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YSU Official:No porn found in probe



Published: Fri, April 4, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



John Habat has been exonerated of any wrongdoing.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- One person at Youngstown State University had direct knowledge of the contents of a university-owned computer used by John Habat.

The sole incident of that person's viewing an icon on the computer desktop sparked an investigation that lasted nearly six weeks and cost the university $2,000 in expert fees.

That is the finding of a committee formed to investigate allegations that Habat, vice president for administration, violated YSU's computer use policy by accessing porn on the laptop computer.

In the report, Habat is exonerated of wrongdoing.

Ron Krauss, a YSU electronic technician and the one person who saw the icon, handled Habat's computer when its display malfunctioned, university documents show. He said he never saw anything of a pornographic nature.

Krauss said he went to a faculty member seeking guidance on how he should proceed if he finds questionable items on a university computer.

"What I saw ... was blown way out of proportion. I never used the word pornography," Krauss said. He said he also never identified Habat.

Chain of command

After communication between Krauss and Dr. Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, a philosophy and religious studies professor, the professor contacted YSU President David C. Sweet via e-mail.

Palmer-Fernandez, director of YSU's Dr. James Dale Ethics Center, has said he was approached by three people, staff and students, who were concerned that there might be pornography on Habat's computer.

The extent of the concern, he has said, prompted him to relay the information to Sweet. Sweet, in turn, formed the committee to investigate.

On release of the report Thursday, Habat issued a statement: "When we treat people as targets rather than as human beings, we need to look inside our souls to see what is motivating us."

Palmer-Fernandez declined to comment, saying his lawyer advised against it. In a memo to the committee, dated March 17, he said he was hesitant to provide testimony because he was concerned about "possible retaliation from the administration."

"Based on all the facts known to me, Dr. Palmer-Fernandez acted in an entirely professional manner," said Dr. Thomas Shipka, chairman of the philosophy and religious studies department.

"He simply transmitted a report by another university employee to the president and provost with the suggestion that they investigate the matter."

Shipka said a new professional conduct policy should be ready for review by the president and board of trustees within the next month. It provides a means for faculty to handle allegations of ethical wrongdoing.

"If the Habat investigation shows anything," Shipka said, it shows the need for quick action on the policy.

The two people who complained never surfaced, said Dr. James Morrison, professor and chairman of the psychology department who chaired the three-member investigatory panel.

What happened

Habat had left the laptop at his Cleveland-area home, where his family used it, Morrison said.

Morrison said the committee hired a computer forensic expert to review the contents of the laptop hard drive.

The icon in question appeared on the desktop after the use of AOL and Juno Internet accounts by a minor in the household, according to the report.

The hard drive contained "trojans" and a "worm" that can cause items to appear in a computer system unbeknownst to Internet users, according to the expert's report.

The family member acknowledged the Internet use to a committee member.

The icon is a link to advertisements for various pay-per-view Web sites that most people would guess are pornographic, Morrison said.

"Anyone that does a search and hits the wrong thing can come up with these things," Morrison said. "These sites were never accessed."

Habat was not aware of the icon, Morrison said, because he had not used the laptop for a while.

Morrison and the committee have recommended that Sweet review university computer-use policy.

The policy allows personal use of computers if it does not interfere with university business. It does not refer to use by family members.

Habat declined to comment further. He has not been reprimanded. Sweet will discuss the matter with him and go from there, said Walt Ulbricht, YSU's executive director of marketing and communications.




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