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Campus porn consumption not regulated

Photo Illustration by Cayla Nimmo

Sarah Cepero was on her way to Richter Library’s seventh floor stacks one afternoon near the end of her freshman year. She needed a quiet space to study for her psychology of personalities course.
As Cepero got off the elevator and searched for an available desk, she encountered a male student sitting alone in one of the study cubicles.
He was watching pornography on his laptop.
“I thought to myself, ‘Why am I not surprised to find a guy watching porn in the stacks?’” said Cepero, who is now a junior.
Some students consider this behavior inappropriate in public locations.
In an online poll of 137 students, 77 percent of students felt that porn should not be viewed in public places on campus.

University polices
Few students actually know the university policies that address viewing pornography on campus. Two clauses in the Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook address this behavior.
One of these clauses, in the Information Technology Resources section of the handbook, states, “Users agree that information posted or distributed through the systems or network contains no obscene material.”
The second clause, found in the Disorderly Conduct section, states that “lewd, indecent or obscene conduct or expression made by any means, on University owned or controlled property, or at University sponsored or supervised functions, is prohibited.”
The student that Cepero encountered in Richter Library would be in violation of the disorderly conduct clause, which would consider his behavior “indecent.”
“Indecency is a broad term,” said Samuel Terilli, an associate professor in UM’s School of Communication. “So looking at pornography, which might not actually be obscenity, in the library could be interpreted as lewd or indecent, and therefore it might be a problem.”
Terilli has practiced media, commercial and employment law for 28 years.
The male student in Richter Library could also be in violation of the information technology clause.
However, it depends on the interpretation of the terminology used in the student handbook, particularly the word “obscene.”
The Dean of Students is in charge of handling violations of the student code. As the dean changes, so can the determination of public pornography consumption as a violation.
“That is a policy that has been here longer than I have been here,” Associate Dean of Students Tony Lake said. “When I read that policy, that tells me that the interpretation of those words is going to be different from person to person.”
Since Lake joined the university, the Dean of Student’s Office has not received a case for inappropriate conduct regarding pornography. Nonetheless, there have been various instances in which students have witnessed others viewing pornography in public areas on campus, such as Richter Library or the University Center.
Still, there is no consistent monitoring system in place for this kind of activity.

Keeping track
Pornography consumption on Wireless Canes, the campus-wide wireless internet network, is not regularly tracked by the university’s Department of Information Technology (IT).
Instead, IT is notified when a student or Wireless Canes guest user exceeds a certain amount of bandwidth usage.
“What it usually is, is a student that is a video gamer and they have a game that takes up too much bandwidth,” Lake said.
Bandwidth refers to the capacity of telecommunication technology to transmit data. Issues with consuming bandwidth were more frequent in 2008, when LimeWire and similar file-sharing programs were still popular among students.
This bandwidth monitoring system does not track the content that is using up the bandwidth.
In other words, IT does not differentiate between a student using up bandwidth to play a game and a student using up bandwidth to download pornography or illegal movie files.
In most cases, pornography is legal in the United States, unless the judicial branch deems particular material obscene.
If the material is declared obscene, it is not protected by the First Amendment.
Private institutions also hold the right to restrict students beyond the laws of government.
For instance, UM could restrict student rights more stringently. However, administrative officials have chosen not to limit students’ freedom of expression with respect to pornography.
“A college environment is the kind of environment where we want it to be a training ground. Students are here to learn what it means to be responsible citizens, in addition to whatever the content of the subject matter of their academic program is,” Lake said.
Cepero does not believe the university should be doing more to monitor pornography consumption.
“I don’t think it needs to be monitored more closely,” she said. “I do, however, think that some people need to learn that there is a time and place for everything.”

September 15, 2012

Reporters

Amilynn Soto


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