LOS ANGELES (AP) – A judge dismissed a lawsuit by a former university student who denounced mentors in his master’s thesis and then claimed his free speech rights were violated when officials refused to file it on the school library’s shelves.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Lew tossed the case out Monday, saying that Chris Brown had no constitutional right to compel the University of California, Santa Barbara to accept the thesis, complete with a section he labeled “disacknowledgements.”
The ruling was a blow to efforts Brown has undertaken for nearly two years to get his 1999 thesis placed on the library’s shelves.
Administrators have refused because he labeled a section “disacknowledgments” – in place of “acknowledgments” students traditionally offer their mentors – and lashed out at staff with remarks that were initially obscene, but were later toned down.
Brown sued last year, claiming that six university officials, including Chancellor Henry Yang, Graduate Dean Charles Li and Library Director Sarah Pritchard, infringed his constitutional right to free speech and academic freedom.
Brown’s attorney, Paul Hoffman, a former legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, argued in court documents that his client would not have had a problem if he had chosen to praise university officials.
“Some (graduate student theses) included gushy personal statements and even cartoons,” Hoffman said. But in two pages of obscenity-laced language, which he later revised, Brown criticized UC regents as biased and corrupt, blamed the university’s library staff for “incomprehensible fines” and a “poor attitude”, and even took a shot at former Gov. Pete Wilson, calling him a “supreme government jerk who has personally overseen the demise of the university.”
University of California counsel Christopher Patti said Brown violated the university’s rules by trying to include his angry denouncements in his thesis, rather than seeking to publish them on a Web site or in a newspaper.
“He was trying to get the faculty members to sign (off on the document) indicating they approved of the disacknowledgments section,” Patti said.
Brown, a materials engineering graduate, was denied a degree for more than a year, but officials finally relented. They still refuse to file the thesis among thousands of others in the university library.
Brown, who was unable to work in his field until the university gave him his degree, sought unspecified financial damages but said he has spent about $12,000 on the dispute and the legal case, not including lost wages.
He plans to appeal the judge’s decision.