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

Friday, October 30, 2009


If it weren’t so sad, and if it didn’t have the potential to really negatively impact my life, the action of Butler’s public relations department would be incredibly funny. Apparently, when people write to the president or to a member of the Board of Trustees at Butler questioning their actions in The True BU fiasco, a form letter is immediately dispatched. That form letter, according to my attorney, is a textbook case of defamation.

Marcia Dowell, executive director of university relations, is comfortable making the following statement: “Please know that in the fall of 2008, an internet web blog – True BU - published communications that included defamation, threats, harassment, and intimidation, directly harming the honesty, integrity, and professional reputation of Butler University and several of its administrators.”

I challenge anyone to find anything I wrote in The True BU that could even be remotely construed as a threat. Indeed, when raising the specter of a threat, the only words the president keeps citing come from a fragment of a sentence which he acknowledges he has no evidence I wrote. And I keep assuring everyone that I didn’t write it.

But Butler University is apparently comfortable telling everyone that my blog made threats. And they’re comfortable saying that my words harmed the reputation of Butler University and several of its administrators. As Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, noted on his radio show on Wednesday, there’s certainly no evidence that anyone was harmed by what I had to say in The True BU. Did I make them uncomfortable by bringing their actions to the public? Did it annoy them that I demonstrated the repeated inconsistencies with what the administration said and what they did? Absolutely – but all of that falls well within the bounds of acceptable speech. My blog was not defamatory: They couldn’t prove it in court, and now they’re trying to tell anyone who asks about it that it was. As I said, every lawyer I have asked has been certain that the only defamation in this entire ordeal is what Butler is saying about me.

Even this afternoon, the chair of the board of trustees issued a statement about the case in which he said that "The Trustees also reaffirm Butler’s pledge to provide for the safety and welfare of its students, administration, faculty and staff." What do my concerns about administrative abuses of power have to do with the safety and welfare of anyone on campus? Why does everyone associated with the Butler administration want to turn every criticism into a physical threat? Could it be that they have no credible response to the criticism itself?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Faculty Confirm The True BU, 'Culture of Fear'

The powerful, and terribly sad, statement below speaks for itself – I don’t think I need to add any of my own comments other than one sentence of explanation. As Reverend Allen notes, he delivered the statement to the Butler administration; they’ve opted not to respond and thus I’m making it public at this time. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Over ten faculty members in the School of Music have indicated to me that they endorse the appended statement. Because they fear retaliation if they come forward as individuals, they are unwilling to sign the statement. I have agreed to certify that these people are, in fact, faculty members in the School of Music. I have further agreed, in accordance with my solemn vows as a priest, to keep their identities absolutely confidential. And I have agreed to deliver this to appropriate members of Butler’s administration. That is all I have agreed to do at this point.

I cannot verify that this fear of retaliation is accurate, only that the fear exists. That in itself concerns me. And I cannot verify the contents of the statement, only that I have spoken to faculty members who endorse it and can report that they did so without hesitation.

Since the statement is not my property, I cannot guarantee that it will not become public. That, I’m told, depends on whether or not this new information helps to defuse some of the public controversy around Jess Zimmerman. I hope it does.

I believe this is crucial information about one of several aspects to the controversy surrounding TruBU. It is equally crucial to know that there are faculty members who fear speaking publicly about events as they observed them. That is what finally moved me to act on their behalf.

I hope I am also acting for the good of everyone in the Butler community, especially those who are most vulnerable, but also members of the administration, whom I esteem highly as well. I am hoping that the appended statement will help people on all sides do a better job of sorting truth from falsehood. And I will keep everyone, on all sides, in my prayers.

The Rev. Dr. Charles W. Allen
Grace Unlimited
Indianapolis Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry
Indianapolis, IN

Here is the statement:

We are a collection of faculty members in the School of Music at Butler University and as such we affirm the following:

Some or all of us provided The TruBU, via e-mail contact with Soodo Nym, the documents related to Andrea Gullickson’s departure as chair of the School of Music;

Some or all of us provided The TruBU, via e-mail contact with Soodo Nym, with our impressions of various meetings that took place related to Andrea Gullickson’s departure as chair of the School of Music;

The characterizations of people and events presented in The TruBU are consistent with our understandings and interpretations;

The information that appeared in The TruBU that we shared with Soodo Nym was presented in a manner that was a fair reflection of what we said and believed;

All of us did not know who Soodo Nym was at the time we interacted with Soodo Nym; and

Some of us had conversations with Jess Zimmerman around the time of Andrea Gullickson’s departure as chair of the School of Music but none of us knew that Jess Zimmerman was Soodo Nym.

Furthermore, all or some of us opted to share information with Soodo Nym because we believed that an injustice was being committed at Butler University and that it was important for others to learn of that injustice. Because we were worried about retaliation, we did not have a faculty outlet for this information. When Soodo Nym came to some or all of us, via e-mail, to ask for information and documentation of actions, some or all of us willingly responded in the hopes that the injustice would be corrected.

Finally, although we still feel it necessary to remain anonymous, we are troubled that Jess Zimmerman risks university sanctions for fairly and accurately publishing the information, impressions and quotations we provided him. TruBU was a medium for faculty to share concerns without the fear of retaliation they would face if they spoke in their own voices.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I suspect that you’ll be as blown away by what I have to say today as I was when I first heard about it.

The Butler Collegian reporter who has been covering this story interviewed me late yesterday afternoon. During the course of that interview, she asked me to comment on two things the president said to her during his interview. Both items literally left me speechless. First, she told me that he claimed that he had nothing to do with the school’s attorney writing to my attorney on September 27th and saying, “we will proceed to substitute Jess Zimmerman for John Doe in the pending lawsuit. I anticipate that these actions will occur by the end of the week. Please let me know whether you will accept service for Jess Zimmerman.” She indicated that the president said that the attorney was acting on his own and without the president’s knowledge or permission. If that’s the case, Butler should immediately fire the attorney and file charges against him with the state bar association for malpractice.

It is odd, though, that the attorney would act in such a fashion since, throughout the summer, his responses were consistently very much delayed because he kept writing that he had to check with the president before saying anything and the president was out of the country and unable to be contacted for various periods of time. Additionally, the threats to substitute my name for “John Doe” were regularly made from the middle of June through this last firm commitment to do so at the end of September – and the president knew nothing about it? If what he said is the truth, Butler might well have an even larger problem with their administration than I thought.

The second thing that the reporter asked me to comment about was the president’s claim that it was my father who first raised the idea of tying my situation in with his desire to gain a retraction from the provost for the terribly disparaging comments she made publicly about him when he was removed as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. For the second time, I was speechless due to the absolutely bizarre nature of the charge. In fact, when my father’s attorney first contacted Butler looking for a retraction from the provost, we had no idea that a lawsuit had been filed. In fact, at that time, the last contact with anyone about The True BU blog was over five months earlier. Rather than releasing any confidential documents, I directed the reporter to my attorney to be certain that the information she received was accurate. Here’s what he had to say to her last night in an e-mail:

“On June 16, 2009, I received a letter from Butler’s attorney, Michael Blickman, informing me that a lawsuit actually had been filed against the TrueBU Blog and that Jess Zimmerman would be substituted as the defendant in that lawsuit. June 16th was the first time the Zimmermans and I learned that a lawsuit had been filed.

“The following is an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to Michael Zimmerman on June 16, 2009:

‘One other thing. In early January there actually was a lawsuit filed regarding the TrueBU blog. It appears this may be something we now have to deal with. Keep in mind, the main goal of the lawsuit was to shut down the blog. I doubt there are any provable damages even if liability could be shown (which is doubtful). That being said, they will use this as leverage in negotiations on your matter.’”

So, the president distances himself from the actions of his attorney and claims that my father raised the issue of a lawsuit he knew nothing about. And, perhaps worst of all, the president thinks he can pass all of this off as leadership.

Throughout this entire affair, I’ve asked for people to form their own opinions but to be certain that those opinions are consistent with the facts. The president, however, seems to want to change the facts to suit his often-changing explanations. But, as Alain RenĂ© Le Sage said in 1735 in book X of his novel Gil Blas (L'Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane), “Facts are stubborn things.”

A quick piece of information: Today, I was on Culture Shocks with Barry Lynn, a national radio show. I've linked to the show on the right, but you can also find it here:

Additionally, I will also be on an NPR station next weekend to discuss this situation. I will give more specific details about that show as it gets closer.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Correcting the Record, Again

Amazingly, Butler’s president today distributed his third memo (linked on the right) about me to the faculty in 15 days. It appears that he’s having a hard time finding much to say since a good deal of what he wrote is simply recycled from his earlier memos. Unfortunately, what is new isn’t consistent with the facts – not opinions, facts. And, unfortunately, the memo does what the other two attempted to do – use rhetorical devises to have readers believe things about me for which there is absolutely no evidence.

Even though his memo is only four short paragraphs and 262 words long, I don’t have the space to deal with all of its problems. Let me focus on the highlights. He writes, “The University complaint against ‘John Doe’ had been filed on 8 January, with notice given to ‘Soodo Nym’ at the blog’s email address. Thereafter the personal emails and the blog ceased.”

In fact, the very last post that ever appeared on The True BU blog went up on New Year’s Day, a full week before the president said an e-mail announcing the lawsuit was sent. In fact, The True BU blog was removed from the web on January 4, 2009, four days prior to the lawsuit. I’ll admit it: the university and its lawyers intimidated me into silence by threatening action in early January. I’m not proud of the fact that I backed down, but it’s true; they intimidated me. But it wasn’t the presence of the lawsuit that accomplished the intimidation – it was the president’s anger over the bad publicity he thought the blog was bringing to campus.

It’s worth sharing with you a portion of those last comments that appeared on The True BU blog because they are probably even more pertinent today than they were so long back when they first appeared. “Well, though the holidays have come and gone, I'm certain this incident will still be fresh in the minds of music students and faculty/staff as we begin the new semester. What should also be thought about, as I've said repeatedly, is what all of this says about our leadership. As students, we need to be clear in demanding and expecting that members of the Butler community act with integrity, are accountable for their actions, and embrace what it means to be at an institution of higher education.”

The president also claimed that the lawsuit halted “the personal emails.” His use of the plural is interesting since he knows full well that I wrote only ONE personal e-mail, on December 25. His use of the plural is there to remind you that another e-mail, one that he has repeatedly quoted from, was also sent. He omits to mention, though, what he said in his last memo; there is absolutely no evidence linking that e-mail to me in any way, shape or form. So, how exactly did the lawsuit accomplish any of the things he claims it did?

He also, in the memo and in his response to numerous people who wrote to him, says “No suit was ever brought against Mr. Zimmerman.” Well, no, they never did get around to substituting my name for “John Doe,” but, as I reported in my post on October 19th titled “Who’s the Bully?,” on September 27, the university’s attorney wrote to mine, “we will proceed to substitute Jess Zimmerman for John Doe in the pending lawsuit. I anticipate that these actions will occur by the end of the week. Please let me know whether you will accept service for Jess Zimmerman.” Is this the way people of high integrity should be acting?

Finally, the president says that once he was informed that internal disciplinary proceedings were to commence, he asked that the lawsuit be dropped. Well, there are problems with this as well. First, I was informed of those disciplinary proceedings on Thursday and the lawsuit wasn’t dropped until Monday. According to the time lines provided, it appears that it took the university just about as long to drop the suit as it did for them to craft the 50 page suit in the first place! All I can say is, it’s unbelievable. Second, I also can’t believe that I heard about the start of internal disciplinary proceedings before the president did! Third, and more importantly, though, last Tuesday at the open forum, the provost publicly had a very different story to tell. When she was pressed about why the lawsuit had not yet been dropped, she responded to the group that it was a legal issue and the university didn’t want to drop the suit for legal reasons. I guess it’s possible that the provost and the president never conferred on the strategy for moving forward so their inconsistent stories could both be truthful.

What is accurate in the president’s statement is that internal disciplinary proceedings have begun. I worry about them since the president, on numerous occasions, has seen fit to pronounce me guilty. 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 rules for student disciplinary proceedings require confidentiality about most issues. The president has already and repeatedly seen fit to violate these rules. I will not follow his lead. Because my defense is simple, though, what I wrote was the truth and was widely known to be the truth, I need your help. So, I will share with you the charges against me and simply ask you to volunteer information about the charges if you have any such information. Some of the anonymous people who provided me information for The True BU may want to consider coming forward (though I will respect your anonymity if you choose not to).

I have been accused of violating the following three “Rules of Conduct:”

#4) Attempted or actual theft, unauthorized possession of another's property, dishonesty, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University.

#6) Physical, mental, or verbal abuse of any person or any conduct that threatens or endangers the health or safety of any such person on University-owned or related property, or at any University-sponsored and/or supervised functions.

#8) Disorderly conduct, or reckless, intimidating, lewd, indecent, or obscene conduct or expression on University-owned or related property, or at University-sponsored or supervised functions or against a representative of the University.

Thank you for your continued support and for your help in combating these charges.

By the way, Amanda Congdon posted a great video about this crazy situation on her website, It’s linked on the right.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More National News

There was another story about the actions of the Butler administration in The Huffington Post this afternoon (linked on the right). This time, the blogger discusses the internal disciplinary process: He describes it as a “kangaroo court” and compares the fact that I will be tried by Butler to the failed Guantanamo Bay policies of the Bush administration. When this ordeal started, I had no idea that we would be getting such consistent, and favorable, national news coverage, but it certainly has been refreshing to see that people around the country agree that the way the administration has handled this situation is crazy.

In a few days, I’ll be talking more widely about what the administration at Butler has been doing to me, and the effect their actions might have on freedom of speech nationally. On Wednesday, I’ll be on Culture Shocks with Barry Lynn. Culture Shocks is a national radio show that has a wide audience in a number of cities across the country and is also available online ( Lynn is the director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and is a well known commenter who has appeared on many political shows, running the gamut from The O’Reilly Factor to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. According to his website, “The show examines issues and trends in today’s culture wars through conversations with and about some of the most fascinating figures of our times.” While the circumstances are certainly unfortunate, I am excited to talk about everything that has happened. I hope to touch on a range of topics: From my reasons for writing The True BU blog last year, to the administration aggressively threatening to sue me and discipline me on campus for the last six months, to the possibility of an unfair trial during internal disciplinary procedures. Additionally, I suspect we’ll talk about the impact that all of this will have on our campus and on other campuses.

An important development today: The Butler attorney dismissed the lawsuit in Marion County court. It may have taken them a week to do it, but I’m confident that this action was a direct reaction to the pressure being put on them by you. While it is a step in the right direction, and keeps Butler from being the first school to follow through on a lawsuit against a student for online speech (They’re still the first to file a suit against online speech…), our fight is nowhere near over. As mentioned in The Huffington Post, they still plan to try me on campus, in a manner that I suspect will have a similar chilling effect on free speech and dissent both at Butler and elsewhere. We need to be strong in our message to the administration, to the trustees, and to the community that we value the free flow of ideas that exists on college campuses. One way to do that, if you have not already, is to sign the petition ( that was created by Friends of Jess Zimmerman that calls for an apology to the community for filing the lawsuit and an apology to me for their threats and actions in the last few months. Though dropping the lawsuit is a good step, the administration has made no progress towards fulfilling the demands mentioned in the petition. If you have signed the petition, thank you for your support and I urge you to go back and look at what our friends from Butler and across the country have written. There are some really powerful things being said by many distinguished people.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Another Voice

I promised that I would provide space for more voices than just my own. The following letter, written by Gaythia Weis, is a wonderful contribution. She researched the history of our school and our president and puts ongoing events in perspective. Please feel free to comment on her observations.

An Open Letter to Butler University President Bobby Fong, regarding student Jess Zimmerman and the Mission of Butler University:

According to information gleaned from the Butler University website, your Butler University “President's Perspective” for October, 2009 asks a very pertinent question: “How does Butler University measure success?”

Your biography, also on the Butler University website, states that your inspiration to enter higher education administration came from the statement of a mentor, Dr. Frank Wong, who told you: "A professor controls the climate of teaching and learning in his own classroom; an administrator can affect the climate of teaching and learning across a campus." Your academic research focus was on Oscar Wilde, a man who knew first hand what it meant to be persecuted.

In 1855, Butler University was founded as both an interracial and a coeducational institution, an intellectual and moral leader of its time. Founder Ovid Butler was an abolitionist, a lawyer, a preacher, and a founder of the “Free Soil Banner”, a highly politicized, antislavery newspaper. The Free Soil Party was a third political party which opposed extension of slavery into the western states. According to Wikipedia, Free Soil candidates ran on the platform that declared: "...we inscribe on our banner, 'Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men,' and under it we will fight on and fight ever, until a triumphant victory shall reward our exertions."

Ovid Butler was an ardent opponent of the Fugitive Slave law, to the point of advocating civil disobedience. According to the Indiana State website describing historical markers,, Butler wrote a letter to Campbell (founder of the Disciples of Christ in Indiana) on March 29, 1851, in which he denounces the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, stating, "As a man, and as a Disciple of Jesus, I am constrained to regard its provisions as violations of the principle of humanity, and as contravening the statutes and institutes of the Lord Christ."

I know Indianapolis as a city that has been a leader and an innovator in economic industrial relations and in social justice. My family connection to Indianapolis is through the Columbia Conserve Company, an experiment in industrial democracy. My grandfather, The Reverend A. A. Heist, a Methodist minister was head of the social services department at Columbia Conserve in the 1930's.

Our current era is another time of economic and social change. Will Butler University show leadership? How does Butler University measure success? How will you, as Butler University president, affect the climate of teaching and learning on campus?

Butler University has just achieved the honor of hosting a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, On the Butler website, Laura Behling, associate provost for faculty affairs and interdisciplinary programs, commended her colleagues’ efforts. “The focus of so many Butler faculty and staff during the University’s journey toward Phi Beta Kappa status is a testament to their belief that the liberal arts and sciences offer the critical perspectives, intellectual vigor and freedom of thought,” she said.

The Butler 2009 to 2014 strategic plan, “Dare to Make a Difference”, states: “Our work will inspire Butler students, faculty, staff, and alumni to be civic-minded agents of change - to dare to make a difference.” What could be more civic minded, more in the daring tradition of Ovid Butler, than to be an active advocate of free speech?

Jess Zimmerman strikes me as exemplifying exactly the sort of young person whom Ovid Butler would have been proud to have as a student studying at the University bearing his name.

Gaythia Weis