Saturday, August 6, 2011

Exactly what federal crime is involved here?

My netfriend Jack Marshall has found another story about teachers behaving badly. This time it’s a guy named Paul Gust, a computer teacher in Saugatuck, Michigan, who was fired for a variety of offenses. According to The Smoking Gun, he:
...was caught with explicit images on his machine when he opened a presentation he was preparing in November for the school board in front of another staff member and “a nude female’s pubic region with her legs spread apart” was projected on a screen….

...the MacBook was used to search “for Miley Cyrus’s age and then for a picture of her braless.” At the time of the search the pop singer had not yet turned 18.

[A private forensics company] also recovered at least seventy images—eighteen of those were identified by an expert as being of underage children. [Does anyone else think this “expert” is almost by definition a charlatan?]
The Allegan County News enumerates the charges:
Possessing, searching for, downloading and viewing pornography on a computer assigned to him and in his control;

Bringing pornography onto school grounds and/or accessing or viewing pornography on school grounds;

Displaying pornography in the presence of a school employee and her child, a district student, although the student does not appear to have viewed the pornography.

Using the district e-mail system to receive promotional material related to sex toys;

Sending and receiving and/or storing sexually explicit e-mails; and

Violating the district's Acceptable Use Policy.
The County News’s Tim Keith also reports that :
The ruling notes that the computer, as district property, was subject to transfer to another teacher or student at any time.

It also notes that Gust’s actions constituted a violation of the school's acceptable use policy that Gust, as technology director, had written.

Also discovered in the investigation were sexually-explicit e-mails including one in which Gust discusses sexual fantasies involving underage teenagers.
Gust’s defense is basically that his violations of policy were accidental. This can happen: most of us have uploaded the wrong file, grabbed the wrong CD, caused embarrassment by sending an e-mail to the wrong address, and so on. But Gust’s infractions seem sufficient in both quantitative and qualitative terms that they bespeak at least an unprofessional recklessness if not intentionality. OK, so, unlike the equally creepy guy at UTSA, he should have been fired. He appears to have pretty clearly and pretty egregiously violated an actual school policy.

I agree completely with Jack Marshall’s analysis, as far as it goes: firing Gust was the right call, but that doesn’t legitimize the entirety of Judge James Ward’s ruling. Collecting photos of (apparently fully clothed) underage girls or searching for pictures of a braless (N.B., not topless) under-aged Miley Cyrus may be a little distasteful, but to suggest it is somehow connected to a firing offense is absurd; as Marshall points out, condemning someone for eight-year-old e-mails about sexual fantasies constitutes pursuing “thought-crime.”

There’s a technical term for male teachers who never, ever, even fleetingly, fantasize about their female students: gay. But the overwhelming majority of them succeed, without much trouble, in suppressing any inclination to act on these thoughts or to do anything whatsoever to jeopardize the trust and respect required for their work with students. The school district has seen fit to publicize these irrelevant details as if they were salacious, as if they had anything to do with Mr. Gust’s ability to do his job appropriately. And they might, now: now that the unprofessional idiots at the school board have defamed him, that is. Mr. Gust doesn’t belong in the classroom in Saugatuck. But neither does any other teacher who doesn’t want to be subject to the whim of a gaggle of puritanical cretins.

But there’s one more aspect to this case that no one I’ve seen has covered: What the hell was the FBI doing in this business? After 9/11, their mission was re-defined to concentrate on anti-terrorism efforts. I guess that problem has been solved now, huh? Likewise illegal immigration, drugs, organized crime, gangs, armed paramilitaries, soldiers who intend to shoot up army bases, vote fraud and vote suppression, securities fraud… Hell, jaywalking is at least illegal. That would make investigating it a more legitimate use of the agency’s time than this.

Really, as the country agonizes over what cuts in government spending must be made in order to restore fiscal stability—and perhaps to improve the credit rating downgraded yesterday by Standard and Poor’s—we’re not even a little bit concerned that the FBI’s resources are being employed in an internal personnel matter at some school in Michigan? I see no evidence of any crime whatsoever—no conspiracy, no molestation, no child pornography—just a violation of school policy. Indeed, I see no evidence that there even might have been evidence of a crime.

On what grounds were the FBI called in, and what district Bureau executive decided this case was worthy of his/her office’s time, effort, and—by extension—budget? Either there’s more to the case against Gust than we’re hearing about (unlikely, but possible) or there are some serious imbeciles in positions of power in the hierarchies of both the Saugatuck school system and the local FBI office.

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