Delicate little flowers aren’t born, they’re made.
— Abraham Lincoln, Second Battle of Bull Run, 1862
A master’s student at the University of Wisconsin, Anthony Llewellyn, didn’t like his professor, Sally Vogl-Bauer. She was, he maintains, mean to him. So mean that following his dismissal from the University, he made a YouTube video. [Trigger Warning: Really lousy video ahead]
If the video is any reflection of his communication skills, the question isn’t whether Vogl-Bauer was too mean, but whether there’s any rigor in Wisconsin’s admission standards. Nonetheless, they let Llewellyn in, and he took Vogl-Bauer’s required course. He did not think well of his professor. So, he let it be known.
But if his assessment was, well, sensitive, it was nothing compared with Vogl-Bauer’s, who sued him for defamation:
Sally Vogl-Bauer, a tenured professor of communications at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, doesn’t dispute that students retain the right to exchange opinions about professors online. But in a civil suit filed in a Wisconsin circuit court, she says that a former student’s extensive online commentary about her teaching amounts to defamation — not protected speech. She says the student, after being dismissed from the university, “engaged in an intentional, malicious and unprivileged campaign” throughout 2013 to besmirch her reputation.
He besmirched her.
In the suit, Vogl-Bauer alleges that her former master’s-degree student, Anthony Llewellyn, defamed her on various teaching review and other web sites, including blogs and YouTube. She says he lied in saying that she “degraded,” and “verbally attacked” him. He also allegedly lied by saying that Vogl-Bauer called him a “horrible student,” deducted points from his grade, and was responsible for his being dismissed by the university.
The case raises questions about the line between rating and defaming one’s professor, and of what, if any, ethical and legal obligations students have in publicly assessing professors’ performance.
It is alleged that Llewellyn went on a full-tilt internet tear against Vogl-Bauer, with websites and comments reflecting Llewellyn’s feelings, including the video, emailed other profs in the department and a letter to the Eastern Communication Association. Vogl-Bauer’s lawyer explains why this was so very wrong:
“When you make false statements of fact repeatedly about another person with the intent of harming them, that’s over the line,” said Tim Edwards, attorney for UW-Whitewater communications professor Sally Vogl-Bauer.
“If you truthfully say, ‘In my experience, this isn’t a good teacher, I didn’t have a good experience, she was late’ and that’s your opinion, that’s fair,” Edwards said.
One might hope with all one’s heart that someone at the University of Wisonsin would be the grown-up in the room. So it isn’t Llewellyn. It obviously isn’t Edwards. And apparently, it isn’t Sally Vogl-Bauer either. And so, she sues.
It may be that some of Llewellyn’s factual, as opposed to opinion, assertions aren’t true, though it’s likely impossible for Vogl-Bauer to prove. So a student and professor had discussions, which he says were mean and degrading and she says were kind and wonderful. What else is new? Absent some magical ability to prove the statements defamatory, Vogl-Bauer’s suit is dead in the water.
Yet, the fact of a professor suing a former student who thought she was the most awful professor ever is where this devolves to besmirch her reputation far more than this student possibly could. His vendetta comes off as nothing more than a vendetta. His communications appear infantile and ridiculous; another butthurt kid lashing out. This is the stuff you laugh off, not sue over.
And the fact that Llewellyn went to such extremes to pursue his hate on Vogl-Bauer isn’t a reason to sue a student, but a reason to get him therapy. This is the conduct of an internet nutjob, that crazed person sitting up all night in a dark room trying to think up new and bizarre ways to attack the person shooting gamma rays at his brain. You pity someone like this. You don’t sue him.
But now that Sally Vogl-Bauer has chosen the road to the courthouse, a new level of crazy has been breached. Students sue professors and schools. Professors sue students who LIE, LIE, LIE about them in their public assessments. Today, it’s crazed talk on the internet, because everyone knows that if it’s on the internet, it must be true. Tomorrow, it’s the student assessment handouts at the end of class and a whisper campaign to the incoming frosh.
And if Vogl-Bauer’s reputation was so easily besmirched by one student’s vendetta, she might be better advised to work on her rep.
That students have devolved from buddy scholars and statesmen to butthurt babies is, sadly, a trend that’s been happening for quite a while now, as higher ed has facilitated, if not encouraged, them to elevate their feelings above all else. But why is there no grown up in the room? If it’s “fair” that academics retaliate by suit against students for butthurt of their own, then cries of academic freedom will be replaced by screams to “lawyer up.”
The insanity has to stop somewhere, and it would seem that telling the babies to suck it up is too little, too late. But any professor who thinks suing a student is going to vindicate her academic reputation has lost already. Stop the madness. Grow up. Everyone.
And the course was communications? It might be that both just flunked.
OMG! You didn’t provide a trigger-warning for Irony. My whole day is spoiled. Maybe my whole life. I lived in England and was seriously irony-traumatized.
Well, everything is either irony or wrinkly. If I warn you, there will be no suspense.
One factor that makes the student’s actions more damaging was his use of multiple accounts on Google’s own blogspot.com, which I am pretty sure guarantees higher ranking to his content. The initial page of results for a search of “Sally Vogl-Bauer” on Google was being dominated by negative content that is fairly obviously from the same person. That’s more than just a few negative comments on social media or teacher-rating sites.
But that said, I agree with your overall point. The student’s screed is so transparent, it is self-defeating; I wouldn’t dignify it with a response, much less escalate the situation by filing suit.
Is that how the internets work? You’re like a google guru, right?
Program Notes to “Butthurt und Verklärung”
Llewellyn, in this operetta,
Unleashes a lyin’ vendetta.
Besmirched to her shoes,
Vogl-Bauer up and sues,
In hopes of feelin’ mo’ bettah.
Your erudition knows no limits.
This snarky and condescending article reveals a fundamental understanding about the facts of this case and the law that will govern its result. Repeated lies about a professor behind the comfort of a computer screen go far beyond a student revaluation. Put yourself in her shoes before you make such patronizing remarks and wind up, as this student did, in a lawsuit.
Cool name, John, but mind-numbingly stupid comments with infantile threats like this confirm the worst and ugliest about Vogl-Bauer. While Llewellyn may not be able to hurt her (assuming her reputation isn’t that fragile), she can destroy her own reputation. It happens all the time on the internet, as fools puff their narcissism online while others watch the self-destruction happen before their eyes. Nice going, John.
But don’t make lame threats of a lawsuit. If you think I’ve defamed you, John, then do something about it. Otherwise, it’s just good for a laugh at your expense.
Wait. Joseph Radofsky is posting under the pseudonym John Doe? Damn, that boy ain’t right.
The funniest part is how some twinkie thinks she’s going to scare a lawyer by threatening to sue him? At least it’s always good for a laugh.
On that link to the case docket, while I’m not familiar with Wisconsin civ pro, there’s some very interesting pleadings going; first, they appear to pay $36 for a jury additional to the $265 defamation filing fee, but more interestingly it looks like the pro se Defendant has been communicating with the Plantiff’s attorney and who then filed for sanctions, including affidavit of emails between them.
I’m not sure I disagree she shouldn’t have sued. And I get that we’re a nation of laws, but imagine yourself being in her situation from a client (obviously one lying, like the Plaintiff alleges) or from another professor because you attack her ideas maybe relentlessly online. She can’t get him therapy but maybe the lawsuit can resolve itself with an apology or an admission for counseling.
It’s a variation on the common internet nutjob theme, except that this time it implicates the academy and the nature of relationship between teacher and student, even if the students is nuts. There will be no apology nor therapy. This scenario has played out a million times already. It just breeds more insanity, not to mention the new slippery slope problem.
That’s why it takes a grown up to stop it, but apparently they are in short supply in the academy. And judging from this comment, the butthurt is strong in Wisconsin, and there is more than enough crazy to go around.
Perhaps Professor Streisand should ask Doctor Streisand to share some of his hindsight.
Insult And Injury: How Doctors Are Losing The War Against Trolls
BuzzFeed – Jake Rossen
David McKee, M.D., a Duluth, Minn., neurologist, was unaware of the Streisand phenomenon at the time he decided to sue Dennis Laurion. Laurion’s father, Kenneth, had suffered a stroke in April 2010; McKee was called in to assess Kenneth’s condition.
According to the Laurions, McKee was oblivious to Kenneth’s modesty. “His son was right there,” McKee counters. “If he was concerned about the gown, he didn’t get out of his chair to tie it.”
Dennis Laurion consulted with his family to see if his impression of the arrogant doctor was real or imagined. He fired off a dozen or more letters to a variety of medical institutions, including the hospital’s ombudsman, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, Medicare, and the American Medical Association.
McKee sued Laurion for defamation. A local Duluth newspaper picked up on the story, favoring Laurion’s interpretation of events.
In April 2011, the judge granted Laurion’s motion for summary judgment, ruling his comments were protected free speech. A user on Reddit.com posted the newspaper story. Almost overnight, dozens of “reviews” popped up on RateMDs.com and other sites with outlandish commentary on McKee, who was referred to as “the dickface doctor of Duluth.”
McKee found no easy way to exit the situation. “You get drawn in,” he says, suggesting his lawyer nudged him into further action. “It’s throwing good money after bad. … I wanted out almost as soon as I got in, and it was always, ‘Well, just one more step.’” McKee appealed, and the summary judgment was overturned. The case, and the measurable impact of being labeled a “real tool,” was now headed for the Minnesota Supreme Court.
McKee was rated for several years as a top provider in Duluth Superior Magazine, but “From now until the end of time, I’ll be the jerk neurologist who was rude to a World War II veteran,” the physician says. “I’m stuck with it forever.”
It sucks to be Streisanded, but the only solution is to not do something to deserve it. Too bad that many learn the lesson too late.
As one of the “trolls” detailed in the BuzzFeed article, I have no issue with the accuracy of the text – at least as it pertains to me – but the tone of the title fails to distinguish sincere complaints about bedside manner from attacks on mental stability, attacks on medical prowess, fake websites, allegations of dangerous injections, and use of multiple identities. The author said “McKee and Laurion agree on substance…”
While ensnared in David McKee MD V. Dennis Laurion, I have been called a passive aggressive, an oddball, a liar, a coward, a bully, a malicious person, and a zealot family member. I’ve been said to have run a cottage industry vendetta, posting 108 adverse Internet postings in person or through proxies. That’s not correct. In reality, I posted ratings at three consumer rating sites, deleted them, and never rewrote them again.
The plaintiff’s first contact with me was a letter that said in part that he had the means and motivation to pursue me. The financial impact of being sued three years to date has been burdensome, a game of financial attrition that I haven’t wanted to play. The suit cost me the equivalent of two year’s net income – the same as 48 of my car payments plus 48 of my house payments. My family members had to dip into retirement funds to help me.
After receipt of a threat letter, I deleted my rate-your-doctor site postings and sent confirmation emails to opposing counsel. Since May of 2010, postings on the Internet by others include newspaper accounts of the lawsuit; readers’ remarks about the newspaper accounts; and blog opinion pieces written by doctors, lawyers, public relations professionals, patient advocates, and information technology experts. Dozens of websites by doctors, lawyers, patient advocates, medical students, law schools, consumer advocates, and free speech monitors posted opinions that a doctor or plumber shouldn’t sue the family of a customer for a bad rating. These authors never said they saw my deleted ratings – only the news coverage.