Saturday, October 31, 2009

More Voices

The following letter is one of many that have been sent to me, the board of trustees, and the president. The writer has ties both to academia in a broad sense and to Virginia Tech and he offers a sincere plea to the administration and the board to act for the greater good of our community. I welcome your thoughts on what he has to say.

October 31st, 2009
Centreville, Virginia

John Hargrove,
President, Butler Board of Trustees

Dear Dr. Hargrove,

I am writing to you concerning the continuing embarrassment to Butler University that is “Zimmerman-Gate”. Unlike some commentators, I have taken the time to read all of Jess Zimmerman’s relevant blog entries, and what struck me most was their relative civility and restraint in comparison to much of the sometimes vulgar and incendiary comments that one sees on the Internet. Certainly, there are some sharp words here or there, but is the Administration of Butler University really so thin-skinned that a few critical remarks warrant such a massive over-reaction?

I have read that a particular concern is the fact that Jess’s remarks were published anonymously. While there are pros and cons to this approach, there is a proud tradition of anonymous public commentary dating back to the American Revolution. For example, Sam Adams wrote under the pseudonym “Determinatus”, and Thomas Paine wrote as "Humanus," "Vox Populi," "Aesop," and "Atlanticus."

You may think it a stretch to link Jess Zimmerman’s blog posts to the impassioned essays of our Founding Fathers, but Dr. Fong’s linking of Jess’s remarks to the shootings at Virginia Tech is far greater hyperbole. As a resident of the Virginia Tech shooter’s home town and one with two nephews who recently graduated from that excellent institution, I must protest that those ill-considered remarks trivialize the tragedy of that mass murder in a way that is deeply offensive. In the battle of analogies, let me offer this: Butler University’s attempt to suppress dissent brings to mind Liberty University’s recent banning of the campus Democratic Party Club. Do you really want Butler University and Liberty University mentioned in the same breath?

You may think that the adverse publicity generated by this fiasco will soon subside, but ongoing publicity like this latest column in The Huffington Post ( and this recent video satire ( indicate otherwise. Butler’s heavy-handed approach, including a very dubious civil suit, break new ground and serve as a case study that will likely be studied for some time.

There is only one honorable way out of this morass. Butler University should rescind all of the adverse actions it has taken against Jess Zimmerman and offer a profound and public apology to Jess and his family.

Dick Lessard

Cc: Butler University Board of Trustees
The Butler Collegian

1 comment:

  1. What are the Trustees doing about all of this? Having a super-secret meeting on-campus to draft a vague letter showing support for Levester Johnson and the on-campus judicial proceedings against Jess--is that it? Don't they have a fiduciary duty to do what is in the best interests of the school--which would, obviously, include ending the careers of two rogue administrators who have permanently marred Butler's academic reputation?

    I don't care how much money Bobby Fong has raised. If the Trustees don't act and end all of this by stopping on-campus proceedings against Jess, apologizing to him, and appropriately punishing the administrators that pursued this lawsuit and defended it, they might as well just give me and several other alumni an address where we can send our degrees back. Bobby Fong might have raised $150 million; pretty soon, my degree won't be worth the paper it's printed on.