Coltrane and Bronet make two wrongs right

First it was Interim President Scott Coltrane’s decision to tell Interim UO General Counsel Doug Park to drop the counterclaim by UO and Coach Dana Altman against the survivor of the alleged basketball gang rape.

Now Interim Provost Frances Bronet has told the GC’s office to return the student’s confidential counseling records, which University Counseling and Testing Director Shelly Kerr had turned over on Doug Park’s request. Bronet has also issued a strong guarantee that the confidentiality of UO student counseling records will not be broken again.

Josephine Woolington has more on the national implications of Kerr’s decision to turn over the records to Park, and Bronet’s reversal of it, in the RG here.

MEMORANDUM

March 20, 2015

TO: Campus Community

FROM: Provost Frances Bronet

RE: UO’s Commitment to Confidentiality of Student Counseling Records

Last December, the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) obtained copies of therapy records maintained by the University Counseling and Testing Center (UCTC) in response to a litigation hold sent by a student’s attorney. OGC then scanned the records electronically to preserve and secure them. No one at the OGC has reviewed the records. Subsequently, national debate has centered on how access to these records could impact students seeking counseling on university campuses. In response to these concerns, I am affirming that University of Oregon students will have the same level of strong confidentiality that they have in private, off-campus therapy.

In order to emphasize the university’s commitment to the confidentiality of students’ records I am announcing the following actions:

  1. OGC has returned all records at issue so that they may be preserved and secured by the UCTC.
  2. I am instructing all UO employees that they must rigorously respect the confidentiality obligations of therapists in UO clinics and counseling centers.
  3. The university promises each student who comes to UO clinics and counseling centers that, consistent with law and ethics codes, in the future no records will be accessed by anyone not involved in their care, unless:
    • the student signs a written release,
    • a court orders release,
    • the therapist needs to coordinate treatment with others,
    • the therapist needs to prevent harm to the student or others,
    • the therapist needs to provide anonymous, aggregate information to the Director of Affirmative Action to compile statistics regarding sexual assaults.

I will form a committee made up of licensed therapists, faculty, General Counsel, and staff to propose new or clarified policies on how the confidentiality of medical and psychological records for any university departments that handle protected health information will be maintained and protected, and when records may be released. The committee will share a draft of these policies with the UO community in April 2015.

I am grateful for the advice and energy many members of our community have brought and continue to bring to this vital issue, and to our many members of the UCTC for their hard work, dedication, and care for our students.

I urge UO students to use our counseling and mental health services without fear that their counseling records will be disclosed to other parties or UO departments. In addition to the UCTC, I want students to know that other confidential support services are available in the following offices:

Students can call a 24-hour hotline at 541 346-SAFE to speak with a confidential counselor who can explain options and connect students with resources. They can also access such confidential services at the following website: safe.uoregon.edu.

I will resend this message to all students at the start of spring term.

Sincerely,

Frances Bronet

Acting Senior Vice President and Provost

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20 Responses to Coltrane and Bronet make two wrongs right

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is what leadership looks like.

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    • Licensed to drive says:

      The Senate led on these issued. Coltrane and Bronet just followed. But at least they didn’t fight.

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  2. uofO Alum says:

    Too late. The initial practice and headlines are all that anyone–especially sexual assault victims–will remember. Only athletics fan assholes (generally not UO graduates) will note this in comments sections of any newspaper article that questions UO athletics. Hopefully, Coltrane will take this shit storm as a lesson and distance the university from the deceit of a win-at-any-cost athletics program.

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  3. Shelly Game says:

    Why is this only about the General Counsel?

    Why didn’t the counseling director refuse to hand over client records? Didn’t she have some obligations under psychologist rules?

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    • Wazzername says:

      The details of the record-pulling and subsequent intimidation of the care provider have been gone over exhaustively in a lot of other articles and comments sections, so I won’t repeat them all here. It was legal, all sides agree on that, but now all sides also agree more or less that it was a dick move, for lack of a better legal term. Poorly-conceived, unethical, and terrible for the university as a whole.

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      • Youngin' says:

        I don’t think it was legal. They might not have a HIPAA or a FERPA problem, but that really isn’t the issue. The UO is bound by the counseling centers privacy policy, which does not allow the disclosure. The therapists are bound by state licensing rules, which do not allow the disclosure. As a matter of common law, accessing the records by general counsel was an impermissible invasion of privacy under the doctrine of intrusion of solitude. The UO has not advanced a coherent legal defense: it says it has the right to access the records as part of its legal defense, but it does not as therapy records have a presumption of privileged, as was established by the US supreme court in Jaffee v Redmond; it says that it needed to access the records as part of a litigation hold, but therapy records were not included in the litigation hold.

        The legality of GC accessing these documents is currently being litigated in federal court. The HIPAA question is not being litigated—as there are no federal civil remedies for HIPAA violations. So, the entire “FERPA records are not covered by HIPAA so it is okay” argument is a red hearing at this point.

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    • uomatters says:

      UCTC Director Shelly Kerr is licensed by the Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners:

      http://obpe.alcsoftware.com/licdetail.php?id=1500

      They require compliance with APA ethics rules, and they have a complaint process: http://www.oregon.gov/obpe/Pages/investigation.aspx

      Presumably one of the parties involved has filed a complaint against her for this apparent violation.

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  4. Wazzername says:

    I spent so long reading over this memo earlier today, looking for all the double-talk and self-preservation we’ve come to expect from the administration. It will take a long time to heal the campus, but it has to start sometime, and I think this post today recognizes that. Some of that progress will have to come from maintaining our skepticism and anger conscientiously and not– as it so damn tempting– holding onto it just because it feels so good to have something to rage about whenever they fail this school.

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  5. just different says:

    I am happy to hear this. FERPA and HIPAA still need to be rewritten. That is all.

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  6. decisions made says:

    now the question is…..how often have records been improperly accessed prior to this instance? No mention of that, only that this will not happen in the future. There could be a reason the Adminers at UO strongly encourage counseling right away…….so they can peek behind the curtain.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    Coltrane missed another opportunity for leadership here, by having Bronet announce this news as though it were a “women’s issue.” What does the Provost position have to do with this? Coltrane made the mistake in caving to Doug Park’s notion that a countersuit is just the “normal” course of action here; he should be the one owning up to the error; and Doug Park, why is he even still around?

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    • just different says:

      Maybe Bronet was the pointman because the PR emails about the “leaked” presidential archives also came from the Provost’s Office. Just call her Privacy Woman.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Words not found in Bronet’s email: “sorry,” “apologize,” “regret.”

    I am glad for the new policy. But if you take action to reverse the effects of something you did and then create a policy to prevent it from being done again, would it really kill you to say you’re sorry you did it?

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    • just different says:

      I don’t care what they say, I care what they do. Right now this still looks to me like a damage-control PR move. When somebody high up publicly says that this entire incident shows that FERPA is very, very broken and needs to be overhauled so that it actually functions to protect student privacy, then I’ll believe they’re sorry.

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    • Working GTF says:

      We’ll never see those words in any public forum from this admin because to do would be a tacit admission that they’ve done something wrong, and because the only thing this admin fears is a loss in court, they’ll never make such an admission.

      When the only thing that matters is brand, and the only thing that is attended to is image, you get what has happened here.

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  9. One more step says:

    UO may have promised not to pull our counseling records, but they sure as hell didn’t promise not to sue anyone for shedding light on a sexual assault the next time this happens.

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    • just different says:

      From a legal standpoint, you can wrap their promises on a four-inch cardboard tube. Universities have consistently been permitted to unilaterally cancel any such implicit contracts with students, and even if they don’t it’s almost impossible for a student to enforce any sort of contractual claim. If there’s a lawsuit, violation of this policy would be a secondary claim at best. But at least UO is pretending to try.

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  10. on notice says:

    The significance of the e-mail was that up until the day it was sent, Kerr and her supervisors were still defending the release of the counseling records.

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  11. C'mon Bill says:

    You had confidential documents for how many weeks? It’s entirely possible that you had some of these documents. Who are you (really) to get your panties in a bunch about this. In the words of your supporters we should “release them all.” Once you get a grip on your hypocrisy, let us know. Until then, you have no moral right to post on this issue.

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