Pyrrhic court battle leaves no victors

History, as the saying goes, belongs to the victor.

Yet, recent comments from Saint Louis University Spokesperson Jeff Fowler suggest that administrators understand victory the way George Orwell’s 1984 protagonist understands history: events revised to suit the agendas of those in power.

In October 2007, SLU filed a lawsuit against tenured professor Avis Meyer. This suit charged him with seven counts related to trademark infringement. Charges arose after SLU administrators unilaterally dissolved The University News’ charter in 2007. Meyer-official and unofficial UNews adviser for more than 30 years-copyrighted the paper’s name, reserving the possibility of an off-campus newspaper for students.

In December 2008, Federal Court Judge Carol Jackson dismissed all but one of the seven counts. “There’s really not a whole lot here,” Jackson said of SLU’s charges.

On March 2, SLU and Meyer tentatively settled the final charge; Jackson censured Meyer for deleting some case-related e-mails from his SLU account.

When asked to comment on the lawsuit, Fowler said, “The University clearly sees the judgement by the court as a victory.”

Out of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on legal fees, administrators should have set aside five bucks for a dictionary. That way, they could figure out what victory really means.

Filing six bogus charges out of seven is no victory. Suing a respected professor for efforts to protect students’ free speech is no victory.

These actions define waste, antagonism, even domination-but not victory.

The University certainly retains the right to protect its name from those who wish to use it for unapproved commercial gain. However, Judge Jackson found that this was not Meyer’s intent. Calling this lawsuit a victory merely slaps the label of success over a lose-lose embarrassment.

Fowler’s attempt to justify the University’s exorbitant spending on the case is equally weak: “Whatever amount the University spent wouldn’t have been spent if Dr. Meyer had provided assurances to the University that he wouldn’t take our name in the future.”

Correction: The University wouldn’t have spent “whatever amount” if it had decided to work things out internally, rather than sue one of its most valued tenured faculty members.

Administrators’ refusal to reveal the amount spent on the case is what is truly shameful, especially when the President’s Monthly Message for March outlines SLU’s cost-saving strategies for the year and praises its prudent budgeting.

After writing off this frivolous lawsuit as a “victory,” administrators can rest comfortably knowing that generations of UNewsers will be denied the expertise of a trusted mentor.

If that’s the kind of victory they want, they’ve got it.

Meanwhile, members of The University News, along with Meyer’s myriad students and colleagues, will be celebrating this April as he receives a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Missouri Professional Communicators organization.

Here’s hoping that history belongs to the real victor.