An Email to the Chair of the Board of Trustees

Just a few minutes ago I finished this email which I addressed directly to John Hargrove, the Chair of the Butler Board of Trustees. I urge anyone who is supporting Jess right now or who is confused and infuriated by the current state of affairs, to do the same. It will do you no harm. The trustees have power that students and faculty do not and only good can come of giving them our take on everything.

fromJon Irons
to jhargrove@ghj.com,
date Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 9:13 PM
subject Regarding Butler U v John Doe
mailed-by gmail.com

Mr Hargrove,

I am writing in order to reiterate what I hope has been considerable outrage over the actions that Butler University took in January of 2009. As I am sure you are well aware, the university filed a lawsuit against an anonymous blogger who wrote critical and pointed opinions about the actions of certain administrators. Since I learned about this lawsuit three weeks ago I have been fuming not only about the drama leading to its filing, but also the opinions and statements of the university.

I am a co-founder of an independent student blog known as The Butler Underground. The blog was formed in direct response to the sudden shut down of The True BU in January 2009. At that time, my colleague and I joked half-heartedly about what role the university might have taken in the shut down of the blog. We joked because we thought it would be ludicrous for a university to go to such measures to silence the opinions of students (not simply the author but the readers and commenters as well). In doing so we took up the cause of dissent and began to fight the climate of fear which had descended upon students. At that time, I had friends who supported me fully in private but refrained from making their opinions known in public spaces for fear of silencing, hassle and prevention of graduation. When this lawsuit was revealed the students in full last week, I happened to be on campus visiting and saw a darker cloud descend upon the student body. While many of us were outraged and spoke out loudly in defense of the implied defendant, Jess Zimmerman, we could not overlook a clear sense of danger associated with our actions. Will the University work to silence us as well? Will The Underground come under similar scrutiny? Should I run my comments by others to ensure they cannot be misconstrued? The very act of writing these words, fear and danger and silencing, especially in response to action taken by a university that purports to uphold a liberal arts tradition, is enough to drive me mad!

As an attorney who, as your biography states on the Butler website, "is a nationally respected First Amendment advocate," surely you cannot simply sit idly by and watch such a dangerous precedent become established. I am no lawyer, sir, but a great deal has been published about this case outside of Butler and none of it has supported the case filed by our university. Indeed, most speak to the long history of preeminent anonymous writing, the groundbreaking precedent that this case sets and how the two observations do not add up. See for instance, The Huffington Post.

Now, as student and faculty opinion has gone spiraling out of control, and after the fact that Butler is gaining national poor publicity, Dr. Fong sent out a memo to faculty (not to students or alumni) clarifying his position. He states that the university never intended on actually going through with the lawsuit and will not; an opinion which is at odds with comments made by university lawyers to reputable media outlets and to statements made by the Zimmerman family. Most of all, this statement is at odds with the very status of the litigation itself which is still active. Furthermore, within that memo, Fong appears to have placed blame upon Jess for the entirety of situation and maintains that Mr. Zimmerman (a.k.a. John Doe, a.k.a. Soodo-Nym) has made defamatory, libelous and harassing comments with no form of evidence other than an abandoned lawsuit. I find these comments and current handling of the situation inexcusable and appalling. Dr. Fong continues to invoke Butler's mission statement as justification for the lawsuit and even went as far as to mention the massacre at Virginia Tech to excuse his decision to prosecute.

I invite you to visit Mr. Zimmerman's blog which contains links to the text of the memo I spoke of as well as links to Fong's statements in the Butler Collegian.

Though I have moved on from Butler, I am close enough to this case and the students underneath the cloud of fear, that I am actively working to demand a public apology from Dr. Fong addressed and distributed to Jess Zimmerman, his family, the student body, the faculty and alumni. This is not an outrageous demand as the issue has resulted in extremely negative attention to this university and has consumed the precious time of students and faculty who have worked very hard to battle the opaque nature of current administrators (not to mention that it has scared the student body).

I am writing to you now because I have been solicited no less than two times, since I became aware of this case, to donate a monetary gift to the university. I interpret these requests as pokes and prods, begging me to forget and infuriating me. I feel I cannot trust my money in the hands of current administrators who would, apparently, spend my meager contribution on frivolous and damaging lawsuits. As a fellow alumnus I urge you to do the same. Furthermore, as a trustee (let alone the chair), I know that you are trusted, "with fiscal and strategic oversight and governance of Butler University." I hope it is in your power to reprimand Dr. Fong who has, by filing and continually defending this lawsuit, besmirched the name of the university you and I once called home. I beg of you to act and defend the students and faculty that are quickly exhausting their resources!

Thank you.


Jon Irons
BA Anthropology
Class of 2009
Butler University, Indianapolis

1 comment:

  1. Did you recieve a reply? Did he even care?