Butler president defends school's choice to file lawsuit against blogger

INDIANA –The president of Butler University is defending the university’s decision tofile a lawsuit against a blogger they claimed had repeatedly libeled twoadministrators.

In an Oct. 13 speech to the Faculty Senate, Butler President Bobby Fongaccused the blogger, who called himself “Soodo Nym,” of libeling and harassingProvost Jaime Comstock and Dean Peter Alexander of the College of FineArts.

Courtney Tuell, director of public relations at Butler, said universityofficials have not decided whether to proceed with the January 2009 lawsuitafter discovering the identity of the blogger in June, but that the matter willlikely be handled internally.

Jess Zimmerman, the Butler student who has admitted to writing the blog,said he thinks the university is acting out of a desire to suppresscriticism.

“I believe what they’re doing to me is contrary to the values and missionof the university,” he said.

Zimmerman said he started the blog last fall as a place for Butler studentsand faculty to discuss university issues. He said he thought “students didn’tfeel empowered to speak on campus for fear of alienating one student group oranother.”

“I wanted people to demonstrate that there can be a place for anonymous(online) discussion that has a positive purpose,” he said.

While earlier entries focused on topics like Greek life and studentgovernment, later posts detailed the demotion of Zimmerman’s stepmother AndreaGullickson, the chair of the School of Music. Those entries accused Comstock andAlexander of “inconsistencies” between their actions and what they said tofaculty, and provided copies of e-mails between administrators andfaculty.

As Soodo Nym, Zimmerman sent an e-mail to Comstock and Alexander inDecember, saying he would not forget “the abuses of power and poor leadershipyou showed last semester” and said that hoped they would better represent Butlerin the future.

In his speech to the Faculty Senate, Fong said that e-mail was “meant toharass and intimidate.”

“After months of trying to manage the personal and professional impact ofthe blog on herself and others, culminating in these personal harassing messagesto her, Dr. Comstock was afraid, for her own safety, for her husband, for herhouse and property,” he said.

Tuell said the university learned Zimmerman’s identity in June as a resultof a subpoena, but Zimmerman said officials told his father, also a Butleremployee, in December — six months earlier — they had”incontrovertible proof” that Zimmerman was the blogger.

Zimmerman said he believes the university had gained this information byreading e-mail in his university account.

As part of Butler’s policies, the system administrator is able to viewe-mail messages, Tuell said, adding that the university reads e-mails “in onlyspecific cases” and only when they are related to a question the university isinvestigating.

Zimmerman shut down the blog after he was informed that the university hadfiled a lawsuit against the anonymous blogger.