Here‘s an interesting story: an undergraduate at Bulter University blogged about administration and their (according to him, evil) ways, and is now being sued by the University for defamation and making people feel unsafe because he was mean to them. If you read the whole article, you get a sense that there was really nothing libelous or defamatory in his comments, but that university has an army of attorneys on its payroll and they wanted to punish the kid (who blogged anonymously, but since revealed his real name) and his parents (both of whom happen to be faculty at Butler).
What’s fascinating about this story is not the fact that a university would sue its own student – as the student points out on a newly started blog that is designed to chronicle the lawsuit (“I am John Doe”), university’s claim that they did not know who the author of the blog was is false (according to him) – but that there’s such a high level of sensitivity to criticism evident in the attitude of administration here – don’t say anything negative or we will sue you. A simple “We will not leave this matter alone” is taken to mean something vicious like “We will come to your house and make you feel unsafe” – the student himself says in the article that he was certainly passionate about his blog and probably wrote mean things, but still he felt that what he was saying was true and so forth.
Let’s take this scenario and imagine a world in which faculty members behave the same way as administrators at Butler – if I write an anonymous review of your article and I write that “this is a poorly argued series of conjectures that in the end come to nothing substantive” and you take it personally, can you then sue me to reveal my identity and call my review libelous and defamatory? I mean I am suggesting in my review that you wrote a shitty paper implying therefore that you are an idiot and a horrible scholar – can you sue me for that?
What about student evaluations? What if I read a student evaluation for a faculty member and it says something like “This guy doesn’t know how to teach, this is by far the worst class I ever took” – can I sue this anonymous evaluator and having revealed his identity ask him to compensate the faculty member he was mean to?
Clearly, this utter legalization of our interactions (plus corporatization of our universities) is creating an atmosphere in which people with money and opportunities will file lawsuits against their neighbor’s loud music or against their mother-in-law dislike of their personal taste in clothing or their boss’s bad breath – what is going on here?