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Our Views: Students must proceed with caution in criticizing instructors

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May 27, 2014

The lawsuit that Anthony Llewellyn faces for criticizing a UW-Whitewater professor with online commentary should serve as a cautionary tale for any student at any level, as well as for parents.

Sally Vogl-Bauer is suing Llewellyn, her former graduate student, over what she and her attorney believe are defamatory comments Llewellyn made about her on websites. Llewellyn was in Vogl-Bauer’s communications theories class in spring 2013. Among his claims, he says Vogl-Bauer suggested he didn’t belong in college, labeled him a horrible student and caused him to fail and leave school.

Those are serious accusations.

Years ago, a clash with a teacher might cause a student to caution friends and acquaintances about him or her through word of mouth. Online outlets have changed that.

One such website is RateMyProfessors.com, where students often post and read reviews based on easiness, helpfulness, clarity and rater interest. Llewellyn did not use that site, but after complaining to UW-W’s Communications Department and administration, he emailed the Eastern Communications Association, Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission. He posted YouTube videos and wrote comments on Blogger.com and TeacherComplaints.com.

These communications create concrete evidence for Vogl-Bauer and her attorney in their defamation claim. When they requested that Llewellyn remove the posts, he refused.

“I don’t feel I’ve went too far with my videos and comments because everything posted basically communicates exactly how Sally Vogl-Bauer treated me,” Llewellyn told The Gazette by email for a story last Thursday.

The professor’s lawyer disagrees and says Llewellyn went far beyond opinion.

“When you make false statements of fact repeatedly about another person with the intent of harming them, that’s over the line,” attorney Tim Edwards told reporter Andrea Anderson.

To win her lawsuit, Vogl-Bauer must prove damages. Edwards intends to do that. The lawsuit alleges Llewellyn “engaged in an intentional, malicious and unprivileged campaign to defame Dr. Vogl-Bauer, resulting in substantial economic, reputational and emotional injuries.”

Llewellyn might believe he’s justified, but his approach is far from well thought out. He had yet to hire an attorney, and he inappropriately emailed the judge in the case. Unless he has witnesses or documents that prove his allegations, he might face a long and costly legal battle.

Other students, in college or high school, should proceed with caution before risking similar fates amid today’s proverbial Wild West of online commentary.

 



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