Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Chorus, Part Two

As I said yesterday, I want to share some more of the editorial comments that have appeared in college and university newspapers around the country. I’m very pleased that all of these places have recognized the importance of standing up for free speech whenever and wherever it is attacked. Butler happens to be the site of this attack, and I happen to be the recipient of that attack, but as so many editors from around the country recognize, it could happen elsewhere if people don’t protest.

Here’s a sampling of what’s been written:

From The Daily Texan at the University of Texas Austin (11/04/09): The piece, written by a member of the paper’s editorial board and entitled “Viewpoint: Gagging the Bloggers,” says “The school had no case to fall back on, no proof of libel or damage that Zimmerman’s comments may have caused. Instead, officials resorted to a questionable standard.” The column goes on to say, “Despite a win on the legal side, Zimmerman now has to face a much more questionable and judicially suspect form of trial — campus disciplinary proceedings.” The column concludes very powerfully by arguing:

While free speech and press are not guaranteed on private campuses, we applaud Zimmerman’s use of off-campus press to spread news of the administration’s tyrannical response to critical speech — likely curbing similar oppression of speech at other private institutions.

Officials at Butler are bullying students, which makes the school look terrible, but the truly frightening aspect of their actions is the message they are sending and the precedent they are setting for other private institutions around the country. If they punish Zimmerman, it will be out of childish anger and folly, not out of respect for the institution.

Butler University’s administration has already managed to embarrass the university and taint its professional image on a national level far beyond anything a mere blog could do.

We hope that Butler, and universities around the country, learn that in a nation of free thinkers and speakers, sometimes the best way to ensure a message is spread is to try to oppress it.

From the Indiana Daily Student at Indiana University (11/01/09): An editorial entitled “Bulldog bullies” takes Butler’s administration to task:

While the lawsuit has been dropped, possibly because of public backlash to the idea of a university suing one of its own students, campus disciplinary proceedings continue.

As students, we should be outraged. While it is repetitive to reiterate the merits and even the necessity of free speech, especially in a supposedly open and intellectually fostering environment such as a college campus, students should be supported by their university in all forms of “inquiry” and “interactive dialogue” – even the kind that is critical of the university administration.

Students should be able to speak out against their university without fear of legal action or the help of the ACLU, which agreed to take Zimmerman’s case to court.

Butler has become the first university in the United States to file a lawsuit against online speech. While the legal case has now been dropped, it nevertheless sets an alarming precedent – one that we, as students, have a duty to protest.

The editorial goes on to conclude:

Butler University’s mission statement, as found on its Web site, reads as follows:
“Butler’s mission is to provide the highest quality of liberal and professional education and to integrate the liberal arts with professional education, by creating and fostering a stimulating intellectual community built upon interactive dialogue and inquiry among students, faculty and staff.”

For our technology-based generation, “inquiry” and “interactive dialogue” have taken on new forms, such as blogs, but remain the essential foundation of a liberal education and rightfully belong in a university’s mission statement.

While Butler University has given lip service to the ideas, in practice they are attempting to silence those students at their own institution who practice “inquiry” and “dialogue” under the charges of libel, defamation and harassment.

Butler is wrong to use its scarce resources to attempt to intimidate one of its own students into silence. Zimmerman did not libel but rather expressed critical opinions. His blog was a valuable outlet for dissent, conversation and, most importantly, “interactive dialogue and inquiry among students, faculty and staff.”

From The State News at Michigan State University (10/28/09): The paper’s editorial entitled “Student blogger lawsuit sends dangerous message” Butler is harshly taken to task for its actions:

It seems obvious to us the administration’s goal simply was to silence the unidentified writer from crafting a bad image of Butler.

Zimmerman said the blog was a forum — a place for discussion. Like most blogs, these so-called libelous statements seemed to be opinions, not presented as factual statements. Therefore, they wouldn’t seem to fit the definition libel. It doesn’t help Butler’s case that a dean of a university most likely could be deemed a public figure in court, and thus open to greater scrutiny than a normal person.

What is most appalling is that a university is suppressing a student’s right to free speech. In no way is it OK for an administration to sue its own student for expressing a valid opinion. This lawsuit simply undercuts the public’s ability to have honest exchanges of viewpoints.

Will this lawsuit deter students from expressing any contrary opinion on a university’s campus? How is what Zimmerman did any different from a student blowing off some steam in a Facebook status except for the amount of people who viewed it? Many of us have criticized a professor or class utilizing Twitter as well.

Good thing MSU doesn’t file a complaint for every bad economics exam we discuss.

If Butler was afraid of bad public relations because of this blog, it really turned the tables on itself. This story now is on a national level, amplifying originally what it tried to contain.

Butler’s administration appears to have acted recklessly. It suppressed a student’s thoughts at the interest of a valued reputation. This probably isn’t the first case of criticism that has surfaced at a university. Butler should develop a thicker skin and realize universities across the country are criticized every day — through many different mediums. It shouldn’t sue a student based off his or her opinion.

The editorial concludes by noting “Sorry Butler, suing your students doesn’t shush harsh statements. If anything, it just makes them more deafening.”

Although I’m not going to quote from them, you might also want to check out the editorials in The Candor at Benedictine University (11/10/09) and The Stylus at the State University of New York at Brockport (11/11/09).


  1. I might have missed this in one of your many long winded posts, but if your dad works at Butler doesn't it mean that you go there for free? I know a few people who work at universities and their spouses and children go to that school for free. In fact, I looked into it and Butler has nearly 300 schools on their tuition exchange program. Which means you could go to any of those schools for free as well. If that is the case, then why don't you go to another school. After all, you talk about this injustice done to you. I figure you would rather be some place else.

    Just one more thing: If you do go to school for FREE, be thankful not entitled.

  2. Why should Jess have to leave a school he's been attending for several years because of the injustice he has exposed? What kind of thinking is this? We should all leave a place rather than speak out and try to change it. You need to revisit your American history classes and hone your critical thinking skills.

    Just one more thing: college professors are so underpaid in relation to their level of education and hours devoted to students, subject matter, and issues such as faculty governance, that institutions of higher learning give them family tuition as a bit of payback for their lack of high salaries. It doesn't buy their silence.

  3. Yes, I agree. Jess should be thankful that Butler has been prosecuting him for almost a year based on a blog post he wrote. He should lower his trousers under Big Daddy Fong's magnanimous gaze and beg to be spanked like the bad boy he's been.

  4. When someone is praised and worshipped for years (as many university administrators are) I honestly believe that after a while, they sincerely cannot bring themselves to believe that ANY THING they do could possibly be wrong: It is ALWAYS the other person or persons.

    Just ask Gov Sanford of South Carolina relating to the South American mistress. His wife testified to this effect, saying that political leaders are so used to everyone sucking up and trying to please them that, over time, they actually lose touch with reality and truly delude themselves into thinking that as the power authorities, they are incapable of wrongdoing.

    The unfortunate outcome of this pathological conduct as relates to this situation is that such leaders are willing to destroy the integrity and reputation of the institution as they continue in their self-serving denial. And while their irresponsibility is the culprit, they will blame a student to the very last, attempting to make the student the villain. Do not expect them to flinch: They have apparently decided that the only way for them to come out of this personally and professionally is to discredit the student.
    Very juvenile. Very unprofessional. Very sad.