Listserv sparks debate

Karlee Weinmann

Faculty and students have been subjected to tension spurred by a Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs listserv last week.

Sally Kenney, a public affairs and law professor, used a Humphrey Institute nonbusiness listserv to discuss liberal talk-show host and political pundit Al Franken’s likely 2008 run for U.S. Senate, specifically in terms of what role Humphrey Institute students could play in his possible bid.

An opportunity offered

A conservative blogger’s post revealing Kenney’s message ignited media coverage in which her colleagues criticized both her message and her use of University resources.

University professor Larry Jacobs, director of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs’ Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, spoke out against Kenney in a Jan. 24 Star Tribune article, calling

Kenney’s post an “inappropriate use of University resources.”

Humphrey Institute student Chris Mitchell, technology chair of the Public Affairs Student Association, the Institute’s student government organization, said he was neither surprised nor offended by Kenney’s listserv use.

“There have been e-mails soliciting support from faculty before,” he said. “If there is a problem now, there has been a problem before.”

Kenney identified herself as a “very modest supporter” of Franken but would not speak further at the request of Franken’s campaign. An unnamed official announced Wednesday evening Franken’s intention to run for U.S. Senate in 2008.

According to the Humphrey Institute’s computing policy, the unmoderated personal listserv is “where you send For Sale, opinion e-mails or other personal items.”

Kenney likened the listserv to a notice board.

“We don’t censor for content and there has not been a policy that electoral politics is forbidden,” she said, calling herself a “conduit for that kind of information.”

In an e-mailed statement, Humphrey Institute dean Brian Atwood said he wanted to clarify that Kenney’s actions did not violate listserv rules.

“She also made it clear that she was looking for volunteers and that she was acting in her individual capacity,” he said. “Her interest was in providing an opportunity to our students.”

An unwelcome addition

After seeing published reports relating to Kenney’s message, University staff member Eva Young, who does not work at the Humphrey Institute, contacted listserv managers and asked for admittance to the listserv as an observer, not to actively participate in dialogue.

Young said she was interested in learning more about Kenney’s posting for personal reasons not associated with her job.

Young maintains a blog and has written about Kenney’s listserv activity. She said she did not specifically tell the listserv manager she was a blogger when he added her last Thursday, and she regrets not doing so.

Assistant dean for student affairs in the Humphrey Institute Bobbi Cordano said Young’s request to join the listserv was the first from someone outside the Humphrey Institute community.

Cordano said to her knowledge, no one affiliated with listserv administration was aware of Young’s blog, and she was “not quite sure how to answer” whether this information would have affected Young’s access.

The listserv’s members were alerted to the addition of an anonymous staff member.

Initially, Humphrey Institute students like Graham Lampa thought administrators were placing this unidentified person on the listserv to monitor discussions.

He sent a complaint to Steve Schaus, executive operator of student services for the Humphrey Institute. Schaus would not comment on listserv activity.

The outcry from students intensified and multiplied as Thursday wore on, and listserv management removed Young from the listserv by the end of the day.

According to Cordano, Young was added in the interest of “openness and transparency, but students made it clear that it was a Humphrey-only student listserv.”

Young revealed her identity in a listserv post requesting removal if list users thought her presence was disruptive.

“If it was causing trouble, I asked to be unsubscribed,” she said. “I don’t want to bother people and I don’t want to be the center of attention.”

A revisited policy

Cordano said she didn’t believe Young’s blog was a central factor in students’ protest of the listserv add.

“What they were concerned about is that this is a Humphrey Institute listserv, not a University of Minnesota listserv,” she said.

The controversy led Humphrey Institute administration and PASA to re-evaluate proper use of University services and revisit policies in place.

Jacobs said Wednesday that talks are taking place to clearly delineate the rules for use of the personal listserv.

“The issue is the use of publicly-subsidized resources for advocating a particular candidate,” he said. “I think it’s a helpful discussion, and I think it’s been handled in a healthy way by deans at the Humphrey Institute.”

Mitchell said he agreed.

“I don’t think anyone had bad intentions in the whole process,” he said. “It was a situation that came out of bad timing and a lack of policy.”

PASA will draft its own proposal to ensure professors are allowed to present information without admonition to preserve the free flow of opportunities from faculty to students.

“We’ll be pushing until we have a policy that we feel will protect students, faculty and the Humphrey Institute from these kinds of attacks in the future,” said Lampa, who plans to run for the PASA technology chair position in this week’s elections.

Already, the Humphrey Institute made clear that any members of its listservs from now on will be strictly students or faculty, but Cordano said policies will be further combed to eliminate the possibility of these kinds of discrepencies in the future.

“We can fully expect to see an opportunity to look at our policy and see if there needs to be anything updated,” she said.