Butler University has dropped lawsuit against Jess Zimmerman. The student was accused of defaming the university in his blog “TrueBU”.
“He (Zimmerman) was critical of Butler and two administrators: Peter Alexander, dean of Butler’s College of Fine Arts, and Jamie Comstock, Butler’s provost.
He wrote things like “Peter Alexander … is power-hungry and afraid of his own shadow. … He drives away talented administrators. He frustrates students within the departments. He hurts the ability of the school to recruit talented students and faculty members. He announces to the campus that the Butler Way, the ideals for which the school and everyone at it stands, mean nothing.”
The university has deemed statements like this to be libelous and in January filed a libel and defamation lawsuit against “Soodo Nym,” the pseudonym used by Zimmerman on the anonymous blog.”
Although the lawsuit has been dropped, there is widespread anger against the actions of Butler University, some accusing the school of “bullying”. At Huffington Post, Stu Kreisman-an Emmy award winning writer-producer, described the whole situation as being equivalent of censorship represented by Guantanamo prison.
“The situation is eerily similar to the Bush administration's dealings in Guantanamo Bay. If you can't convict lawfully, make it up as you go along. Look, we're dealing with a blog, which painted an unflattering picture of the administration. Is it really worth all the time, money and negative publicity just to get even with a student because you're thin skinned? We're not dealing with something as sinister as the Virginia Tech shootings here. (Which the administration has already compared the writings to in what has to be the ultimate in bad taste.)
Is a school entitled to discipline a student? Of course if a crime is committed. But let's get real here. We're talking about freedom of speech on the Internet; something I thought is looked upon favorably at universities. Silencing and punishing your critics went out with the Bushies. So Butler University is going to be the first school to censor the Internet.”
Butler's actions also raise questions about online anonymity and whether a student is in violation of rules when he/she express legitimate concerns over the internet in his/her time through private resources in an off campus setting.
findingDulcinea, a web magazine says that “Student Blogger Case Shows That Online Anonymity Isn’t Guaranteed”, adding that there is a hidden message behind Butler University dropping the lawsuit
“Butler University has dropped its libel lawsuit against a student that criticized university administration in an anonymous blog, but not before it was able to obtain the identity of the student. It will continue to pursue its own disciplinary proceedings against the student, junior Jess Zimmerman.
Dan Altman, Zimmerman’s lawyer, said that the university filed the lawsuit not because it believed that Zimmerman posted libelous information, but because it wanted to silence his criticism. He called the lawsuit an example of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), lawsuits that are designed to intimidate defendants that are critical of the plaintiff.”
It remains to be seen what Butler disciplinary proceeding would bring for Zimmerman. Hopefully the university will decide to resolve matters without furthering confrontation and attacks against free speech.