University News

Hoax letter claims cameras planned for frosh dorms

By
News Editor
Thursday, September 30, 2010

A letter posted in residence halls Sept. 29 that purported to be from the Office of Residential Life announcing the installation of closed circuit television cameras was a hoax, according to Senior Associate Dean of Residential and Dining Services Richard Bova.

The letter, which was addressed to residents of the Pembroke campus and Keeney Quadrangle and appeared on Keeney bathroom doors, was created by Evan Donahue ’11 for MCM 1700M: “Techniques of Surveillance” as part of an ongoing project for the class.

“That is a bogus letter. It did not come from my office,” Bova said. “There has never been a plan — never will be a plan — to install cameras in any residence halls.”

The project was designed to examine how behavior can be influenced by the idea that people are being watched, Donahue said. “The idea was that this would continue in duration as long as people believed in it,” he said.

The project, called “No Exit” and detailed on the class wiki page, also included an e-mail sent to Residential Peer Leaders in Keeney. Donahue, an editorial cartoonist for The Herald, said he obtained the names of Keeney RPLs from a list posted on the ResLife website.

 The class, taught by Assistant Professor of Modern Culture and Media Studies Mark Tribe, aims to examine “surveillance as an object of cultural fascination and as a means of production in cinema, television, social software and media art,” according to its Banner listing. Donahue said Tribe “knew about the project,” but that “he didn’t approve or disapprove” when the project was proposed.

According to the forged letter, the cameras would be installed by the Department of Facilities Management “in the next few weeks” in Keeney and later this fall in Pembroke in response to complaints from students and members of Facilities Management “regarding the treatment of emergency exit signs inside Pembroke buildings and in the Keeney Quadrangle.”

The letter further states that the Corporation approved the installation at its meeting last May “as part of Brown’s continuing investment in capital projects.”

“We want to emphasize that the University does not intend to monitor the daily goings on within the Pembroke and Keeney dorms,” Donahue wrote in the letter, which is dated Sept. 28 and signed by “Residential Life.” “Footage recorded by the cameras will only be reviewed in the event of damage to University property or suspected misuse of the fire alarm system,” the letter states.

Brown’s Code of Student Conduct states that violations to the code include actions that “result in or can be reasonably expected to result in damage to property.” These offenses include, but are not limited to “assault, vandalism and throwing, hurling or firing projectiles without regard for persons or property,” according to the code.

The Department of Public Safety sent a notification to the Brown community in January 2009 stating that the department was in the process of installing 19 closed-circuit cameras in “strategic locations around campus,” including exterior paths and walkways, major streets and intersections on the main campus, but not inside residence halls.

Bova said he could not comment on whether there would be any disciplinary actions regarding the hoax letter without further knowledge of the situation.

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