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CSL finds Source guilty of harassment

Published: Thursday, May 10, 2007

Updated: Sunday, August 17, 2008 13:08

The Committee on Student Life (CSL) today released a decision finding The Primary Source, Tufts' conservative journal, guilty of harassment and creating a hostile environment.

As a result of the verdict, all pieces in the Source must now be attributed to specific authors. The CSL, which is comprised of students and faculty members, also recommended that "student governance consider the behavior of student groups in future decisions concerning funding and recognition," according to a copy of the decision that was sent to the Daily.

Today's result stems from an April 30 hearing during which two separate cases against the Source were heard. In one, David Dennis, an African-American senior, said that the Source's Dec. 6 carol "O Come All Ye Black Folk" constituted harassment and the creation of a hostile environment. In the other, the Muslim Students Association brought the same two charges against The Primary Source for its April 11 piece "Islam - Arabic Translation: Submission." Both of these Source pieces were unsigned.

Senior and Primary Source Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Douglas Kingman called the decision the unfair result of a "show trial."

The hearing, which lasted five and a half hours, became "an airing of grievances against all ills on campus, both real and perceived, which were then attributed to the existence of The Primary Source," he said.

Kingman said that during the hearings, the evidence presented was "off-topic to the allegations at hand," and that he was disappointed by the behavior of the audience, which he described as "very rowdy at times," and of CSL Faculty Chair Barbara Grossman, who had several "inappropriate outbursts."

"We … did not think the hearing was particularly balanced when [Grossman] related political statements made in The Primary Source to spray painting swastikas on the side of synagogues," Kingman said.

Grossman, who chairs the Department of Dance and Drama, declined to speak with the Daily after releasing the verdict, but did issue a written statement in which she said that while finding appropriate and balanced consequences for The Primary Source was difficult, the CSL's decision to rule against it was "unequivocal."

The seven voting members on the CSL panel that heard the case voted unanimously against the Source on three of the four charges. On the charge of harassment in Dennis' case, the vote was 6-1 against the Source.

Dennis and junior Shirwac Mohamed, who represented the MSA during the proceedings, said that they were happy with the decision.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," Mohamed said. He called it a "very smart decision" and said he is happy that it "did not go to any extremes" by de-recognizing the Source.

Dennis also said it was "a very intelligent decision," but that he would have preferred one that went further. "I hoped that the CSL would take care of the issue and just de-recognize them," he said.

Mohamed and Dennis also like the CSL's requirement that all pieces in the Source be signed because it will force authors to take responsibility for their contributions.

But Kingman said that the requirement is "redundant" because all unsigned content has the approval of the editorial board and can be attributed to it.

While the decision calls upon the student government to take the actions of groups into consideration during the funding and re-recognition processes, it is still unclear what effects this recommendation will have.

The Tufts Community Union Judiciary (TCUJ) is in charge of recognition for student groups; sophomore and outgoing TCUJ Chair Daniel Halper said that, while he will not be a part of the body next year, he does not expect it to go back on this year's decision to re-recognize the Source. "I don't expect them to [but] I can't speak for them," he said.

Sophomore and incoming Tufts Community Union (TCU) President Neil DiBiase said that he will work with the TCUJ to "interpret what [the decision] means and how to internalize it," but he does not expect the Source's budget for next year, which was approved this semester, to be affected.

Junior and TCU Treasurer Evan Dreifuss, who will return to his position next year, agreed. "We don't have any precedents for that," he said of altering budgets after they have been approved.

Even so, Mohamed said that the decision will make it more likely that the Source will get a harsher punishment than the current one if it publishes offensive content in the future. "Now that the university has established a precedent, I think it will be more clear-cut what people can do and what they can't," he said.

Kingman said that the precedent comes at the expense of free speech. "I think it's detrimental, because people are going to feel less able to speak their minds and say what they believe in [if they think] their political speech is scrutinized," he said.

Today's decision relied heavily on passages in The Pachyderm, Tufts' student handbook, which defines harassment as involving "attitudes or opinions that are expressed verbally or in writing, or through behavior that constitutes a threat, intimidation, psychological attack or physical assault." Harassment is "unacceptable at Tufts [and] will be addressed with prompt and decisive action whenever it occurs."

The handbook also says that, "Members of the Tufts community should be able live, study, and participate in university life as equals. Any behavior that undermines this spirit of community interferes with an individual's growth and well-being while at Tufts."

These passages were quoted in the decision, which noted that "although students should feel free to engage in speech that others might find offensive and even hurtful, Tufts University's non-discrimination policy embodies important community standards of behavior that Tufts, as a private institution, has an obligation to uphold."

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