Butler Drops Suit Against Student Blogger

October 29, 2009

Monday, Butler University formally withdrew the libel and defamation lawsuit it had filed against Jess Zimmerman, an undergraduate student who kept an anonymous blog that criticized senior administrators. The case did not name Zimmerman directly, and instead was filed against “Soodo Nym,” the moniker he used to write the blog. Even after Zimmerman went public and admitted he was “Soodo Nym,” Bobby Fong, Butler's president, told faculty multiple times, as he did in one statement, that “The university did not, has not, and will not sue Jess Zimmerman.” By university administrators' logic, because they had not named Zimmerman directly in the suit, they had not technically ever sued a student. Zimmerman and many professors and other students took issue with this stance in the days following his public outing. On Zimmerman's new blog, he even kept a running tally of the number of days the lawsuit remained active in Marion County court following Fong’s statement that the university was not suing him. Ultimately, the suit remained in force for a week.

Michael Blickman, the university’s attorney, noted in a statement that the university had begun an “internal disciplinary process” to punish Zimmerman last week, before the suit was dropped. Of the move, Blickman said, “The university and its administrators strongly support freedom of speech and academic freedom. The free exchange of ideas is fundamental to academic life. However, the University also has a commitment and duty to protect the safety of all its members and ensure the opportunity to teach and to learn freely.” Zimmerman, by contrast, criticized how the disciplinary process was being handled in his blog: “I worry about them since the president, on numerous occasions, has seen fit to pronounce me guilty. I would have hoped that we could have the trial first and the verdict second, but that isn’t the way Butler has decided to operate."

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