UC-Santa Barbara Won’t Challenge Web Site That Spotlights Crime on the Campus

By on February 25, 2005

Behind the stunning coastal beauty of the University of California at Santa Barbara lurk mayhem and danger, according to James H. Baron. He says his daughter left the university in 2003, in her junior year, because she was assaulted on campus.

In an effort to expose what he calls “deviant behaviors” of Santa Barbara students — including drunkenness, drug use, and violence — and what he sees as the lax attitude of administrators, Mr. Baron created a Web site called the Dark Side of UCSB (http://www.thedarksideofucsb.com).

He said the goal is to improve the university and provide a resource for students who want advice when they are victims of violence or abuse. Mr. Baron created the Web site in November and says he has four paid staff members who help him run it.

Not surprisingly, university administrators don’t like the site. In November they demanded that Mr. Baron drop “UCSB” from the Web address and from tags in the site that are read by search engines, saying that his use of the letters infringed on the university’s trademark and could lead people to think that the site is affiliated with the university. Mr. Baron refused to comply.

The university recently reversed its stand and announced that it would not pursue legal action against Mr. Baron.

Paul Desruisseaux, a university spokesman, says Santa Barbara changed its mind because Mr. Baron posted a disclaimer on his site explaining that it is not supported by the university. “Once that was there it became less of an issue for us,” says Mr. Desruisseaux.

He says, however, that the site defames the university and inaccurately describes university life. He disputes the charge that university administrators fail to adequately respond to campus crime.

Mr. Baron says his Web site always had a disclaimer. He believes the university’s about-face is a result of criticism it received from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia-based advocacy group.

The group sent a letter to the university chancellor, Henry T. Yang, stating that the university’s legal threats against Mr. Baron’s site trampled on the free-speech rights of students, professors, and citizens who want to criticize the university.

The letter, dated January 31, asked Mr. Yang to “immediately cease attempting to squelch Mr. Baron’s expression by threatening him with criminal action.”

In a letter dated the following day, David M. Birnbaum, the university’s legal counsel, replied by informing the foundation that Santa Barbara will not “pursue the matter further.”

Mr. Desruisseaux says the university’s decision had nothing to do with the foundation’s appeal. And Mr. Birnbaum says he sent Mr. Baron a letter telling him he was off the hook even before receiving the foundation’s letter.

Schools: University of California, Santa Barbara