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Censorship Education Spam

Student Faces Suspension For Spamming Profs 516

Posted by kdawson
from the how-free-the-speech dept.
edmicman sends word of a Fox News report about a Michigan State University student who is facing suspension for bulk emailing a number of professors at the university about a proposed change to the school calendar — an e-mail that the university is labeling spam. The article contains links to a copy of the original email, the allegations against the student, and the university's Email Acceptable Use Policy. The student, Kara Spencer, asked a Philadelphia rights organization, FIRE, to get involved. The article quotes the FIRE defense program director: "The fact that MSU is considering punishment of Spencer simply for exercising her right to contact selected faculty members by e-mail shows a disturbing disregard for students' freedom of expression. ... Threatening a member of the student government with suspension for sending relevant, timely e-mails to faculty members is outrageous." Spencer is awaiting the school's judgement after a hearing, and vows to take to the courts if suspended.
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Student Faces Suspension For Spamming Profs

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  • by DerekJ212 (867265) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:38PM (#26050067)
    Clearly, the solution is to mass mail all students at the university for support.
    • I was thinking auto-dialler running around the clock to everyone on campus, heck, why not call the whole town?

      • Re:Mass mailing (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Frnknstn (663642) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @04:16PM (#26051577)

        Spam is:

        Unsolicited,
        Bulk,
        Commercial
        email.

        It is not solicited email of any kind, it is not personal email of any kind, and it is not non-commercial email. A local school emailing your entire neighborhood to tell them that the school is closed due to snow is annoying, but it is not spam. A teenager who emails a chain letter to your entire domain is annoying, but it is not spam.

        This was (barely) bulk, and it was mostly unsolicited. It was not, however, commercial and thus it was not spam.

        • Re:Mass mailing (Score:5, Informative)

          by Firethorn (177587) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @04:27PM (#26051783) Homepage Journal

          While UBC/UCE* is indeed spam, I'd say that the chain letter is INDEED SPAM as well.

          Google's [google.com] list of definitions.

          Unsolicited Email, like electronic junk mail
          Unwanted, usually advertisement email. Spam are usually sent in bulk and the recipient addresses are obtained by illegal means (eg by tapping the network communication).
          Spam is the term widely used for unsolicited e-mail; spam is also referred to as junk mail. Spam is usually sent indiscriminately to hundreds or even hundreds of thousands of inbox's simultaneously.
          Spamming is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to indiscriminately send unsolicited bulk messages. ...
          A collection of unsolicited bulk electronic messages; Any undesired electronic content automatically-generated for commercial purposes; (rare) An unsolicited electronic message sent in bulk, usually by email or newsgroups; Alternative form of SPAM; : To send spam (i.e. unsolicited electronic ...
          An obnoxious practice of mass advertising to clients through e-mail, IRC, a browser, or any other communication device.

          Basically, UBC is SPAM, but SPAM isn't necessarily UBC.

          *Unsolicited Commercial Email

        • Re:Mass mailing (Score:5, Insightful)

          by cas2000 (148703) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @05:54PM (#26052827)

          no, while most spam is commercial, it doesn't have to be. i.e. "commercial" is NOT one of the defining attributes of spam. "unsolicited" and "bulk" are. spam is not about content, it is about consent.

          e.g there is political spam, religious spam, and chain-letter spam.

          if your example local school sent their notification to an opt-in list of people who wanted such notifications then it would not be spam. if, however, they sent it to everyone in the neighbourhood (or just to every parent) without first receiving a subscription request or obtaining prior consent then it would be spam.

          a teenager who sends a chain letter to your entire domain IS spam, as well as annoying.

          the student's email that this article about may or may not be spam. there isn't enough detail in the article to tell for sure.

          if she sent it to an existing staff list at the university which ordinarily allows students to email staff then it certainly would not be spam.

          if she constructed her own list then it might be spam. in any other context it certainly would be spam, but students DO have an implicit right to contact their teachers which makes it a grey area rather than clear cut.

          if she repeatedly sent email to her self-constructed list in order to harrass or cause annoyance or disruption of mail service then it would be mail-bombing (a form of DoS) rather than spam.

        • Re:Mass mailing (Score:5, Informative)

          by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @06:08PM (#26053001) Journal

          Not quite [spamhaus.org]:

          Spam is an issue about consent, not content. Whether the UBE message is an advert, a scam, porn, a begging letter or an offer of a free lunch, the content is irrelevant - if the message was sent unsolicited and in bulk then the message is spam.

          Chain letters are absolutely spam. If I didn't ask for it, and I don't want it, and there's nothing specifically relevant to me in the email, then it is spam. What do I care if it's commercial or not? It still takes the same amount of space in my inbox, and the same amount of effort to get rid of.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by droopycom (470921)

          If you read the disciplinary notice linked in the article, you'll see that the Acceptable Use Policy of this particular school indeed forbid Unsolicited, Bulk emailing (which the school calls "spam").

          Per the school policy, what she did was forbidden.
          Her defense is not about her interpretation of the policy (she knows what she did is a violation of the policy), but about the fact that this policy should be illegal.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by AgentSmith (69695)

          OK here's the skinny.

          Michigan State defines SPAM in this policy

          http://lct.msu.edu/guidelines-policies/bulkemail.html [msu.edu]

          "Bulk e-mail" in this context means the transmission of an e-mail message within a short time frame to more than a small set of recipients who may not have elected voluntarily to receive the e-mail.

          Upper limit 'Short time frames' are defined as 2 days.

          It then goes to state right after the definition:

          1. Prohibited uses. Bulk e-mailing may not be used for personal purposes, advertising or solic

    • Re:Mass mailing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by digitalunity (19107) <digitalunityNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:49PM (#26050255) Homepage

      No that would be ineffective. Clearly the proper course of action is to contact the media so millions of uninvolved strangers can mock the university for such stupefying misapplication of policy.

      Interestingly, it seems as a student government representative she was fulfilling her duties by attempting to negotiate change between students and faculty. Her email was well written, clear and concise.

      I fail to see how the university can justify any reprisal.

      • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @03:15PM (#26050663)

        The only job of student government in any university is to plan parties. Good for her for trying to do more.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jellomizer (103300)

          Back in the day. The students had problems with student government spamming the students. I was always trying to fight it. But they are convinced that the information was important (Like reporting a snow day class cancelation at 9:30am (after have walked back from my 8:30 class covered with snow, realizing it was canceled) ) But the most of it was X type of Party Here, Y party there. Z club is doing B. Sometimes in the middle they may toss some useful information like if you plan on graduating please get

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Chyeld (713439)

        Interestingly, it seems as a student government representative she was fulfilling her duties by attempting to negotiate change between students and faculty. Her email was well written, clear and concise.

        I fail to see how the university can justify any reprisal.

        Haven't worked much in the uni environment have you? Grumpy old men shouting "Get off my lawn" seem welcoming compared to the grizzly bear attitude of a tenured professor who feels their authority has been challenged.

    • Re:Mass mailing (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:59PM (#26050437)
      The details of the case, with analysis, are here: http://www.thefire.org/index.php/case/773.html [thefire.org].

      MSU's anti-spam policy is clearly unconstitutional (see blog post at http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/10012.html [thefire.org]).

      Adam Kissel
      Director, Individual Rights Defense Program
      Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by stewbacca (1033764)
        It isn't unconstitutional until a judge rules it to be. An opinion blog or forum opinion does not determine constitutionality. Otherwise, I agree with their assessment...if this were challenged in a constitutional court, it would probably be found to be unconstitutional ;-)
        • Re:Mass mailing (Score:5, Insightful)

          by bigstrat2003 (1058574) * on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @03:27PM (#26050837)

          An opinion blog or forum opinion does not determine constitutionality.

          <nitpick>

          Not so. Anyone can determine constitutionality by examining a law, and the constitution, and telling you whether or not it violates the constitution. Now, that won't save your ass in court, but to say that the only valid judge of constitutionality is the courts is not only wrong, but against the spirit in which our nation was founded (that the people should keep the government in check).

          </nitpick>

      • Grafitti? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Roger W Moore (538166)
        So are laws banning grafitti unconstitutional too in the US because they restrict a person right to free speech? I did not realize that freedom of speech meant that you had the right to use other people's property in a way they have expressly asked you not to, in order to get your message across.
  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:38PM (#26050079) Homepage Journal

    Back in the day on Usenet, spam was more than just 'unsolicited commercial e-mail', it was pretty much any post that was cross-posted and off-topic.

    So why do so many of us nowadays seem to equate spam with only 'unsolicited commercial e-mail'? In my mind, spam is any piece of unwanted bulk mail, whether it is 'commercial' in nature or not.

    • Because in the US (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It is legally much easier to regulate commercial speech. If you want any sort of anti-spam law, your best bet is there.

    • by Bieeanda (961632) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:55PM (#26050351)
      The most basic answer is that we're not still back in the day on Usenet. Word meaning is fluid, especially when it comes to slang. Cross-posting is more difficult in e-mail and on forums these days, than it used to be on Usenet with some news clients, and so those elements of the definition have become archaic. People use the term 'spam' in the context of unsolicited mail because that's the only context they have for it.
    • >So why do so many of us nowadays seem to equate spam with >only 'unsolicited commercial e-mail'? In my mind, spam is any >piece of unwanted bulk mail, whether it is 'commercial' in nature or not. If I, a student at a university, desire to send an email to all faculty and staff at that university concerning university policy, this should not be considered spam, whether the recipients wanted to receive it or not.
      • by rhsanborn (773855)
        Unless there are policies that say that this isn't allowed. The University has policies for distributing information, and this person ignored those policies. Just because MSU offered email service doesn't mean the individual had a right to use it in any way they wanted to. There are plenty of reasons for such a policy, such as limiting the purpose for email so that professors or students can use it in a defined way. It's the right of the university to impose those restrictions.
        • by maillemaker (924053) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @03:20PM (#26050745)

          >Unless there are policies that say that this isn't allowed. The University has policies for distributing information, and this person ignored those policies.

          Well no shit, sherlock. Of course the University is going to try and control the flow of information concerning unpopular policy changes.

          Such attempts at control SHOULD BE ignored and thwarted.

          The university was trying to pull a fast policy change. This girl alerted everyone to it using the most efficient, straight-forward technique available. I don't care if the university "has policies" for damage contro....er for distributing information. What she did was right.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Back in the day on Usenet, spam was more than just 'unsolicited commercial e-mail', it was pretty much any post that was cross-posted and off-topic.

      That's not spam [wikipedia.org], that's a troll [wikipedia.org].

      So why do so many of us nowadays seem to equate spam with only 'unsolicited commercial e-mail'?

      Because that's what spam is - see the wiki link. Of course, you don't have to email to spam, [wikipedia.org] posting a gratituous, offtopic link to your blog is "board spam". But the subject here is email spam.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MacDork (560499)

      So why do so many of us nowadays seem to equate spam with only 'unsolicited commercial e-mail'? In my mind, spam is any piece of unwanted bulk mail, whether it is 'commercial' in nature or not.

      "I didn't want to read that. You just spammed me." Wow... we've certainly come a long way from "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sjames (1099)

      So why do so many of us nowadays seem to equate spam with only 'unsolicited commercial e-mail'? In my mind, spam is any piece of unwanted bulk mail, whether it is 'commercial' in nature or not.

      Probably because it is by far the most prevalent and annoying form of spam and because it is clearly definable. Off-topic can be somewhat subjective, commercial and unsolicited are much more objective.

  • by deft (253558) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:39PM (#26050085) Homepage

    it's linked in the news article. It was well written, not off topic, and expressed a reasonable concern about the time period students have to get to know the school apparently. It was not "spam" at all.

    It sounds like the professors are more butthurt she got their email addresses than interested in responding to the concern she expressed.

    They simply should have redirected her appeal to the right people if it was not appropriate to be sent via that email list. Instead they are being punative.

    • by jmyers (208878) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:47PM (#26050219)

      If you also read the complaint, it is alleged that she was instructed the correct way to send the message and refused to do so. The compliant makes it sound like she was in a pissing contest with the network administrator. Not a good person to piss off if you want to send email.

      "the student was informed of the proper procedures to follow and flatly refused to obtain proper permissions stating that she would continue to send emails out and demanded that I file charges against her."

      sounds like she wanted some publicity to go with her spam.

      • by Tom (822)

        "the student was informed of the proper procedures to follow and flatly refused to obtain proper permissions stating that she would continue to send emails out and demanded that I file charges against her."

        Speaking as someone who does in his day job occasionally sue people - anyone specifically asking for it is... well, asking for it.

      • by maillemaker (924053) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @03:09PM (#26050573)

        If a "network administrator" told me I could not email all the faculty and staff at a university I was paying to attend concerning a change in university policy that affects everyone, I'd tell them to go piss up a rope, too.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by clone53421 (1310749)

          She wasn't e-mailing them about "a change in university policy that affects everyone". She was e-mailing them about why said change was a Bad Idea(TM), and apparently they didn't care to read her editorial column.

      • by Uberbah (647458) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @03:15PM (#26050669)

        If you also read the complaint, it is alleged that she was instructed the correct way to send the message and refused to do so. The compliant makes it sound like she was in a pissing contest with the network administrator. Not a good person to piss off if you want to send email.

        Yes, many school administrators have the opinion that their department policy is teh law, regardless of what the student may have signed or what the university guidelines actually state.

        For example, I knew someone at my university who registered a domain name to his dorm room computer. He got an email from the campus security admin telling him that was against university policy, and to take it down. The only thing the machine was serving was an image of the domain name, but he immediately did as requested. Then the student checked the universities guidelines on network usage, but was unable to find any policy on registering a domain to a campus ip address. The student asked the security admin to point out where this policy was written down. The security admin responded by trying to get the student suspended from the school.

        • Many years ago there was an incident at the college I was attending where the administration searched a number of student rooms without permission. After getting caught various justifications were given for the search.

          I was part of a group of concerned students who decided to write the ACLU and ask about the legality of the college's actions. We wrote the letter, but then decided it would look better if it was cosigned by the student council. Of course that brought the existence of letter out into the op
      • by Puls4r (724907) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @03:19PM (#26050725)
        Perhaps that was the case. I've been involved in a few of these "power" struggles. Being part of a large organization myself, I'll venture a guess that the policy that she was told to follow was so lengthy and political that it would have resulted in: A. No one EVER getting the email B. The email not getting out in time C. The email getting "editted" or "changed" so it didn't have it's desired effect. If it's anything like what I tend to be involved with, the so-called "policy" in place is specifically there to prevent you from contact anyone of importance - not to facilitate it. It's a matter of the so-called "powerful" not wanting to deal with the lesser folk. Many profs I've dealth with in college were like that: they would become very upset if questioned.
    • by Strange Ranger (454494) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:48PM (#26050241)
      I don't think any spam filter on earth would identify her email as spam.

      It seems almost obvious that she's being prosecuted simply because she made the provost look stupid.
      If any student can use mailing lists like this to challenge the provost so effectively... imagine the mayhem!! /sarcasm
    • by danzona (779560) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:50PM (#26050265)
      it's linked in the news article. It was well written, not off topic, and expressed a reasonable concern about the time period students have to get to know the school apparently. It was not "spam" at all.

      Spam is unsolicited bulk email, regardless of whether or not it is well written, relevant, or reasonable.

      It sounds like the professors are more butthurt she got their email addresses

      That is the whole point, she got their email addresses and sent them spam.

      They simply should have redirected her appeal to the right people if it was not appropriate to be sent via that email list. Instead they are being punative.

      I agree with you here, but according to TFA, when they did this she refused and vowed to repeat her actions. TFA did not mention why she refused, so it is possible that the system in place would not be timely enough or would dilute her message, so I will give her the benefit of the doubt. I think that her actions do not merit suspension. Just take away her email privileges.
      • by Uberbah (647458) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:59PM (#26050433)

        Spam is unsolicited bulk email, regardless of whether or not it is well written, relevant, or reasonable.

        Then the student can counter-sue if the University ever her sent her spam over an upcoming basketball game, art exhibit, Last Lecture speech, etc.

        • I work in a higher education institution and I can confirm that spam in universities is every bit as bad as commercial spam. I have missed "critical" correspondence amid the deluge.

          Sports games, concerts, seminars, grant funding, research opportunities, exhibitions, astronomical events, workshops, training programs, lectures, presentations, groups, religious services, bereavements, marriage announcements, faculty announcements, announcements for faculty positions, calls, recalls, talks, reminders, forwards, art exhibits, cancellations, car lights, missing animals, missing people, missing USB keys, HR notices and every manner of newsletter, weekly, monthly or per semester ... do battle for my inbox day after day. And this is all before people start using the internal email to buy, sell, solicit, advertise, as a soapbox on just about any conceivable issue (this is a university), or indeed as an instant messaging replacement for people who couldn't be bothered to type in several names and instead hit "reply all", or the sysadmin send us emails to tell us that the email system and/or internet is/was down... again.

          Not a single part of this post is an exaggeration or fabrication. I've gotten all this and more. I imagine it's the same everywhere else.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:54PM (#26050337)

      How could the sysadmin not have seen this:
      http://lct.msu.edu/guidelines-policies/bulkemail.html

      "
      # Permitted uses for broad cross-University mailing. Bulk e-mailing may be used only by University offices to send communications necessary to the normal course of business and which typically require some official action be taken individually by recipients. Such permitted uses include:

              * Dissemination of urgent information of health and safety concern for students and University employees.
              * Communication of information regarding changes of University policies or procedures, or actions that affect employment or compensation status, or status as a student.
              * Regular communications (for example, to University employees) that are required by law, regulation or University policy for which bulk e-mail may largely replace paper transmittal.

      "

      So, according to their own policy, mass emailing of "...information regarding changes of University policies or procedures, or actions that affect employment or compensation status, or status as a student..." falls within acceptable use. That is assuming that this change to the university schedule is a "change in policy" or "affects employment". I don't see how that wouldn't be the case.

      • by clone53421 (1310749) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @03:08PM (#26050561) Journal

        I thought that too, at first, but then I noticed in TFA that her e-mail was not informative but rather dissension...

        On Sept. 15, Kara Spencer, a senior and the associated students director at MSU, sent a letter to 391 university professors speaking out against a proposal from the Provost to shorten the fall semester by two days and to shorten Fall Welcome, reducing the amount of time new students would have to adjust to college living.

        Probably that falls under "personal purposes" or "political statements or purposes", both of which purposes are explicitly prohibited in the document from which you quoted.

      • by alta (1263)
        The way I read it, "...may be used only by Univeristy offices..." Seeing that she's a student, not an employee of the university, she has no rights to communicate "...information regarding changes of University policies or procedures, or actions that affect employment or compensation status, or status as a student"
    • by Xcott Craver (615642) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:54PM (#26050343)

      It sounds like the professors are more butthurt she got their email addresses than interested in responding to the concern she expressed.

      As a professor, I doubt it: most of us couldn't care less if we get one more unsolicited email from a student.

      More likely she is the victim of some jobsworth in an administrative office who was on the mailing list and has nothing more important to do.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Chyeld (713439)

        Namely, one Mr Randall Hall, Information Technology Director. Who was it who said the more words in your job title, the more useless/power hungry you were?

        After receiving Spencer's e-mail, Katherine Gross, biology professor at Michigan State, sent the mass e-mail to Information Technology Director Randall Hall asking him if Spencer had accessed a university listserv, Spencer said.

        Hall wrote Spencer an e-mail on Sept. 16 telling her about the complaint and asking to discuss the matter. He filed a Disciplinar

    • by commodoresloat (172735) * on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:58PM (#26050423)

      It was well written, not off topic, and expressed a reasonable concern

      Well then it probably should never be posted to slashdot.

    • It sounds like the professors are more butthurt she got their email addresses than interested in responding to the concern she expressed.

      I read it and I have mixed feelings because of the possible precedent as much as anything. If she'd sent it to 10,000 professors instead of 391, would it be any different? What if she started sending emails about every other matter that concerned her? Especially if the university and people in it have a culture of not bulk-emailing staff, I might be quite annoyed by this

  • Personally (Score:2, Funny)

    by Killer Orca (1373645)
    I like to sign my instructors up for SPAM, but whatever works.
    • by AviLazar (741826)
      That's funny. I once tracked (on purpose) poop onto my english professors carpet for giving me a 64 (the lowest possible D before an F) because he didn't agree with my position on a paper (which was a moral issue). He gave me a D because he knew i put hard work into the document but couldn't agree with my position.
  • by Guido del Confuso (80037) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:40PM (#26050115)

    Because it means that we'll finally have an exact legal threshold in terms of number of recipients for an email to be considered spam, regardless of the contents or intent of the email. Zero tolerance policies are a really good idea, because they allow us to deal with violations--now matter how minor--in a uniform manner, and don't permit bureaucrats to allow things like reasonableness or circumstances to muddy the issue.

    • Did you read this girl's email?? It was not spam at all (as I understand spam, part of the problem is everyone has a different definition, you say its the amount of recipients, other posters just call it 'unsolicited commercial mail') it was a legitimate email sent to instructors and asking real questions on the behalf of students. Just because it is sent to multiple people automatically categorizes it as spam?? If this held true, I would not be able to receive emails for mailing lists I have subscribe
  • "I am the only student to ever be charged or brought to the judiciary and charged with violating the university's Network Acceptable Use Policy, and that raises questions for me. I can't imagine that this is the test case for the university given the vast amount of file sharing and hacking that goes on around campus," Spencer said.

    Is she really the _only_ one to be charged? Does she have documented proof of this? I guarantee someone has gotten in trouble in the past or else they have upstanding students or piss poor admins.

  • Is it just me (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pwizard2 (920421) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:41PM (#26050131)
    or does anyone else think that universities are treating students more and more like cattle these days? It's as if the concept of helping students goes flying out the window after the university takes their money.
    • Yup.
    • These days? It may be more common now, but thirty years ago, I heard two professors remark how "[this] University would be a great place to work, if we didn't have to deal with students", and they were not trying to be funny. They were having some kind of carp-and-moan session about their research projects being impacted by having to teach classes. I realize these two clowns don't represent all professors at all universities, and they didn't represent a majority of the professors I had, but the "Money, plea
  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:43PM (#26050161)

    She sent what amounted to a form letter to 391 professors. I certainly don't consider this spam. Given the lazy, unthoughtful way she went about this, I also don't consider this anything more than a waste of everbody's time. Sending what amounts to a bulk form letter via email isn't going to influence anyone.

    Beyond that, I think it's more problematic that she apparently refuses to comply with university policies once notified about them. Her position basically is "I intend to continue sending out poorly thought out, ineffectual bulk messages to all faculty whenever I see fit." In that context, maybe it does become spam...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by db32 (862117)
      What? The violation says she was "representing a group falsly". It seems to me that what she did is perfectly inline with her job. The student government's job IS to raise these issues. As far as I can tell ONE professor bitched about it. Classifying what she did as a violation of policy is quite a bit of a stretch after reading the policies cited compared to what she did. So I think she is acting perfectly correctly when the IT department says "We are going to call this a violation of policy because
    • Unfortunately what we're seeing here is how student government office holders are typically official powerless figureheads meant to keep a lid on direct student action and unrest.

      The MSU Bulk E-Mail policy allows for emailing "information regarding changes of University policies or procedures" but the privilege of exercising these speech rights is reserved to "only by University offices". Student governments are typically not an official university office and have no rights under any of the policies which e
    • >Given the lazy, unthoughtful way she went about this, I also don't consider this anything >more than a waste of everbody's time. Sending what amounts to a bulk form letter via email isn't going to influence anyone. I read the email from TFA. It was thoughtfully and carefully worded, polite, and articulate. It was a professional email concerning a policy change that would affect all faculty and students. It was quite appropriate. It MAY BE a waste of time, but only because of the apathy of the pe
    • Her position basically is "I intend to continue sending out poorly thought out, ineffectual bulk messages to all faculty whenever I see fit." In that context, maybe it does become spam...

      That's one interpretation. But I wonder where you got it from? All we have is the other side's statement that:

      "the student was informed of the proper procedures to follow and flatly refused to obtain proper permissions stating that she would continue to send emails out and demanded that I file charges against her."

      No explanation as to why she needs "proper permission" to send a message to the faculty at her school. No explanation as to exactly what the "proper permission" entails nor how long it takes to

  • Her message was fine. Composed well. Before RTFA I thought it was a whiney cry "OMG th3y r taking away our partayzzz timez" but in reality her letter was fine
    Some prof was concerned how a student got her WORK e-mail address??? Geez at the universities I went to (2 of them) a professors email was their first initial, last name and the school address after the @ symbol. You could also go to each departments website and get a picture, email, phone and office address for the professor.
    This is silly, and th
  • She's going to be fine. The administrator who let that e-mail go through the list-serv is losing his job though.

  • by zindorsky (710179) <zindorsky@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:45PM (#26050195)
    The crux of the issue is of course what you mean by spam. The best definition I've seen is: bulk, unsolicated commercial communications. (Due I think to Brad Templeton.) In this particular case the commercial aspect is missing, so this is not spam. This tendency to label of anything you don't like as either "spam" or "terrorism" is getting pretty tiresome.
    • by AviLazar (741826)
      SPAM doesn't require commercialism. If you don't believe me give me your e-mail address. I will post it on slashdot and ask everyone on slashdot e-mail you with "I love you", 50 times each. They are not using it for commercial issues - so by your reasoning (and Templetons def) it is not spam.
      This does not fall under spam, imho, because the student sent an e-mail to professors on their school work e-mail (which allows students to send to professors) for the purpose of asking a professor for their input o
  • by Xcott Craver (615642) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:46PM (#26050203)

    When I was in college, a little-known feature of the mainframe system allowed anyone with an MVS account (every CS major and anyone who took a CS class) to send a bulk instant message to everyone on campus.

    Astonishingly, this had the effect of shutting down all administrative offices, from payroll to the registrar to the financial aid office. This was because all the line printers had accounts too, and would choke on an improperly formatted input. Anyone with an account could do this. Of course it would be tied to your name, so in theory you'd want to use someone else's account.

    About every couple years a student would learn about the feature and innocently TELL EVERYONE HI without realizing that they were about to enter a dimension consisting entirely of pain. I do not think that even this transgression would result in a suspension---the chair might have you murdered, but no suspension.

    • Actually I think it'd be a whole lot funnier to figure out what the "properly formatted input" was and make all the printers on the whole campus print a "hello world" sheet.

    • by Ogive17 (691899) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @04:26PM (#26051777)
      Reminds me of the good ole NET SEND command, a few of us would send messages to our TA during our FORTRAN class while he had his screen hooked into the projector. He had no idea where the messages were coming from.. but at least it made the class somewhat entertaining. I guess being able to program doesn't require you to also have some basic networking skills.
  • by CannonballHead (842625) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:49PM (#26050247)

    I don't understand the free speech thing. No, it's not SPAM. Whether or not she actually abused the policy is up for someone else to decide, not me. But what is all this talk about free speech? Since when does freedom of speech mean you can break a the rules you agreed (I assume you have to agree to abide by them in order to be accepted into the school) to follow?

    If she actually broke the policy, then the agreed-to consequences for it should happen. If she didn't, the school is being stupid, and the SCHOOL should face consequences. But this doesn't have to do with "freedom of speech."

  • by imyy4u3 (1290108) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @02:53PM (#26050331)
    Is spam any unsolicited email sent out to 20 or more recipients? If so, this is spam.

    Is spam any unsolicited commercial email sent out to 20 or more recipients? If so, this is not spam.

    Is spam any unsolicited advertorial email sent out to more than 1 person? If so, this is not spam.

    Is spam any unsolicited email sent to more than 1 person? If so, this is spam.

    The problem here is we need a legal definition of spam to define what it is. Then once the public knows what spam is, we can prosecute those who send it illegally, and stop wasting our damn time arguing what it is. Personally, I like the definition of any unsolicited email sent to more than 20 people...regardless of the content.

  • I don't really think it's fair to call this a free speech issue. There are laws against spam in many countries, and we don't call that an attack on free speech. So the only real question here is whether or not what she did was actually considered spamming. From MSU's policy on bulk emailing (linked to in article): "Bulk e-mailing may be used only by University offices to send communications necessary to the normal course of business and which typically require some official action be taken individually by r
  • I was on her side until I saw the email read like political form letter. Yeesh! People really write like that? I thought those were all computer generated or composed by captive serial killers deep in secret prison sub-basements.

    The university really has no choice, in my opinion, but to hang her.

  • by kinthalas (102827)

    http://lct.msu.edu/guidelines-policies/bulkemail.html [msu.edu]

    It's not like it's hard to find or follow.

  • by BStewart (1427773) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @03:13PM (#26050631)
    We here at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) appreciate the widespread interest in Kara Spencer's case. I would encourage everyone to check out another article on this case over at The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-lukianoff/its-raining-spam-at-michi_b_149378.html [huffingtonpost.com] There is also a podcast interview with Kara Spencer on our website that might be of interest to some of you who wanted more details of the case: http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/10008.html [thefire.org]
  • by gomatt (1064232) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @03:48PM (#26051213)
    i get mass emails from students all the time at my school, i just IP relay spam their cell phones and sign their emails up for weather updates every 5 min.

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