept. 28 to determine whether the contempt of court charge filed against the Oakland cooperative by the Justice Department will go to trial.

Proposition 215, the California initiative which permits the distribution of marijuana for medicinal purposes, was approved by California voters in 1996. Since then, the Justice Department has been trying to shut down various marijuana clubs throughout the state on the grounds that federal law - which typically overrides state law - prohibits the distribution of marijuana.

[Daily Californian, Sept. 2]

U. Texas frats try for new image

In an effort to change the image of fraternities at University of Texas at Austin, Sigma Pi has found a new way to court students - courting parents.

A long history of hazing allegations and fraternity suspensions at the University has sparked concern among parents and resulted in a decrease in fraternity applicants, said Mason Wheeless, a computer science junior and spokesperson for Sigma Pi. As a way to inform and assuage fears, both parents and students were invited to the fraternity's Open House Aug. 21 and 22.

"[Hazing] is not something we want to be a part of for moral and legal reasons," Wheeless said. "We don't want it to become a part of our tradition. Our intention is to increase the overall public image of the Greek system at UT. We want to show [the community] that you don't have to be hazed and demoralized to be part of the group."

James Vick, vice president for student affairs at UT­Austin, said he believes getting parents involved in Greek life is a good idea.

"I think it's admirable of fraternities to reach out to parents and to prospective members and to provide information on the positive aspects of fraternities," Vick said.

The maximum penalty dealt by the Dean of Students Office for hazing violations is cancellation of a fraternity's registration. UT­Austin canceled the registration of the Kappa Alpha Fraternity last June in response to allegations that a student's skull was cracked after being pushed against a wall during an initiation party.

The freshman was hospitalized for three days as a result of his injuries. Kappa Alpha must wait until Dec. 31, 1999, to register as a student group.

Similarly, in the spring of 1997, the university canceled the registration of Pi Kappa Alpha until the year 2000 after confirming 11 hazing incidents that occurred the previous fall semester.

Thoma Brewer, president of Alpha Phi Alpha, said the practice of hazing started in the 1800's to promote brotherhood and respect for the organization. But some individuals, he said, take the idea too far.

[Daily Texan, Aug. 31]