Thursday, April 8, 2010

FIRE assesses the Butler – Duke match-up

Like virtually everyone else on and near campus, and many around the world, I’ve been incredibly impressed by all the men’s basketball team has accomplished. The players and coaching staff handled themselves remarkably well and their efforts have elevated all of us. They are, however, only a part of Butler University and there are other members of the university community who also deserve high praise for their accomplishments. One of the exciting side effects of the men’s basketball success is that attention beyond the “Butler bubble” has been brought to others deserving of it.

But not all of the attention focused on Butler is good, however. FIRE ( Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), one of the country’s organizations most strongly fighting for free speech on university campuses, offered a head-to-head matchup of Butler and Duke – looking at free speech issues rather than basketball skills. Their conclusions are not pretty!

Their article ran with an interesting headline: “Butler vs. Duke: Who Wins in the Arena of Free Speech?” As they say, given the widely reported problems Duke has had with the way it trampled on the rights of falsely accused players on its lacrosse team and a major embarrassment with its Women’s Center, the contest shouldn’t be close.

But Butler’s actions, coupled with the needless and vindictive aggressiveness of its president, changed the complexion of the contest. As FIRE states, “Butler may be the underdog du jour, but it's shown that it can play with the big boys at more than just basketball.”

After presenting a good summary of my case, mostly from the original Inside Higher Education article and from an essay on Finding Dulcinea, FIRE called the contest a draw:

"Zimmerman said of the saga, "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 same, of course, could be said about Duke's handling of the lacrosse scandal. Neither school, then, gets away clean when it comes to respecting student rights. Whether you root for Butler or Duke tonight, know that the Latin saying caveat emptor--let the buyer beware--applies equally to them both."

Butler’s president, then, did what Butler’s fabulous basketball team was unable to do: he played Duke University completely even.

He has some important lessons to learn from Butler’s basketball program. All members of the program handled themselves quite wonderfully, spoke well of their adversaries, took credit for their own actions and looked to learn from their experiences. Butler’s president, on the other hand, continuously claimed ignorance of all actions, charged that his lawyers acted without either his knowledge or approval, and seems to have learned nothing from his brutish activities. He’s not even been willing to offer a simple apology to the campus community (let alone to me) for his actions, despite more than a thousand people calling for him to do so.

Butler has much to be proud of this spring, but, as FIRE has so clearly shown, the actions of its president and its record on freedom of speech issues don’t fall into that category. Instead, they tarnish spectacular accomplishments.


  1. Thanks for bringing the FIRE article to our attention. It's great. I was hoping that somewhere in the Final Four hysteria there would be mention of the shame our exalted leader brought on the institution. I'm happy that it was done in a way that didn't in any way diminish what the team accomplished.

  2. Fong just had a love poem to himself published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Supposedly it was about Butler in the Final Four but he played center stage even talking about a news story about him in Oakland that led to childhood friends contacting him. I'm impressed. Oh, he didn't mention the FIRE story or what most of us think about The Butler Way. I hope someone with a subscription to the Chronicle of Higher Education writes in and mentions the FIRE competition - more people need to know what he and Butler stand for.

  3. OMG! What a hoot that little guy is! At least that decidedly weird video bio is no longer on the website. Guess he just couldn't stand not having it all be about him.