Firstly, for those unfamiliar with the world of academia, i should give a short explanation. Like many published books that you find in bookstores, the theses and dissertations produced by graduate students at universities generally contain an Acknowledgements section. You know the sort of thing - a place where you thank your professors, your colleagues, the library staff, friends, family, etc., for helping you get through the academic minefield and the years of hell that are grad school.
Now to my story. In 1999, UC Santa Barbara student Christopher Brown presented his Masters thesis on “The Morphology of Calcium Carbonate: Factors Affecting Crystal Shape.” But this fascinating topic is not the subject for our discussion. No, what i want to talk about is what Brown referred to as his “Disacknowledgement” section, in which he was scathing of various people within and outside the university.
As a result of this, UCSB refused to grant his degree. Eventually, after much formal protest and filing of complaints by Brown, the university caved and awarded him his degree, but only after ABC News showed an interest in the story.
Because Brown had struggled to find a job while all this was going on, he took the university to court in a damage suit. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco sided with the defendants, saying that Brown did not have a first amendment right to his “Disacknowledgements,” and that
One judge wrote a partial dissent from this opinion. According to this article, Judge Stephen Reinhardt
Interestingly, the Materials Science faculty had passed the academic content of the thesis, but they didn’t see the offending section because it was added afterwards, just before Brown submitted the thesis to the library for cataloguing.
While Brown now has his degree, the university still refuses to add his thesis to the library, contrary to standard policy. I’m just interested in getting people’s take on this issue, and i thought GD was the place for it because of the rather debatable issues that are likely to come up. My own take is that the acknowledgements section of a thesis should not be considered part of the academic content of the work, and as such should not necessarily have to conform to regular standards of academic discourse. It is a place to express opinions and emotions, and as long as the academic content of the work is adequate, the thesis should pass. I’d be interested to hear the opinions of others.
Oh, and finally, you have to read the “Disacknowledgements” that got Brown into so much trouble. Here they are:
There is a whole website devoted to this issue here. It includes updates, links to media coverage of the issue, and the full text of the Court of Appeals decision.