Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A "Measly" Student Blog

Since I’ve been gone, a few more newspapers from around the country have picked up this troubling story. I’ve linked to them on the right. Two of these new pieces comes from Minnesota State’s Reporter, which ran both a news story about this situation and an editorial criticizing the Butler administration’s actions with respect to The True BU. In their news story, the Reporter quotes a professor who teaches Mass Communications Law. Here’s that part of the story.

“Ellen Mrja, an associate professor in the mass communications department at Minnesota State, does not agree with Butler's actions in the matter.

"’This was over-reaction on the part of the administrators that makes them look weak, not strong,’ Mrja said. Mrja teaches a class in Mass Communications Law. ‘You can not stop someone from speaking their truth.’"

Unfortunately, I feel that I must disagree with Professor Mrja just a drop. In fact, Butler did stop me “from speaking the truth,” at least for a while. After being threatened and intimidated by Butler’s attorneys I closed The True BU and removed it from the internet. But, from the bigger perspective, the professor is absolutely correct. Because of Butler’s heavy handed administrative actions, many, many more people have now read The True BU than had ever before and people all over the world are now upset about how Butler deals with free speech.

As Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and host of the nationally syndicated talk show Culture Shocks, said on the air with me, “how many people outside of the Butler community even saw this blog? But for Butler University’s filing of a lawsuit, this would have been a footnote to history, the history of a university many people know nothing about.”

Let me go back to the editorial at Minnesota State University since it does such a good job of explaining why Butler’s actions are important – and dangerous. Here are parts of the long editorial:

“The lawsuit against Jess Zimmerman of Butler University could happen anywhere. Clearly an attempt to censor online speech, it could have also impact students' rights to speak freely everywhere.”

“The blog barely got any hits initially; it wasn't until Butler administrators spoke against it that more people were popping on the site to check out the controversy. So the school actually drew more attention to the criticism by attacking it.”

“They are trying to silence this blogger's voice and the message it sends seriously threatens free speech. Zimmerman could face major repercussions on-campus for speaking his mind, a problematic blow to the freedoms U.S. citizens have been granted.”

“The student was simply being critical of the ethics and morality of a situation. His opinion didn't defame the university; it called out university officials on alleged wrongdoing, a shining example of the importance and need for the First Amendment.”

“Butler's efforts to chill free speech online - the communication hub of the world - are the real problems facing their university.”

“It seems that while Butler attempted to contain its opposition using Zimmerman as an example, it tampered its image on a national level, much more damage than a measly student blog could create.”

Even though they characterize The True BU as “a measly student blog,” I couldn’t agree more.

I find it fascinating that students and faculty members from around the country have consistently come to a conclusion so much at odds with the extreme position the Butler administration has taken. You’d think that that should give Butler’s administration something to think about.


  1. I am certain the administration never in their wildest dreams imagined that the "ships would hit the sand" to this extent; they truly have a tiger by the tail and do not dare let go. They have painted themselves into a corner and the paint is in no hurry to dry.

    They cannot back down now without losing face. The only honorable thing to do at this point would be for every administrator involved to tener his resignation to the Board of Trustees.

  2. I would agree; however I believe all the semior managament needs to go. Butler University needs new administrators who are much more student minded. Unfortunately, they have allowed a wonderful university to experience bad press because of thier fear of the university president. It is thier job to look after the reputation of the institution, and more importantly the student body.

  3. Where are the trustees during this debacle? If Butler is like most universities I know well, the president serves at the pleasure of the board. Are we to assume that the trustees are pleased with the indignities that the university for which they are "caretakers" has received and continues to receive?

    Resignations may ultimately be part of the solution, but a good first step would be a full public apology for what has happened to Jess and, I think, his family. I don't know his father or step-mother, but I know people who do. It seems to me that one or more administrators is threatened by competent, well-liked administrators at the college, school, and department level. In reality, the presence of these two people made the university look better.

    'Tis sad that Butler has been subjected to this. Keep the pressure on, Jess.

  4. What's with Board Chair John Hargrove? According to the website at Hargrove, Pierson and Brown, Boca Raton, he's supposed to be a specialist in, among other things, First Ammendment law.