The freedom to acknowledge or disacknowledge faculty members in a student’s college career was not determined yesterday; instead, the verdict is expected this April.
Judge Ronald Lew of the Los Angeles Federal District Court postponed his decision yesterday to hear or dismiss the case of former UCSB material science graduate student Christopher Brown against Chancellor Henry Yang and other UCSB personnel for violation of Brown’s freedom of expression protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Others named in the lawsuit include Graduate Dean Charles Li, Faculty Adviser Galen Stucky, chair of the Materials Dept. Fred Lange, molecular genetics professor Daniel Morse and librarian Sarah Pritchard.
In June 1999, Brown was denied his degree in material science after his master’s dissertation was pulled from the special collections at Davidson Library, and Brown’s thesis committee was notified that he had inserted a disacknowledgement section to the beginning of his thesis. The section is typically used for graduate students to thank staff and others who helped in the dissertation process; however, Brown used it to express his contempt towards some UCSB staff, including Li.
Brown’s dissertation was initially accepted by his committee, but was later retracted when the disacknowledgements were discovered. Brown then refused to provide letters of apology to UCSB staff, claiming the request for an apology violated his academic freedom. He was eventually granted his degree, but Li refused the admittance of Brown’s thesis into Davidson Library while the disacknowledgement portion remained.
Lew postponed the judgement for 90 days to allow the two parties to complete a discovery process, during which the two parties exchange all documents pertaining to the case. Brown said Lew was reluctant to pass judgement on the defense’s motion to dismiss the case because of the unstudied documents.
"[The discovery process is] a good decision, much to the defense’s chagrin," he said. "I think we will find some documents of value. Our ideas are still vastly superior to theirs’."
Representing Yang and the rest of the UCSB faculty, attorney Christopher Patty from the University of California General Council said the judgement was made primarily in order to allow Brown’s attorneys time to study their documents.
"[The discovery process is] not particularly good for either side," he said. "It’s really just a delay."
The postponed court date has been set for April 9 at the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse.