Monday, May 2, 2011

Sifting Through The Historical Bins At Butler University

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When all the historical dust settles, we can no longer see what lies beneath all that old, old sediment. But if you're a lover of history, like I am, you know that there are plenty of things worth investigating under all that dust. It is time to sneeze a little bit, and venture into the historical dustbins at Butler University.

I've recently gotten some heat for sharing an assertion from what I call "a little bird" about Thomas M Cooley School of Law (see here and here). It turns out, this school is not very popular. In response to these posts, I received a threatening letter from a dean at the school. The dean's letter came up in a conversation I had today with a good friend and professional acquaintance. It reminded him of a situation that occurred a few years ago at Butler University. Since my friend knows how much I like to resurrect things, he kindly provided me with a libel suit that was slapped against a student there.

Back in 2008, a student named Jess Zimmerman launched a blog entitled, "TrueBUBlog." Zimmerman used a nom de plume, 'Soodo Nym.' Cute! I'm serious. I like it. In his first post, Soodo Nym stated, "this is not a forum for attack. It is a forum for truth." Eventually the administration caught wind of the blog. But there is a back story to why they discovered the blog. It turns out Zimmerman's stepmother, Andrea Gullickson, was at risk of being dismissed from her faculty position at the school. Zimmerman began to share internal emails on his blog about the situation, and argued that Peter Alexander, dean of Butler's College of Fine Arts, and Jamie Comstock, Butler's provost, did not deal with Gullickson's exit in a fair manner. At the time the IHE reporter wrote the article about this case, Gullickson had retained her position.

The school's attorney sent Zimmerman a letter, demanding that the blog be taken down. Zimmerman complied. Apparently, that wasn't good enough. In January of 2009, 'Soodo Nym' was slapped with a libel and defamation suit. The junior asserted that he was unaware that a suit had been filed against him, and did not learn of the case until later that summer. In addition, Zimmerman's father was a biology professor at Butler, and things become even more complicated with his relationship to the university. (For the all the details of the case, I encourage you to read the IHE report mentioned above).

As for the young man, Zimmerman's attorney Dan Altman argued that the case was a SLAPP (a strategic lawsuit against public participation). In so doing, Zimmerman would have to pay fees for his legal defense, which would ultimately silence him. Altman noted, "This isn't about winning. [. . .] I mean, what damages are they going to get out of a college junior?"

Zimmerman began a new blog, "I am John Doe," to publicly discuss the lawsuit that the Butler administration threatened him with for 5 months. In my view, Mr. Zimmerman had a lot of courage to stand up for what he thought was right. It's a shame that he was being aggressively sought by a university.


Bill Watts said...

Thanks for your post. I have just published an essay on this incident; take a look at

Best wishes,
Bill Watts

Cryn Johannsen said...

Bill (if I may): Thank you for the link.


Nando said...

Thank you for having the courage and integrity to go against your own school, Bill. This school should work on fostering academic freedom. By the way, I fail to see where the defendant committed any actionable acts. Furthermore, he removed the material as the school asked.

Perhaps, Butler is more concerned about success on the basketball court than it is about that in the classroom.