Friday, December 9, 2011

Mast article clashes with policy

By Daniel Drake, Online Editor

When editors at The Mooring Mast published an article containing profanities to their website last Friday, one PLU official decided to take the website offline.

Listen to clips from the interview with Greg Brewis

Interview with Greg Brewis - Dec. 2, 2011 by The Mooring Mast

Executive Director of University Communications Greg Brewis said the article in question contained “obscenities.” Although he knew of no explicit regulation against obscenities on PLU websites, he believes the article was in violation of PLU policy.

“I’m assuming that there’s language in the Student Code of Conduct that talks about responsible behavior [and] responsible language on campus,” Brewis said. “I think that could be extended to the Web as a meeting place.”

According to the Student Code of Conduct, PLU prohibits “any activities which cause or threaten physical or mental harm, suffering or exhaustion.” Students are also required to act in a way which is “appropriate to the university setting” while engaged in PLU-sponsored activities.

The handbook does not explicitly state what type of behavior is inappropriate.

Brewis said he took action specifically because part of PLU’s website is hosted on PLU servers. If the site had been hosted elsewhere, “there would be no issue,” he said.

According to PLU’s Computer and Network Use Policy, the university “maintains the right to temporarily disable access to any Web page under review for possible policy violations.”

The policy also prohibits students from storing “sexually explicit or offensive material” on PLU servers in ways which “may create an offensive working or learning environment.”

The Mooring Mast is also bound by guidelines laid out by the University Student Media Board (USMB). Chairperson Haley Miller was unsure about which rules apply in this case because the guidelines currently do not include the word “website.”

“We’re revising the guidelines to reflect the new websites,” Miller said.

The current guidelines require editors to review all material prior to publication and notify the USMB of any “questionable” material. The guidelines do not specify how this applies to online content.

As of last Sunday, the USMB had not received any complaints about the article in question, Miller said.

The Mooring Mast was initially notified by email from Associate Director of Student Involvement and Leadership Amber Dehne Baillon that the article had been taken offline because it violated Associated Press guidelines on profanity. When editors republished a censored headline to the front page, the site was taken offline.

Brewis later denied that PLU requires The Mooring Mast to follow Associated Press style, but emphasized that the university would not allow any obscenities on the PLU website.

“Somewhere along the way, this got confused,” Brewis said. “My position is pretty clear.”