Butler drops libel lawsuit against student blogger

INDIANA –Butler University dropped a libel lawsuit against an anonymous blogger but ispursuing disciplinary action against him.

Junior Jess Zimmerman, who blogged anonymously about the university, hasbeen accused of violating the school’s rules of conduct and faces sanctions thatcould include expulsion.

“I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Zimmerman said ofButler’s decision not to go forward with a lawsuit.

Zimmerman said he hoped the blog would be a place for students and facultyto openly discuss their feelings about Butler. Several entries were devoted tothe demotion of his stepmother Andrea Gullickson, then chair of the School ofMusic, and were critical of the administration.

Butler has alleged Zimmerman repeatedly libeled two administrators in thoseentries. President Bobby Fong said the blogger had also sent intimidatinge-mails to the two, leaving one afraid for her safety.

“Butler has a duty to safeguard robust academic speech,” Fong said in amemo to Butler faculty. “However, the university also has a commitment and dutyto protect the safety of all its members and ensure the opportunity to teach andto learn freely”

A university spokeswoman said she could not comment on the disciplinaryprocess, citing the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

In the memo, Fong said the university only filed the lawsuit because theydid not know the blogger’s identity.

“The university did not, has not and will not sue Jess Zimmerman,” he said,adding that if Zimmerman had admitted to being the blogger when asked byadministrators, the suit would not have been filed.

Zimmerman, who maintains he never libeled or threatened anyone, said heobjected to Fong’s characterization of his actions in that memo and others sentto university faculty.

“I think that the president’s statements were at best disingenuous, atworst, malicious,” he said. In the memos, Fong states the university’s case andexplains why he acted as he did. Zimmerman said he thought Fong has proclaimedhim guilty in the memos.

“I would have liked there to be a trial before a verdict,” Zimmerman said,”but the way Butler has decided to operate is to issue a guilty verdict and thenhave a trial.”