Courts limit online freedom at colleges

Three court cases this winter addressed the contentious issue of Internet freedoms and liability on the nation’s college campuses.

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled in October that a former professor at the University of Evansville had acted as a ‘cyberpredator’ through the use of his e-mail and Web pages.

The court’s decision in Felsher v. Univ. of Evansville, 755 N.E.2d 589 (Ind. 2001), upheld most of a lower court’s injunction supporting the university’s claim that the former professor, William Felsher, had defamed three university officials.

Felsher began his cyber-protest against the University of Evansville shortly after he was removed from his job as a tenured professor in 1992. First, he set up a Web page,, containing a series of articles critical of the university’s actions. Then he sent e-mail messages from accounts that appeared to belong to the university’s president, James Vinson, and two other administrators.

Even though Felsher lost the case, the court granted him a partial victory that came as a great relief to several news organizations that filed briefs in his support. The court agreed with Felsher’s contention that the university, or any other corporation, cannot claim the same right individuals have to privacy protection under Indiana law. The ruling prevents corporations from suing news outlets for invasion of privacy.

In October, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled in Pichelmann v. Madsen, Civ. No. 00-C-1351 (E.D.Wisc. Sept. 20, 2001) that the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee did not violate an employee’s First Amendment rights when censoring a quote in her e-mail messages.

Mary Pichelmann sued the university after being ordered to stop using the Gloria Steinem quote, ‘The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off,’ in the signature portion of her e-mails.

The university objected to the quote, which Pichelmann used on all e-mails, because it was ‘inappropriate’ and vulgar, according to court documents.

The court ruled public employees have to ‘yield to the public employer’s interest in workplace efficiency and decorum.’

Pichelmann plans to appeal.

Meanwhile, a federal court ordered a Web-hosting company to reveal the identity of a professor who runs a Web site critical of the administration at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, In re Baxter, Civ. No. 01-MC-00026-M (W.D.La. Oct. 18, 2001).

In an Oct. 22 ruling, U.S. Magistrate James Kirk ordered the company, Homestead Technologies, to give the professor’s name to the university.

The site, ‘Truth at ULM,’ is located at

The professor has appealed.