Wednesday, December 17, 2008

GrinnellPlans Ceases and Desists

by David Logan

At roughly 7:30 p.m. Monday evening, the popular cyber-forum site GrinnellPlans ceased operation and posted a notification citing a cease-and-desist notice as the reason for the suspension of service.

“GrinnellPlans, in accordance with a cease-and-desist notice, is suspended, effective Monday, December 15, 2008 at or around 7:30pm Central Time,” the posting read.

Plans Administrator Ian Atha ’09, who received the notice, would not comment on the source of the notice or the reasons behind it but in an e-mail to the S&B wrote that "The cause is not yet to be communicated, but it was not libel/slander.
Also, it was not about particular content, but about alleged
practices." He also said he is working with an attorney to resolve the issue and restore service to the site which he anticipated would be soon but said that, in the meantime, he is treading cautiously.

“My strategy is to be as careful as possible and make sure we don’t get into judicial legal trouble,” he said in an interview. “The homepage says we are complying with the [cease-and-desist] letter but that does not constitute admission of fact or practice.”

He cited a potential injunction and court fees as some of the more disruptive measures he hoped to avoid.

Atha said that he had received the notice because the site is hosted on a server he owns in Texas through The Planet, an information technology firm based in Houston, Tex.

Quickly following the suspension of service, rumors circulated among students on campus and on a discussion board hosted on the social networking site Facebook as to the source and motivation of the cease-and-desist notice. Posters speculated about whether or not a student submitted the notice while one alumnus even claimed responsibility, though there is no evidence to support any of the claims.

Many speculated that the cease-and-desist notice and the subsequent suspension of service might have come from members of the College administration. In the midst of recent student anxieties about recently hired Student Affairs employees, and the controversial departure of former Associate Dean and Director of Residence Life Sheree Andrews, the website had become a sounding board for student grievances about the administration. Without providing any specifics, Atha denied that the College administrators had sent the notice.

“It’s not Houston or Travis or RKO or anyone who works for the College,” he said. “I think the most important thing now is to not start groundless rumors. Plans will be back as soon as possible.”

While he said he could not provide a definite timeline for when the service might be restored, Atha said he did not expect the suspension to last beyond Saturday, when he would be leaving the country for the start of the College’s winter recess.

As a precaution, he said that he has signed over power of attorney to a lawyer in California who could then act on Atha’s behalf while he is out of the country.

The last time the site was shut down because of legal troubles was in 2005 when Paul Wainwright’07 posted statements that authorities said advocated violence against law enforcement officials. While the site had not been hosted by the College since 2003, College administrators asked Plans administrators to take down the cite pending an investigation.

--additional reporting by Ari Anisfeld

Friday, November 14, 2008

SOA funding uncertain

by Ari Anisfeld, J. Francis Buse & David Logan

For the past month, Grinnell College student activists had been making plans to travel to Ft. Benning, Georgia and participate in the 16th annual “Vigil to Close the School of the Americas.” But after receiving pledges for funding from various College departments and student groups, organizers were later informed that their budget was under scrutiny by the College’s attorneys.

Though the students who planned to attend the vigil Nov 21-23 were not initially told about the funding decision, administrators have since said that they would not support the funding. The group leaders met with President Russell Osgood and other administrators at 4 p.m. this afternoon to discuss the decision.

The students had already received pledges to help cover the approximately $7000 transportation and other logistical costs. But still roughly $2000 short, organizers approached Student Affairs to cover the rest. Director of Campus Center Operations/Student Activities Michael Sims, concerned about the legal implications of funding a advocacy activity, contacted some of the College’s attorneys.

President Russell K. Osgood, who said he was approached for help by Vice President of Student Affairs Houston Dougharty, advised that the College not provide funding because of a combination of both financial and legal factors.

“One, we’re being careful about every expenditure, we’re not selling jobs and anything that looks largish I’m saying no to unless it’s in the budget,” Osgood said. “And that’s one level on which this exists.”

“Two, over the last few years … going on what I’ll call “advocacy trips” has been discussed a couple of times and in general because the College is a 501(c)(3) charity, we don’t fund advocacy trips, just like we don’t fund sending people to a lot of things that are worthy.”

Osgood was referring to the Internal Revenue Service’s prohibition against political lobbying activities by 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, which is meant to ensure that primarily political advocacy groups do not benefit from the tax-exempt status afforded by a 501(c)(3) designation.

According to the information on the website for the Internal Revenue Service, “In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation…”

The IRS generally draws a distinction between attempting to influence legislative decisions as opposed to executive or administrative ones.
It does include some exceptions to the restrictions, noting that “organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.”

Osgood also cited safety concerns and said that the activity was not “squarely within our educational purpose.”

“So if someone came to me and said we’re going to the U.N. and it’s part of an upper level course in political science, I’ll be honest, that has more of a cache for funding,” he said. “But right now, I wouldn’t even fund that because of the budget situation.”

The “vigil”, a three-day event, which commemorates the killing of eight Salvadorians by a graduate of SOA and includes social justice and activism workshop, has been attended by for the at least the past six years, and has received College funding for a bus for similar sized groups for the past couple of years, according to Dean of Religious Life Deanna Shorb.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Sheree Andrews on Leave

The S&B can confirm that Associate Dean and Director of Residence Life Sheree Andrews has been placed on administrative leave as of yesterday morning. Andrews is still employed by the college, but it is unclear what, if any, role she will have while placed on leave. “I don’t know what the status is,” Andrews told the S&B in a phone interview this afternoon.

While Andrews said she could not speak in detail on the matter, she said that it might be resolved soon. “Hopefully next week [it will be resolved],” she said. “That’s my understanding.”

Andrews could also not say whether or not her change in status was voluntary, and said only that “There’s a bunch of us working on this.”

Responding to a request for comment, Dean of Students Travis Greene wrote in an e-mail that “due to College policy regarding the confidentiality of personnel-related matters, and out of respect for those involved, no College employees are able to comment regarding this or any other personnel matter.” Vice President for Student Affairs Houston Dougharty could not be reached for comment.

While the College’s Staff Handbook includes a section on Progressive Discipline and Termination, there is no formal policy for imposing disciplinary measures short of dismissal.

According to section 2.5 of the Grinnell College Staff Handbook, “Although one or more … steps may be taken in connection with a particular employee, no formal order or procedure is necessary for appropriate action.” Although there is no formal designation for Andrews' status, she said it could be best described as "administrative leave."

The S&B first learned that Andrews was placed on administrative leave from numerous Student Staff members and a member of SGA. Andrews later confirmed the information in the interview.

Andrews’ status at the school was first disseminated to Student Staff members last night, when some RLCs held meetings to inform their staffs. However they were given no further information about the circumstances beyond the fact that she was on leave.

This is a developing story, and we will be posting further information when it becomes available…

Friday, May 02, 2008

Correction: Missing word in column

In Danny Haupt's opinion column in the May 2 issue of the S&B, the first word was missing. His opening paragraph should have read:
At Grinnell we have a tendency to bitch on a pretty regular basis about pretty much everything. Some of the loudest and most frequent complaints are often about the college, itself, and the perceived failures of administrators and trustees to listen to students. But when the trustees presented themselves last Thursday to talk to students, not too many showed up.

Relays postponed due to funding, disinterest, weather

by Claire Reeder

Grinnell Relays, an annual party that combines all the fun of a middle school field day with the all the fun of a booze bash, was canceled at the eleventh hour last Saturday. While, as officials reported, weather did play into the final decision to postpone Relays, lack of campus interest and funding were primary factors, according to organizers SGA President Megan Goering ’08 and SGA Student Services Coordinator Kirby Ramstad ’08.

According to Ramstad, there was little initial interest in Relays. After the first application due date, only one team had signed up; the extended deadline yielded one more team. After a second extension, seven teams had signed up. “No one seemed interested until really close to the event,” said Ramstad. “It was like pulling teeth to get people to sign up and turn in their forms.”

Marissa Gillman ’09, captain of Team Rainbow Fight, said she felt that the amount of advertising may have affected campus interest. “I just put together a team because I thought it would be fun after I saw a flyer in the mailroom,” she said. “But I didn’t really see a ton of advertising for the event.”

Funding also limited the planners, as participating teams contributed $90. Appeals to Dining Services, the ACE budget and collecting around campus finally totaled around $500. Traditionally, Relays money pays for equipment, food and beer, and is invested in T-shirts.

The low initial funding impeded the purchasing of Relays T-shirts, which in the increased awareness and funding in the past, limited initial capital restricted the ability to buy T-shirt. However, with the postponement, organizers have decided to front the money to purchase T-Shirts that will be distributed during Relays.

Generally, Relays is officially organized by volunteers and is not necessarily associated with SGA or All-Campus Events. But when no volunteers came forward to organize this year’s event, Ramstad and Goering took over.

According to Ramstad, the responsibility of Relays coupled with those of SGA and graduation limited the ability of the organizers to fundraise and increase advertising. “Megan had the trustees on campus, and I had both FogFast and the Blood Drive to organize,” said Ramstad. “With such a busy week, we do take some of the responsibility, we just couldn’t get it all together.”

Saturday morning, however, it was the weather forecast that led to the cancellation. It was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Goering.

The campus response has been mixed. While some people expressed frustration at the postponement, others offered to help. According to Ramstad, the organizers received five emails, three of which were offers to help. “People’s frustration is justified, but we’re doing our best to respond,” said Ramstad.

With another week to organize, let funds trickling in, and increase awareness, Relays will take place this Saturday on Cleveland Beach from 1 to 5 p.m. Scheduled events include the typical picnic games—three-legged and sack races, water balloon toss and watermelon eating contests—capped off with the traditional keg toss and the crowning event: the lighting of the flaming toilet torch. New additions this year include real beer in the outdoor beer garden and trophies for winners. Randy Brush, husband of Loosehead RLC Kim Hinds-Brush, will serve as master of ceremonies.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Update on Plans Outage

EDIT: Plans is once more online. Be sure to check out a full article in tomorrow's S&B. has been down since Sunday night, but might be back up as early as tonight or tomorrow.

The popular Grinnell site is hosted on a web server in Hawaii owned by Sechyi Laiu '04. On Sunday night, the server ran out of space and crashed.

Plans administrators are currently planning on moving Plans to a new server. This will probably involve reverting to a ten-day-old backup file, meaning that any Plans updates in the last ten days will be lost.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Danny Carroll to challenge State Rep. Palmer

The Iowa Secretary of State has posted a list of candidates (PDF—scroll down to page 42) in primary elections, and as rumored, former Republican State Representative Danny Carroll will challenge the man who unseated him in 2006, State Rep. Eric Palmer (D). Palmer also challenged Carroll in 2004 and lost narrowly. 

Carroll held the seat for years before losing to Palmer. Since leaving office, he co-chaired former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's statewide presidential campaign, which culminated in an unexpected and powerful victory in the 2008 Republican Iowa Caucuses.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Students receive anti-queer letters

By: Ari Anisfeld and David Logan
Additional reporting by David H. Montgomery & Abby Rapoport

This story is an edited version of a previously-published story.

Sometime Thursday night 34 members of the Grinnell College queer community received anti-queer letters, according to Stephen Briscoe, director of Security. The letters come a day after a rally responding to a bias-motivated crime that occurred in a South Campus hall last Friday night.

Early this morning a student working at the post office received one of the letters and then notified security at around 8:15 a.m. Friday. “They were all the same type of letter, folded over and stapled together with the students’ name and mailbox typed on the outside,” Briscoe said.

Printed on the inside of each letter in large bold font were slurs and epithets, many including gender-specific anti-queer attacks matching the gender of the recipients. Among the slurs were “Fear God, not Fags” and “You can’t stop us fag—go and get some pussy.” Most of the students receiving the letters were part of the campus queer community, although some were not active on campus.

Security contacted the Grinnell Police Department as part of the investigation. Security is also working with ITS to find out if they can identify whether the letters were made on a campus computer or printer.

While Briscoe said that security cannot currently say with any confidence who may have sent the letters, he suspected the perpetrators are part of the college community. “I think it was someone on campus, to be honest,” Briscoe said.

Sheree Andrews, associate dean and director of Student Life, said whoever sent the letters, likely had information about the queer community. “It was clearly somebody who had access to a directory and it was somebody who was on campus or could come on campus,” said Andrews. “It was someone who knew who was associated the LGBTQ community.”

Briscoe said that security could not yet say whether the incident is connected to last weekend’s anti-queer vandalism.

According to Thomas Bateman ’10, who received one of the letters, recipients were contacted by Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Elena Bernal who then set up a meeting to discuss the mailings. “She wanted to make sure we were okay and find out what we wanted to do about it,” Bateman said.

Not all the students were completely comfortable with the meeting. Jose Segebre Salazar ’09 was somewhat disturbed that the names of the recipients had been distributed to individuals outside of security. “If you want to talk about it, that’s fine,” he said. “But just the fact that there’s a compiled list that’s gone outside of police record—it’s kind of scary.”

In an all-campus e-mail, President Russell K. Osgood expressed anger at the continued acts of intolerance. “We are very saddened and angered by what has happened. Those who engaged in these cowardly acts will find no solace in our community,” Osgood wrote.

Some classes were cancelled as students met in informal groups across campus to discuss how to respond to the latest anti-queer incident.

The centerpiece of the response was a second meeting in JRC 101 which appeared to have an attendance of well more than 200 students, faculty and staff. Bernal and Johanna Meehan, Philosophy, delivered opening remarks emphasizing that the message of the gathering was one of community and love, not one of hate. “[We’re] not here to talk about the negative aspects. We’re here to have a positive discussion,” Bernal said. “There’s comfort for people that are in this room tonight.”

After the opening discussion, organizers unveiled the gathering’s primary activity—love mail. Attendees took advantage of crates of paper and art supplies to make love letters for their friends and peers. “In response to the hate mail, the most beautiful thing we’ve come up with is love mail,” Bernal said.

Before this afternoon’s forum, a group of students were in the Spencer Grille creating t-shirts that emphasized community and tolerance. Jon Richardson ’10, who helped to organize the t-shirt making with Kelly Bosworth ’10, bought plain white t-shirts and colored markers for friends to use, but others quickly joined in.

“I thought some other people might join in, but this is amazing,” Richardson said. “It started with one table making shirts and there are five now.”

Jessica Issacharoff ’09, who made a shirt of her own, said she was particularly upset by the letters because she knew many of the recipients. “I have a lot of friends who got [the letters] and I was absolutely shocked,” said Issacharoff. “I would never have expected anything so aggressive. And so violent. It was just very violent language.”

Bateman, who participated in Thursday night’s march and rally, said he was not surprised that this happened after Thursday’s great show of support for the queer community and tolerance in general. “It makes sense that this happen[ed] after the rally because [the rally] was so effective and productive,” said Bateman. “This makes sense as a retaliation to that.”

Again emphasizing the positive responses to the anti-queer acts, Bernal also said that the letters revealed some sense of desperation. “Because last night was so powerful,” Bernal said, “the response back from folks who did not want to see that happen, who are living with this latent anger … had to come back just as hard as what happened the other night [with the rally and march].”

Some students, like Jose, felt that the magnitude of the response to both the vandalism and mailings incidents lent them too much legitimacy and impact. “We should not give them so much currency as to disrupt our personal lives and our lives as students,” he said.

While Andrews said she was upset by the mailings, she reiterated the importance of responding in a positive manner. “We want to go into a very positive vein with all of this,” she said. “Some of the fire we got going last night with the rally will keep on throughout the weekend.”

In addition to the community events that will unfold throughout the week, Bernal emphasized college services as a means of coping with the events. She urged students to take advantage of resources in the Mental Health Center, Student Services and their friends. “Everybody’s waiting to throw their arms around their brothers and sisters at Grinnell in support,” she said.

Bernal also categorically rejected the notion that the incidents mean that Grinnell College is not a tolerant community. “If this wasn’t an accepting community,” Bernal said, “you wouldn’t have the hundreds of people here last night and the hundreds of people here within a few hours of an e-mail.”

Bateman, while shaken, said he would not let the mailings significantly alter his perceptions of the Grinnell community. “I’m really happy with the Grinnell community in light of last night,” said Bateman. “It’s important not to view this as spoiling [the rally] and that the Grinnell community is not intolerant.”