U. of Rhode Island proposal would bar photos, video of 'sensitive material'

RHODE ISLAND — Aproposed policy change at the University of Rhode Island would prohibit studentsfrom publishing photos or video of “sensitive material” such as criminal orviolent acts.

“Publicizing sensitive material or information,” theproposed policy reads, “through the use of photos, video, or audio recordingsincluding illegal acts, student handbook violations, or acts of violence isprohibited.”

The policy, if approved, would modify the URI StudentHandbook’s privacy section. Violators could face warnings, fines, suspensionsor expulsions.

Student Senate President David Coates said he has concernswith the breadth of the proposed policy.

“It doesn’t define what ‘publicizing’ means, and it does notdefine ‘sensitive material or information,’” Coates said. “It’s prettyconcerning to (the Student Senate) that (the university) would allow somethinginto the handbook that really has no definition behind it.”

Coates said the policy change could be used against studentswho wouldn’t even know they were violating school policy. He also feels URIcould use the policy to “keep an incident quiet” if an event could place theuniversity under a negative light.

He said it could also potentially damage a studentjournalist’s ability to report the news. The journalist could write about illegalactivity, but couldn’t publish photos, video or audio without facing threat ofpunishment.

Hillary Brady, editor in chief of The Good 5¢ Cigar student newspaper, could not be reached forcomment.

Tom Dougan, vice president for student affairs, said theproposed policy stems from the death of Rutgers University student TylerClementi, who committed suicide in September 2010 after two fellow students allegedlyused a webcam to spy on him having sex with another man.

“We wanted to make sure something like that would indeed bea violation of university policy,” Dougan said, “and would allow the universityto take appropriate conduct action for any student who would violate thatpolicy.”

The Student Rights and Responsibilities Committee, made upof students and faculty, approved the policy change Feb. 29.

For the policy to become part of the student handbook,approval is required from Dougan, the Faculty Senate, the legal department andthe university president.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, said there is no chance thepolicy could hold up in court, calling the proposal vague and overbroad.

“The proposed policy is designed to protect people fromthings that might upset them,” Goldstein said, “but you have a legal right tosay upsetting things. The policy is utterly irreconcilable with the basicobligations universities have under the First Amendment.”

Coates plans to lobby against the policy change all the waythrough the process. Dougan said he will take all input into consideration.

If approved, the policy would take effect in May.