I guess this has been going on for a while now, but I just caught wind of it last night when browsing through various things in my news feed: from Inside Higher Ed, University sues student blogger. Here are the opening paragraphs:
Butler University has sued an undergraduate student for making libelous and defamatory statements about administrators on a blog he kept anonymously.
Details of the case became public last week when Bill Watts, an English professor at Butler, wrote a piece (pdf) in the student newspaper and sent an e-mail to the university’s Faculty Senate in which he questioned “the practice of suing our own students for their utterances.” The e-mail provoked a written response (pdf) from Bobby Fong, Butler president, who defended the lawsuit Tuesday at a Faculty Senate meeting, noting that “academic freedom does not provide protection for defamation and harassment.”
Jess Zimmerman, a junior at Butler, created “TrueBU Blog” in October 2008 to chronicle happenings he deemed of import at the institution. Though he managed the blog anonymously under the tongue-in-cheek moniker “Soodo Nym,” he has recently come forward publicly. In addition to posts by Zimmerman, the blog also featured “reports” from other anonymous faculty and student “correspondents.”
The TrueBU Blog is defunct, but Zimmerman has another blog now where he is writing about the ongoing lawsuit, “I am ‘John Doe.’” Having read through the article, a lot of the comments, and a bit of Zimmerman’s latest blog, the whole thing seems pretty crazy to me. There’s a lot of “insider stuff” going on here because Zimmerman himself is related to a couple of faculty at Butler, too. Zimmerman claims he is the first student to be sued by a university that he is attending over a free speech matter. And I have to say that at first glance, it sure seems like the Butler University administration has over-reacted big-time.
Oh, and for what it’s worth: every once in a while, someone asks me if I’ve ever received any pressure from EMU officials about this space one way or the other. The answer is “no,” and I’m pretty confident that EMUTalk.org is regularly read in Welch Hall and among members of the Board of Regents– well, it used to be more regularly read when there was more drama on campus a couple years ago, but you get the idea. In any event, I salute the EMU powers that be for not acting as dumb at the Butler University administration, and I hope I don’t get sued by Butler for saying that.