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ACLU to help Pitt student in Web site dispute

Thursday, April 12, 2001

By Bill Schackner, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The American Civil Liberties Union says it will represent a white University of Pittsburgh student ordered by the school to halt research that includes a Web site Pitt says is racist against blacks.

A day after campus police hand-delivered a cease-and-desist letter, Matt Schiros, 19, continued to operate his site yesterday in apparent defiance of the order. The freshman political science major from Cleveland has said he will not comply with Pitt officials, who contend his activities violate laws governing funded research involving human subjects.

"I don't intend on stopping," Schiros said just after receiving the order.

Schiros' Web site -- www.amiblackornot.com -- invites visitors to use racial slurs in casting votes for "how black" various people are. He said it is part of a personal research project concerning race relations on college campuses and how politically incorrect views are received.

The issue, as lawyers for the ACLU see it, is less science than it is the First Amendment. Witold Walczak, director of the Pittsburgh ACLU, said the university has no right to punish Schiros because it disagrees with what he says.

"The answer for hateful speech is more speech, not censorship," Walczak said. "If you disagree with what Schiros says, don't shut him up. In fact, the First Amendment prohibits you from shutting him up."

He said Pitt's actions will only give Schiros a wider forum.

Black student leaders have decried the site as reprehensible.

Late yesterday, university officials were contemplating their next move.

"The university has a responsibility to make sure that its policies, practices and procedures are obeyed," said Pitt spokesman Robert Hill. He said Schiros must comply with Tuesday's order or face possible disciplinary proceedings.

Initially, Pitt said it was powerless to act since the Web site was not operated with university resources. But the school Tuesday said it reversed course because Schiros characterized his work as research that, in Pitt's view, is subject to campus approvals that Schiros has not sought.

One of those rules requires that subjects of the study give informed consent to participating.

Schiros said his work is aimed at testing a theory -- that people "will do anything they can do to shut down" politically incorrect views, "especially [at] institutions as left-leaning as universities," he said.



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