Student e-mail implies censorship and prejudice at CSUMB.
Thursday, March 23, 2000
It''s beginning to be a familiar scenario on the Cal State University Monterey Bay campus. Last spring, university President Peter Smith and former Vice President of Academic Affairs Dell Felder were accused of racial prejudices in a barrage of letters zipped across CSUMB''s e-mail system, creating an electronically fueled hysteria among the campus'' ethnic students, faculty and staff.
Months later, a student made disturbingly derogatory remarks about disabled people in an e-mail.
And last month, CSUMB student Jacob DeGrave used e-mail to knock Student Activities Director Matt Kritscher. The letter was sent throughout the CSUMB campus to students, faculty and staff. The letter accompanied DeGrave''s resignation from his position as Events Senator after Kritscher allegedly "hassled" him over a number of controversial shows put on at CSUMB.
"The problem with the events was that they had a political message," says DeGrave. "Our first major band was [hip-hop group] Spearhead, and it was a hassle. I just realized at one point, with me being in charge, that I wouldn''t be able to do anything without a hassle."
Be that as it may, did DeGrave go too far? In the e-mail letter, DeGrave implies that Kritscher tried to censor student events, and, in two instances, DeGrave also implies that Kritscher is prejudiced, even racist.
What''s more disturbing is that, with a touch of the mouse, DeGrave''s e-mail was sent out to a lot of people--except Kritscher, who received a copy of it via someone else in his office--embarrassing Kritscher and potentially damaging his career over what may be no more than a simple misunderstanding.
The letter, forwarded to the Weekly by a CSUMB faculty member, starts out with the opening line, "First and foremost, this letter isn''t meant to harm anyone."
Having said that, DeGrave goes on to express his disappointment with Kritscher''s criticism of student-driven, school-sponsored events due to their political nature. DeGrave also quotes from conversations with Kritscher, in which Kritscher supposedly talks about "riff raff" from Seaside attending performances at the Black Box Cabaret, and disapproves of the type of crowds that would be attracted by the likes of Spearhead and former Dead Kennedy''s singer Jello Biafra.
The letter then addresses an appearance by former Black Panther and CSUMB counselor Mel Mason at the Black Box. It alleges that Kritscher and the campus police blamed Mason for "inciting a riot" when a young man was arrested later on that same evening and told the cop he was doing what Mason told him to do.
And, referring to an alleged statement made by Kritscher, DeGrave opines in his letter that, "...[Kritscher] stating that Seaside, which is a predominantly black city, would need more cops, I feel goes against our ''Vision'' here at CSUMB." (Actually, Seaside is predominantly white.)
However, Kritscher says he''s anything but prejudiced. His concern, first and foremost, is to ensure the safety of all who attend campus events.
Ironically, the events DeGrave listed and was supposedly "hassled" over were ultimately approved and accepted by Kritscher. In fact, Kritscher was also one of only two advisors in the state to approve a student trip to Seattle for the WTO protest in January. Any criticism of student events on Kritscher''s part came after an event was held. According to Kritscher, those criticisms was unrelated to the politics of events held, nor did he ever turn down an event based on its political nature, but only on safety issues.
"I really don''t understand why I''m being blamed. I''ve approved every event before that had the proper flyer and budget. I didn''t turn down one," Kritscher says. "He sent this letter to everyone he could think of except to me. It''s a dramatization."
First Amendment vs. Common Courtesy
E-mail is a powerful communications tool. It can also be dangerous if used irresponsibly. Because it''s fast and far-reaching, e-mail lends itself to rash statements made in the heat of the moment and delivered with little thought.
When it comes to ethical e-mail struggles, CSUMB is not alone. Many institutions are struggling to define the fine line between freedom of speech and basic courtesy. In fact, in an on-campus symposium last week, a group of e-industry leaders discussed the complexities and ethical implications of an instantaneous, prolific communication.
"I don''t think we''re any different from any other institution," says Steve Reed, CSUMB associate vice president for external affairs. "Most colleges and universities are struggling with this issue."
While other schools have limited campus e-mail use to strictly academic purposes, CSUMB has chosen not to curb free use of its e-mail system. Users are expected to regulate themselves. Campus e-mail ethics are outlined on CSUMB''s Web site, which simply states: "Don''t slander, libel, harass or hurt people over e-mail."
Despite the few instances where those simple rules have been broken, university officials have no intention of tightening or further regulating e-mail. "You can''t regulate morality," says Reed.
Nor would students, faculty or staff likely give up their electronic First Amendment rights without an uproar. But Reed hopes that by fostering a "social code of civility and common courtesy" and "building a university that cares about each other," irresponsible e-mails will be kept to a minimum.
--Additional reporting by Laurel Chesky