Thursday, April 15, 2010
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, let me bring you up to speed. Last fall, a group of my friends (creatively entitled “Friends of Jess Zimmerman”) began a petition demanding that the Butler administration apologize to me and to the Butler community for their crazy actions associated with the True BU blog. (That petition has grown very nicely and all the people who have signed it have been completely ignored by the Butler administration. Take a look and add your signature if you haven’t yet done so. It won’t help, but it can’t hurt!)
Now, the president of the faculty senate has created her own petition to the Butler administration! It seems that the administration, with virtually no input from faculty or students, has decided to do away with the science library. Faculty and students are not happy about the decision and, because meaningful communication on the Butler campus is virtually nonexistent, the president of the faculty senate has had to resort to creating a public petition to give people a voice. The petition is growing rapidly and must be a huge embarrassment to the administration. In a little over 24 hours, the petition garnered over 500 signatures.
But beyond the obvious embarrassment, what can anyone think about Butler when the only way for the faculty senate to be heard is for its president to have to go public with a petition. And I bet most faculty will be too frightened to add their names to the petition.
All I can say is that this is yet another example of the Butler Way!
Thursday, April 8, 2010
But not all of the attention focused on Butler is good, however. FIRE ( Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), one of the country’s organizations most strongly fighting for free speech on university campuses, offered a head-to-head matchup of Butler and Duke – looking at free speech issues rather than basketball skills. Their conclusions are not pretty!
Their article ran with an interesting headline: “Butler vs. Duke: Who Wins in the Arena of Free Speech?” As they say, given the widely reported problems Duke has had with the way it trampled on the rights of falsely accused players on its lacrosse team and a major embarrassment with its Women’s Center, the contest shouldn’t be close.
But Butler’s actions, coupled with the needless and vindictive aggressiveness of its president, changed the complexion of the contest. As FIRE states, “Butler may be the underdog du jour, but it's shown that it can play with the big boys at more than just basketball.”
After presenting a good summary of my case, mostly from the original Inside Higher Education article and from an essay on Finding Dulcinea, FIRE called the contest a draw:
"Zimmerman said of the saga, "I would have hoped that we could have the trial first and the verdict second, but that isn’t the way Butler has decided to operate." The same, of course, could be said about Duke's handling of the lacrosse scandal. Neither school, then, gets away clean when it comes to respecting student rights. Whether you root for Butler or Duke tonight, know that the Latin saying caveat emptor--let the buyer beware--applies equally to them both."
Butler’s president, then, did what Butler’s fabulous basketball team was unable to do: he played Duke University completely even.
He has some important lessons to learn from Butler’s basketball program. All members of the program handled themselves quite wonderfully, spoke well of their adversaries, took credit for their own actions and looked to learn from their experiences. Butler’s president, on the other hand, continuously claimed ignorance of all actions, charged that his lawyers acted without either his knowledge or approval, and seems to have learned nothing from his brutish activities. He’s not even been willing to offer a simple apology to the campus community (let alone to me) for his actions, despite more than a thousand people calling for him to do so.
Butler has much to be proud of this spring, but, as FIRE has so clearly shown, the actions of its president and its record on freedom of speech issues don’t fall into that category. Instead, they tarnish spectacular accomplishments.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Although I didn’t have the energy or the desire to attend last Thursday’s symposium on free speech, my father did go. He reported two interesting facts to me that are worth sharing with all of you.
First, although there was virtually no discussion at all about my situation, all three of the panelists made it clear that the type of actions Butler University engaged in was entirely inappropriate. Repeatedly, the panelists described what they thought were bad things to do under situations similar to our situation and repeatedly they almost perfectly described the actions the Butler administration took.
Second, John Hargrove, president of Butler’s Board of Trustees told my father after the event that Butler has made a change in its legal representation. They are no longer represented by Ice Miller and have moved to Baker and Daniels. While I think that this is a very good move, from my perspective, Ice Miller was belligerent and unhelpful throughout, I do not believe that they were the sole source of the problem. Attorneys don’t act unilaterally!
But it appears that Butler’s president may have managed to shift all blame away from himself and to Ice Miller. It appears that he may have managed to convince the Board of Trustees of his outrageous statements that he was completely unaware of the legal actions taken in the university’s name – from filing a lawsuit against a student to demanding that a student post a $100,000 bond to insure a fair on-campus disciplinary procedure.
It’s hard to believe that competent people could believe statements of this sort, but it appears that Butler’s president has been successful in throwing his attorney’s under the bus while walking away unscathed. Amazing.
On another note, for those of you who have asked, I can be reached via Email at jess.f.zimmerman(at)gmail.com.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Many of you have noticed that I haven’t been writing much for this blog lately. Some of you have commented on that and have asked for more posts. I definitely do appreciate your interest.
My lack of posts, however, were a conscious choice I made, a choice to try and put this sordid affair behind me, to move on, to see if I could forget the incredibly defamatory statements so many in the Butler administration made about me. Although I still had a great deal to say, you’ll notice that since the middle of December I’ve only posted seven times.
Unfortunately, Butler won’t let the issue die. Just this week, a “Forum on Civic Discourse” was announced for later this month. So far so good. But Butler decided to frame the event within the context of public safety. I don’t see that as an accident. From the beginning, the president has justified his actions (when he’s bothered to say that he was aware of them rather than claiming that others acted without his knowledge) as necessary to protect the safety of various administrators and the campus in general. He raised the specter of the shootings at Virginia Tech to provide cover for his actions. In an act of unbridled paternalism and amazing hubris he claimed that the provost “was afraid, for her own safety, for her husband, for her house and property.”
In essence, he attempted to do what the Bush administration did to great effect: scare people into accepting actions that they would otherwise find completely abhorrent. There were no threats against any person or property made by anyone except by Butler’s high-priced attorney. I made a promise that I would not forget the actions of the provost. Butler’s administration opted to pretend that that was a threat and now they’re holding a forum so we can hear why campus safety is important.
The forum announcement also notes that discussion might include situations where “messages of hate” are prevalent. I doubt that this is an accident either. After all, in his first tirade to the faculty about The True BU situation, the president proclaimed “Butler does not tolerate racial and sexual epithets in the name of free exchange of ideas.” On this blog, on October 15th 2009, the day the president made that comment, I wrote the following: “Of course I agree with this statement, as I hope all of you do. The thing is, there is no hint of any such despicable language in anything I have ever written. I think that this is yet another attempt to unfairly and falsely attribute to me things that I did not say.” Since that day, I have repeatedly asked the president to point to one example in my writings of a racial or sexual epithet. He hasn’t done so because he can’t: there are NO such examples. But those facts haven’t kept him from repeating this mantra and, by doing so, continuing to defame me.
I wanted to move on but Butler apparently wants to live in the past – a past they are apparently proud of. So many of you have expressed outrage about Butler’s actions and have called for an apology, to me and to the Butler community. Butler and its president, however, don’t apologize. Instead they attack, they defame, they sue, they intimidate and they besmirch the good name of a once-proud institution.
I wanted to move on but to do so now would mean that my reputation isn’t worth anything. That’s why I’ve written this post.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Here’s a question for you to think about: What will $100,000 buy you in our legal system?
I don’t mean who can you bribe for that sum of money, and I don’t mean how much legal representation can you purchase. No, I’m interested in looking at the crimes you would have to be accused of to be saddled with a bond of $100,000.
A random look around the web at bail schedules shows the following:
In LA, you’d be required to post a bond of $100,000 for a felony that could land you in prison for 16 years.
In San Francisco, they’re much more specific. $100,000 would be required if you were accused of assaulting a government worker or car jacking.
In San Diego, you’ve got to be charged with kidnapping.
Note that most jurisdictions that have easily accessible bail schedules don’t list any infractions that have bonds approaching $100,000.
If you search for actual crimes where people had to post a $100,000, you also get some interesting results:
Earlier this month actor Rip Torn posted $100,000 in Connecticut for criminal charges including burglary, possession of a revolver without a permit and carrying a firearm while intoxicated.
Last month a Chicago area man had bail set at $100,000 after being charged with reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence.
In December a Seattle man charged with child molestation and exposing himself to a 14-year-old girl had bail set at $100,000.
Also in December a union president in New York City had bail set at $100,000 after being charged with embezzling more than $200,000 of union funds.
And just a little more than a week ago, Dr. Conrad Murray was released on a $100,000 bond after being accused of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson. Oh wait, my mistake. That was $100,000 in Singapore dollars! He was released after paying only $75,000 in US cash in Los Angeles.
So, it’s clear that $100,000 will buy you quite a bit in most places. You have to have done some pretty terrible things to warrant being required to post such a huge sum.
But, here at Butler University, the situation is very different. Here at Butler University, if you ask for a fair disciplinary procedure, one in which you’re not publicly convicted prior to the proceedings and one in which you are permitted to see the evidence against you, you’re told you have to pony up $100,000. You can read their outrageous request here.
Even more ridiculous, Butler’s president claims he knew nothing about this charge made in his name.
Which sounds right: $100,000 for kidnapping, involuntary manslaughter, embezzlement, child molestation, reckless homicide, burglary with a firearm, or car jacking in most portions of the country or $100,000 to delay your appearance before a kangaroo court at Butler University?
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Two pieces appeared in the latest edition of Butler’s student newspaper that I want to bring to your attention. The first was a news report about the settlement I reached with Butler. The second was an opinion piece written by Professor Bill Watts.
I very much hope that you read both pieces because, in very different ways, they are both amazing.
The news story addressed the fact that Butler demanded that I post a $100,000 bond to delay the disciplinary proceedings against me. Remember, I filed suit asking for a temporary restraining order against Butler because they had demonstrated that they were not prepared to undertake a fair disciplinary process. The judge agreed with me.
The newspaper story broke some absolutely astounding news: “When asked about the bond amount, Fong said he had no knowledge that the action had been taken.” The president of Butler University claimed he didn’t know that his institution had demanded that one of its students post a bond of $100,000? Can anyone actually believe this stuff?
The president has a pattern of denying any knowledge of the most important actions taken by the university in this case. As I’ve pointed out before, he also claimed he knew nothing about the decision to replace “John Doe’s” name with my name in the original lawsuit. Really? I don’t think anyone believed him last time and I doubt that anyone believes him now.
Frankly, though, I don’t know which is worse: that he is so out of touch that he doesn’t know what’s going on in the university in his own name, or that he authorized such an outrageous action and then opted to lie about it. Both options are shameful and embarrassing.
That wasn’t the only amazing piece of news in the newspaper story though. The sentence immediately following the one I just quoted in which the president denied knowing about the bond is also bizarre: “After speaking with university attorneys, Fong said in an e-mail that the bond was merely a legal formality that had to be added to the document for the restraining order to stand.”
Apparently the president is claiming that first he heard of the bond demand was from the reporter, about two months after it was filed with the court, and, upon hearing about it, he immediately contacted the university attorneys (again, note the use of the plural – the university is certainly willing to spare no expense to attack their undergraduates) to ask about it. His response, as reported, is also beyond belief: “the bond was merely a legal formality that had to be added to the document for the restraining order to stand.”
As I’ve done with so many of the president’s earlier statements (see my posts on Oct. 15, Oct. 19, and Oct 27, for example), let me explain the absurdity in what he has said. First, as I noted on Feb. 12, the request for a temporary restraining order that my attorney filed had a place for the judge to fill in the amount of money to be posted as a bond. The judge, as is his legal right, opted not to require any bond at all, for the simple reason that postponing a kangaroo court was not going to cost Butler University any money.
Second, if you read the document submitted to the court in response to my request for a temporary restraining order (a document, by the way, submitted in the president’s name, even though he claims not to have been aware of the most important point in it), you’ll see that the last thing the university wanted to do was to have the restraining order stand; indeed the title of that document begins by calling itself an “Emergency Motion to Dissolve Restraining Order.” Nonetheless, what the president is claiming, is that their demand for me to post a bond of $100,000 was actually their way of doing me a favor. After all, according to his statement, had they not asked for the bond in that amount, my request for a temporary restraining order would have been thrown out and I would have been forced to participate in their kangaroo court.
If you’re as confused by the president’s rhetorical gymnastics as I am, I can’t say I’m surprised. As has been his pattern in every aspect of this case, he refuses to take any responsibility for any action, he refuses to acknowledge any possible errors or misjudgments, and he weaves stories that make absolutely no sense in the belief that people will simply accept them because he is, after all, the president.
This is all simply ridiculous.
As I said above, there were two pieces in the student newspaper about my case. The second was an opinion piece written by Professor Watts. As he has done throughout, Professor Watts asks probing questions in his attempt to hold the university responsible for its actions. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of his efforts on a campus where faculty are so afraid of what the president will do to them if they disagree with him, that they have to take confession with a priest to get their opinions to the public.
While I recommend his entire article to you, I want to focus on one part because he perfectly captured one of the things that has been bothering me. He noted that “a high university official” explained the “aggressive campaign” against me because that administrator believed that my father was ultimately the force behind The TruBU. Professor Watts went on to say that this is “just another way in which the university has denied Jess his autonomy and personhood.”
The Butler administration seems to have such a low regard for Butler students that no administrator could believe that a student could possibly be responsible for bringing to light all that The True BU brought to light. They simply dismissed my competence and, by extension, the competence of all of my fellow students. Not surprisingly, I have felt incredibly demeaned by their position. Beyond that, why would these people want to be in charge of a university that, in their minds, enrolls such pliable students who are incapable of acting on their own? And why would the University want administrators who clearly hold their students in such low regard?
Let me, again, say as clearly as I can: the information in The True BU came from faculty and staff members who were willing to provide information to me anonymously because they were too scared of administrative retaliation to speak openly. And let me make it clear that my father did not know that I was Soodo Nym.
Let me conclude today by asking why was “a high university official” discussing such incredible things with a faculty member? Isn’t this simply yet another way of defaming another member of my family, something that “high university officials” have felt comfortable doing regularly?
To be completely honest, I think it's about time the University got new "high university officials."
Friday, February 12, 2010
In the first two parts of this post, I pointed all of you to public documents available to any and all, that summarized the struggle I was having with the Butler administration. In the first two parts of this post, because of Butler’s incessant and unfair demand for secrecy, I told you nothing more than what was present in those public documents.
Now, in part three, I will bring this part of the story to a conclusion, but, unfortunately, I will do so in a way that is particularly unsatisfying, at least to me. The overall outcome is certainly not unsatisfying, at least to me, in that Butler and I reached an agreement. But what makes it less than fully satisfying is that I can’t tell you any of the details. As before, I am limited to being able to point you to publicly available documents.
Let me recap briefly. As you can see from my request for a restraining order against Butler, I was forced to go to court to ask that any internal disciplinary procedure be put on hold until the university could guarantee that it the procedure would be handled fairly. Butler’s attorneys responded by ignoring the substance of what my request was all about, instead opting to demand that I put up a bond of $100,000. They claimed that this was the amount of money Butler would lose if they could not discipline me in a secret hearing on campus. Ridiculous! My lawyer replied by further explaining the inappropriate actions Butler administrators had undertaken.
The resolution, except for the secrecy, was a wonderful one for me – and perhaps Butler administrators feel similarly. Upon reaching an agreement with Butler I immediately sent in applications to law schools. And, as I said, within days of filing my applications, I was admitted to one of my top choices.
There are three points that I want to make about all of this. First, my experience has convinced me that it is possible to fight abuses of power – and to win. In my mind, I clearly won, but as I’ll note in my second point, I didn’t win everything. I won not only because I was right; I won because I was able to generate a huge amount of support from people around campus and around the world who saw an injustice and were willing to support me. That support came in many forms, some public and lots private, and all of it was incredibly important to me.
Second, although I believe I was able to win, I feel I lost a great deal in the process. Butler administrators from the president on down, on a regular basis, on campus and off, in public and in private, defamed me. They regularly said that I was guilty of actions they couldn’t prove and actions they knew they had no evidence to link to me. They used innuendo to accuse me of making racially and sexually intolerant statements. They used those same tactics to accuse me of threatening violent acts. And they abused their positions of power by telling anyone who would listen that they knew things about me they couldn’t share – things that were really terrible. The reality is, however, that none of those things ever existed, but it didn’t keep unscrupulous people from implying that they did in their misguided attempt to further their own ambitions.
Third, even though my victory is very real for me, it has to be an incredibly hollow one for the Butler community and for the broader community composed of people who care about civil rights. I believe that it's clear that Butler administrators abused their power and the university’s financial resources in their attempt to stifle criticism. Members of those communities have demanded an apology from Butler’s administrators for their unconscionable actions, but none has been forthcoming. The same administrators who did all of this are hoping that their veil of secrecy will protect them. If we, you and I, let them refuse to take responsibility for their actions, they will never apologize, and they will likely abuse others in the future. I hope you do at least two things to help prevent this from happening. I hope those of you who have not yet signed the petition asking for an apology sign it now. And I hope that some of you begin asking the Butler administration just how much money they spent in legal fees in their persecution of me. At a time when Butler is cutting budgets related to teaching, if not related to the provost’s remodeling schemes, don’t you think that this money could have been more profitably spent?
Again, I want to thank you for your support.