Student blogger lawsuit sends dangerous message
People blog every day. They blog about music they like, clothes they want and, in some cases, school administrations.
Jess Zimmerman is one such blogger. He’s the author of TrueBU Blog, which chronicled Butler University happenings.
Yet every day, people who blog about clothes and music don’t find themselves in the same situation as Zimmerman — sued by a major university for libel and defamation.
Zimmerman started TrueBU under the pseudonym “Soodo Nym,” and blogged about the minutia of college life. However, he began to criticize the administration after his stepmother was dismissed as the chair of Butler’s music school. He also proceeded to criticize the dean of the Jordan College of Fine Arts.
The first month Zimmerman began running his critiques, TrueBU received more than 2,000 hits.
Butler responded by suing Zimmerman for libel, stating he harmed the integrity of the university.
It seems obvious to us the administration’s goal simply was to silence the unidentified writer from crafting a bad image of Butler.
Zimmerman said the blog was a forum — a place for discussion. Like most blogs, these so-called libelous statements seemed to be opinions, not presented as factual statements. Therefore, they wouldn’t seem to fit the definition libel. It doesn’t help Butler’s case that a dean of a university most likely could be deemed a public figure in court, and thus open to greater scrutiny than a normal person.
What is most appalling is that a university is suppressing a student’s right to free speech. In no way is it OK for an administration to sue its own student for expressing a valid opinion. This lawsuit simply undercuts the public’s ability to have honest exchanges of viewpoints.
Will this lawsuit deter students from expressing any contrary opinion on a university’s campus? How is what Zimmerman did any different from a student blowing off some steam in a Facebook status except for the amount of people who viewed it? Many of us have criticized a professor or class utilizing Twitter as well.
Good thing MSU doesn’t file a complaint for every bad economics exam we discuss.
If Butler was afraid of bad public relations because of this blog, it really turned the tables on itself. This story now is on a national level, amplifying originally what it tried to contain.
Butler’s administration appears to have acted recklessly. It suppressed a student’s thoughts at the interest of a valued reputation. This probably isn’t the first case of criticism that has surfaced at a university. Butler should develop a thicker skin and realize universities across the country are criticized every day — through many different mediums. It shouldn’t sue a student based off his or her opinion.
Although the original blog was removed in December, Zimmerman recently started a new blog “I am John Doe,” allowing the public to remain informed about the lawsuit.
We guess one man’s libel is another man’s fuel.
Sorry Butler, suing your students doesn’t shush harsh statements. If anything, it just makes them more deafening.