A group of students have come up against the University of Maine administration in their effort to sell stickers to benefit the Women’s Resource Center. Kevin Fitzpatrick, a first-year political science and economics student, designed stickers with Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Robert Dana’s face layered over two Juuls and two cans of Natural Light beer. Two lines of text underneath read “Graduation Rate: 60%. Inebriation Rate: 100%.”
Fitzpatrick said that all net profits from the stickers, save the $200 spent on production, would go directly to the Women’s Resource Center.
UMaine’s Division of Marketing, however, has taken an aggressive stance in preventing the sale of the stickers and the use of Dana’s likeness. Takquan Parks, an administrator of the “UMaine Memes for Drunken Teens” Facebook page and a third-year biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology student, received an email from Senior Director of Public Relations Margaret Nagle insisting that the sticker sales be stopped.
“This email serves as an official request to you as administrator of the University of Maine MEMES Facebook page to stop producing and selling stickers with the photo of UMaine Dana. You do not have permission to use his image and your claim that proceeds benefit the Women’s Resource Center is not valid. The Women’s Resource Center is funded through the Division of Student Life and cannot benefit from the proceeds,” the email from Nagle stated.
Assistant Vice President for Student Life Kenda Scheele said that although the Division of Marketing likely has no legal standing to prevent Fitzpatrick and Parks from selling the stickers, they view it as a matter of impropriety.
“We believe alcoholism and alcohol abuse and binge drinking are big problems on college campuses. Ours is no exception,” Scheele said. “So we would have probably wanted to work with them a little bit more about the messaging.”
Because Dana would likely be considered a public figure, plaintiffs in a defamation or slander case would need to prove actual malice, meaning that the information was published “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not,” according to the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan.
Scheele said that the response of the Division of Marketing was due to a lack of respect shown to Dana and cited his history as an advocate for students at UMaine.
“Alcohol and substance abuse are very near and dear to his heart,” Scheele said. “He started at the university 34 years ago as a researcher working in what was then the Health Center on drug and alcohol abuse among students… And then to use his face in that way.”
Fitzpatrick and Parks both said that the use of Dana’s face was not used with the intention of disrespecting him, but because he’s instantly recognizable as a figure in the administration and an advocate for students.
“I never chose him to make fun of him or denigrate him, he’s a cool guy and [has] a kind personality,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think he’s a perfect emblem for us as students.”
Parks agrees and says that his own face was almost used as a replacement for Dana’s when the Division of Marketing pushed back.
“I think it’s less us making fun of him, and more or less just recognizing that he’s kind of a staple of the university,” Parks said.
Dana was not available for comment, but Scheele said that he is aware of the ongoing conflict over the stickers.
The difficulty in Fitzpatrick donating the revenue from the stickers to the Women’s Resource Center stems from the Resource Center being a part of the university. The University of Maine is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public institution, and as such must classify and log all donations for tax deductions. Non-profit institutions must retain records of donations for seven years in case of an IRS audit.
“[Fitzpatrick and Parks] may have wanted to benefit the student Women’s Resource Center, which is a great, laudable kind of thing to do, but they can’t just say they’re going to do that without having the mechanism in place,” Scheele said.
She emphasized that there is still a path to donate to the Women’s Resource Center and encouraged Fitzpatrick to coordinate with Andrea Gifford, the Director of Student and Administrative Support Services, to work out the payment process.
As of Saturday, April 20, Fitzpatrick had raised over $1,000 to give to the Women’s Resource Center and was in the process of discussing the donation with Gifford.