Teachers plan lawsuit against school for links on Web site

Instructors angry that linked site criticizes their teaching

CALIFORNIA — Tired of the unpredictable quality of classes and teachers, a student at City College of San Francisco decided to do something about it.

After a frustrating semester, Ryan Lathouwer began a private Web site called “Teacher Review,” a site where students could anonymously post what they thought of teachers. On the opening Web page, the site says it “transforms the inefficient ‘word of mouth’ system into an on-line resource for current and future students.”

Beyond creating the site in September 1997, Lathouwer has done little with it, giving students free reign.

“I don1t do much. There are some guidelines,” Lathouwer said. “After the fact, I don’t do any editing. People are encouraged to contact me if they feel something is wrong.”

But the open forum that Lathouwer created now has a group of teachers pitted against the college because of alleged defamatory statements contained on the site.

Five instructors said they are planning to file a lawsuit against the college for the links the school Web site has to the student1s private site, claiming that the school is promoting and validating the site by directing browsers through the link.

Pamela Samuelson, a leading expert on Internet law at the University of California at Berkeley, told the San Francisco Chronicle that this may be the first libel-by-link case.

Teachers in the potential lawsuit remain adamant about the college’s role.

“No one would know this existed unless you went and accessed it through the university Web page,” said Daniel Curzon-Brown, an English instructor who is a part of the proposed lawsuit.

Curzon-Brown said he and other instructors approached Lathouwer to do something about the critical statements, but no changes were made.

“We approached [Lathouwer] several times,” Curzon-Brown said. “[He] acts like this is [his] God-given right.”

Although a disclaimer of any affiliation to City College of San Francisco is posted on the opening page of Teacher Review, the instructors said they are not satisfied.

Neyde M. Azvedo, a music instructor at City College, joined Curzon-Brown1s effort to find a legal remedy.

“I’m all for the students to have freedom of speech, but I’m not for the slander, especially when its anonymous,” Azvedo said. “We should have the right to speech, too.”

Curzon-Brown said he sent notes to other teachers about the site and its content, and five other instructors are now planning to file separate lawsuits.

Shelley Buchanan, attorney for Curzon-Brown, Azvedo and three other teachers, said the case is more than a “libel by link” issue.

“We actually think that since the issue is the employer not responding to the issue, we are in a pretty good case,” she said.

College officials in the general counsel1s office declined to comment.

Fall 1998, reports