Wednesday, November 11, 2009

If I had said...

Yesterday I wrote about the irony of the Butler administration regularly attacking me for being critical of them – and doing so without being able to present any evidence of their charges. Today I want to write about a related irony. Although the Butler administration regularly claims that I engaged in “defamation, threats, harassment, and intimidation,” they can find nothing to point to to support their claims. Indeed, the spoof by Amanda Congdon ridicules the language they used in their lawsuit. Imagine what the administration would have done had I described their actions by using just some of the following descriptions – descriptions that far exceed anything I wrote:

inappropriate and just plain foolish, pathetic and wholly inappropriate, absolutely shameful, juvenile, immoral, unethical, and hopefully illegal response, unconscionable and petty, Butler University is the new McCarthy, juvenile vindictiveness, outrageous display of abuse of power, unproductive, un-Christlike, and even illegal, most disgraceful example of administrative Fascism, terrible abuse of power

In fact, though, every one of these words have been used to describe the administration and their actions, but not by me. Rather they were written by alums, by faculty members and by members of the clergy. Every one of these words can be found on the petition asking Butler to apologize for its actions. And just in case you might think that the words read worse out of context than in context, here are the statements from which they came:

From a faculty member: “These actions are beyond my comprehension—inappropriate and just plain foolish.”

From a clergy member: “This legal action is pathetic and wholly inappropriate.”

From a faculty member: “This is shameful. Absolutely shameful.”

From a clergy member: “Dr. Fong and the Board of Trustees of Butler University: As one whose academic career includes both teaching and administration at universities and seminaries, I am both shocked and outraged that Butler University has engaged in such a juvenile, immoral, unethical, and hopefully illegal response to a blog by Jess Zimmerman critical of Butler University. After eight years of the Bush Administration’s attempt to subvert the Constitution in any way it could including the freedom of speech on college campuses, for Butler University to do so of its own volition is both unconscionable and petty. There are no sacred cows where the First Amendment is concerned and that includes Butler University. This entire affair smacks of a degree of immaturity and malfeasance on the part of President Fong and the Board of trustees that is startling in its magnitude. Drop the lawsuit against Jess Zimmerman. It is a gross abuse of power intended to intimidate Mr. Zimmerman from exercising his First Amendment right of free speech as well as to threaten his status a student. I well remember the reign of terror Senator Joseph McCarthy imposed on America during the late 1940s and early 1950s. From the documents regarding the entire Zimmerman affair that I have read, Butler University is the new McCarthy.”

From an alum: “Until the Board of Trustees reins in the juvenile vindictiveness of the current administration, Butler has seen the last of my donations.”

From a clergy member: “As a graduate of an Indiana College (Hanover) and former resident of Indianapolis, I am dismayed at this outrageous display of abuse of power so contrary to the goals of higher education.”

From a clergy member: “It is sad that so many otherwise sane and gracious people can be so insecure in their organizational of theological "orthodoxy" that they resort to unproductive, un-Christlike, and even illegal ways to hide those insecurities from the public.”

From a faculty member: “This is the most disgraceful example of administrative Fascism that I have ever seen. As a Prof. Emerita, I have been proud of being associated with higher education for my career, but this suit and treatment of a student by Butler University shames all of us. What is happening to academic freedom.”

From a faculty member: “I recently retired from college teaching and have never heard of such a terrible abuse of power by any college or university.”

Recall how the administration attempted to turn my promise that students would not forget, over the long semester break, what the administration did at the end of the fall semester into a threat that warranted a law suit. Compare my promise [“I know you wanted me (and all students) to forget over the holiday, but I assure you that I have not.”], with what some others have written on the petition and imagine what the administration would have said had I written any of these things:

“A university, any university, is a symbol of learning and inquiry. To work against free speech is to work against that which a university, any university, stands for. The administration may not like the light in which it stands at the moment but that is the nature of freedom. Those who seek to hide in the darkness will die in the light.”

“This action must help repair more than just the name of Butler University, it must repair and reverse the oppressive and power mongering attitude of leaders and decision makers of Butler University. This is a Goliath action and behavior. Remember Goliath was killed by the shepherd boy David and a few stones. Before Goliath types are slain in the courts, and the hearts and minds of all people who desire doing what is right, just and fair, consider these two simple steps to bring about peace and reconcilation. Use your wisdom, not intellection power and legalism, to do what is right.”

“Bobby Fong needs to go!!!”

Yes, these statements are far more extreme than anything I wrote, and yet, like my writings, they too are not threats. Rather, they’re using language creatively to make points – points that can be distorted when taken out of context. That’s exactly what the administration did with my writing in their lawsuit, what they’re doing in their disciplinary proceedings and what they’re doing when they attack me in the notes they send out to everyone who complains about their actions.

It’s a shame that Butler administrators have been unable to understand the importance of reading language in context and the importance of allowing opinions to be expressed.

For all I know, they may be taking action against all of the people I quoted here. After all, if they really believe that what I did was wrong, these people really must have crossed the line.

If you haven't yet signed the petition to Butler administrators asking for apologies for their actions, please do so now - it only takes a second. And, while you're there, think about writing a comment of your own: freedom of expression is a wonderful thing!

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