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.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Getting Out

Today’s post is going to be about me – partly because lots of you have asked and partly because I’m just really pleased to be able to write what I’m going to say. In the coming days I’ll explain, as much as I’m able, how today’s news came to be. But for now, I’ll just present the news.

When I went off to college a few years back, one of my major goals was to graduate and to go on to law school. Over the past year, the Butler administration seemed to be attempting to do everything they could to keep me from realizing that goal. Because many law school applications ask about on-campus disciplinary actions, and because many law school admissions counselors made it clear that if an applicant indicated that such disciplinary actions had been taken against an applicant, admission was made very much more difficult, I was particularly upset about Butler’s desire to trump up charges against me. I was confident that I had done nothing wrong – and lots of national and international groups were confident that I had done nothing wrong. After all, all I had done was to express my opinions and to share the opinions that faculty in the School of Music quietly shared with me because they were too frightened of administrative retaliation to make their voices heard in public. But it became very clear at Butler that expressing a viewpoint that is unpopular with the Butler regime comes with very high costs.

If I were to have a good chance of being accepted to a law school that I wanted to attend, I had no choice but to fight the outrageous disciplinary charges that were leveled against me once Butler realized that their attempt to sue me was generating far too much negative publicity.

Well, just before leaving for Peru to visit my brother in December, Butler and I reached an agreement. While I can't tell you what that agreement is, I can say that I am very comfortable with my law school applications.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to say that just a week after my application was completed at one of my top choice schools, while I was in Cusco, Peru, I received an e-mail informing me that I had been admitted to their law school.

As I said, I’ll explain a bit about the legal struggle to get to this point soon, but for now, I simply want to thank all of you who have stood by me and who have consistently asked Butler administrators to take responsibility for their disgraceful actions. I’m confident that I would not be in this position without the amazing support so many around the country, indeed, around the world, have shown.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Back, Again

I’m back! And the funny thing is, I didn’t plan to be away for this long. Immediately after my last final in December, I left the country to visit my brother in Peru. I had planned to post occasionally from there but while I was in some truly amazing places, from the Amazon rainforest to Macchu Picchu, I was mostly without reliable internet connections and thus I couldn’t write until I got back. I have a fair bit to say and, over the coming weeks, I’ll share a good deal with you.

For now, however, let me simply wish all of you a happy and healthy new year and let me close with a couple of interesting things I noted in the new passports issued by the United States government. Each of the visa pages has a quotation at the top. Two struck me in light of the events engaged in last year by the Butler administration.

The first, by John F. Kennedy, reads as follows: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

The second, by
Anna Julia Cooper, reads as follows: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”

Those in charge of Butler University have acted this past year in a fashion diametrically opposed to these simple but important statements. They seem to believe that the only thing that is worth protecting is their own self image. They sacrificed freedom of speech, the very cornerstone of liberty and freedom, when they heard sentiments they didn’t like. They acted as if freedom was a birthright only to those in power rather than “the very birthright of humanity.” As I’ve said before,
and as so many others around the country have echoed, they should be ashamed of themselves.

There is another quotation in the new passports that I also like. Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “This is a new nation, based on a mighty continent, of boundless possibilities.” In the Butler context,
and at the onset of a new year, I want very much to see this as a prophetic statement – one which praises the strengths and talents of the faculty and students of the university while looking to a time in the not-too-distant future when the “mighty” university is made “new” by having a different, more thoughtful and far more caring administration at the helm.

Again, I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season.