Thursday, January 28, 2010

Secrecy and Discipline: The Butler Way – Part 1

I’m going to tread very carefully in this post because I don’t want to fall afoul of Butler’s secrecy rules – even as I find those rules to be terribly offensive. Butler regularly does everything it can to cover things it doesn’t like in a cloak of secrecy. It often claims that the secrecy is to protect all parties, but, as I’ll explain, that’s simply untrue and a complete misunderstanding of what confidentiality is all about. In my case, Butler had decreed that I was not permitted to say anything about any disciplinary hearings. They, however, had no compunction about sharing lots of information about their plans for those hearings. Remember, the president announced them publicly on more than one occasion and he proclaimed my guilt on numerous occasions. The university’s public relations department wrote to any and all who contacted them and proclaimed my guilt as well. But I was not permitted to utter a word about the process. And as those of you who regularly read this blog know, I was very circumspect in what I said.

However, that doesn’t mean that the process was likely to be a fair one. And it doesn’t mean that I, or any student, have to be subjected to an unfair process. It is possible to fight back – and win. As I’ve been saying from the beginning of this blog, those of us who feel we’ve been wronged have an obligation to fight for our rights. And as the support I’ve received since the beginning of this blog has shown, when you stand up for your rights, others are likely to be supportive. Movements are built in that fashion and meaningful change can occur.

In my specific case, rather than breaking the code of silence the Butler administration demands on it subjects, I’m simply going to share public documents with you – and I’ll let those documents speak for themselves.

On the advice of my attorney, after repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempting to resolve the situation internally, we looked to the Marion Superior/Circuit Court for help. You can read the petition that was filed on my behalf on 13 November here. I hope, after reading it, you’ll agree with me and the judge who granted the motion requested, that something was very much amiss on the Butler campus.

In part two of this post, I’ll tell you about the firestorm the judge’s ruling created.

But, for a minute, let me return to the issue of secrecy. Butler administrators seem unable to recognize the difference between secrecy and confidentiality. When an action is taken that concerns an individual (in an academic setting this might relate to the grade of a student, a disciplinary action, a faculty personnel action, or something else in that vein) confidentiality means that the institution cannot talk about the issue in a public fashion. But, and this is absolutely critical, the person who is the subject of the action has every right to explain what has happened. Rules of confidentiality go one step further, though. Even if the subject were to discuss the situation, the institution still has no right to discuss it. Yes, this can be very one-sided but we’re talking about the power of an institution versus the (lack of) power of an individual.

Butler administrators refuse to acknowledge what administrators on every other college campus understand. In fact, they have made it clear that they have a completely different set of rules. For example, they were irate when Andrea Gullickson told her faculty about her departure as chair of the School of Music; they claimed that she violated confidentiality and, in response, they claimed the right to ignore confidentiality. They went on to say things about her that were absolutely untrue – and if true should have remained confidential. Additionally, at the open forum on free speech early last semester the provost made the amazing claim that due to rules of confidentiality there are times she can’t tell the whole story about a situation and therefore it is acceptable for her to simply say that you would agree with me if you knew what I know. This sort of slander by omission would be abhorrent in any context, but for an academic administrator to say such things while proclaiming confidentiality is beyond belief. And this is exactly what was done to me, to my step-mother Andrea Gullickson and to my father, Michael Zimmerman.

Let me end the main part of today’s post with two pertinent quotations. British magistrate Sir John Chadwick famously pronounced “Secrecy is the badge of fraud,” while Lord Acton noted that “'Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.” As I’ve said throughout, Butler administrators have a good deal to learn from history.

Finally, on an unrelated note, I’m pleased to mention that Amanda Congdon’s Sometimes Daily piece on Butler’s censoring of The TruBU was selected as one of her best pieces of the year. You can watch it here.

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