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New committee deals with e-mail that violates U-M policies

Provost Paul N. Courant has appointed a campus-wide committee to examine how the University responds to e-mail messages that violate its policies for use of U-M computing resources. James Hilton, professor of psychology and associate provost for academic, information and instructional technology affairs, will chair the eight-member committee, which includes faculty, staff and students.

"Over the past several weeks, members of the campus community have received a number of fraudulent, sometimes hateful, e-mail messages," Courant wrote in a letter to committee members. "These messages have gone well beyond the day-to-day inconvenience of unsolicited mail."

Many of the messages, which continued to be distributed as recently as late October to a variety of individuals, including many off campus, were "spoofed" to appear as if they came from U-M students or groups when in fact they did not. "While the term 'spoof' may sound playful, there was nothing whimsical about the messages," Courant said.

"The tone and content of several of the messages suggested they were meant to intimidate and silence. More importantly, forging someone's name and attaching it to an idea or expression that does not belong to that person would seem to be a violation of academic integrity and community trust."

Courant asked the committee to review the University's internal policies and practices with regard to unwanted and fraudulent e-mail messages. The group's tasks include engaging the campus community in conversations about norms that should guide electronic communications, and recommending actions that should be taken by the University when confronted with inappropriate and/or fraudulent electronic communications.

Members of the committee, in addition to Hilton, are: Jack Bernard, attorney in the General Counsel's Office; Joseph Bernstein, Law School student and representative of the Michigan Student Assembly; John Brockett, information technology representative from Student Affairs; Debasish Dutta, professor and associate chair of mechanical engineering, representing the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee; Paul Howell, information systems security officer with Michigan Administrative Information Systems (MAIS); Sgt. Timothy Shannon, Department of Public Safety; and Liz Sweet, director of the Information Technology User Advocate Office.

The committee hopes to have a preliminary report prepared by the end of this year.

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