UO reconsidering draconian liability waiver for T&F officials

2/7/2017 update:

From: “Oregon Track & Field” <oregonofficials@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, 6 Feb 2017 21:45:58 -0800
Subject: Waiver Update
To: Oregon Ducks

Dear Oregon Track & Field Officials,

Thank you for your emails and valuable feedback today regarding the
waiver that was part of the online officials database. Because of
your input, I am working within the University of Oregon to address
the concerns you have shared. I will provide an update as soon as
possible, but please allow me a couple of days to work on this.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention. We value your
contributions to our program and appreciate your communication on
this issue.

Sincerely,

Jody

Interestingly, the waiver form for other UO volunteers at https://safety.uoregon.edu/sites/safety1.uoregon.edu/files/volunteer_form_09_01_2016.pdf explicitly exempts volunteers from having to waive their right to sue UO if they experience damage or injury “caused by the negligence or intentional acts” of UO:

Please Read Carefully In consideration of being able to volunteer for the University and University providing liability coverage as detailed previously, I, for myself, my heirs, executors, administrators and assigns, release and forever discharge the State of Oregon, Board of Trustees of the University of Oregon, University of Oregon and their respective officers, employees, members, agents, and volunteers (the “Released Parties”) from any and all demands or claims for damage or injury, from any cause of suit or action, known or unknown, that I may have against the Released Parties and from all liability under the Oregon Tort Claims Act, ORS 30.260-300, for any and all harm or damage to my health in any manner resulting from or arising out of my volunteer activities that is not caused by the negligence or intentional acts of Released Parties.

I don’t know why they wanted the Track and Field volunteers to give up everything.

2/6/2017: UO wants Track and Field volunteers to sign strict liability waiver & pay lawyers

A longtime volunteer at UO track events forwards the following email, regarding the new UO policy to require their volunteers to sign a liability waiver:

I refuse to sign a waiver of all my legal rights “to be permitted to participate in any way” as an unpaid volunteer in multi-million dollar enterprise that (as we are repeatedly informed) could not function without our participation. As your email states, this is a new requirement that has not previously been demanded from track volunteers. As a lawyer, I recognize and understand what is clearly corporate counsel’s effort to “tie up loose ends” by forcing us to sign such a waiver, an effort that I view as a slap in the face of all of those who literally make this program possible.

I don’t mind standing for hours in sideways rain in April or 95 degree heat in July to support track and field. However, I will not “release, waive, discharge, and covenant not to sue the State of Oregon, the Board of Trustees of the University of Oregon, and the University of Oregon (collectively, hereafter called the “University”), their officers, employees, and agents from liability from any and all claims including the negligence of the University, its officers, employees and agents, resulting in personal injury, accidents or illnesses (including death), property loss, and damages arising from, but not limited to, participation” for my unpaid volunteer work.

This waiver ignores and inverts the idea that it is we who are providing the free service for the University rather than the University providing us some benefit for which we are supposed to be thankful and thus give away our legal rights.

I don’t mind giving my “irrevocabl[e] consent to and authorize the University of Oregon to videotape, film and record me” since I’m not particularly photogenic, but if I am injured by some act of negligence of the University, I expect to retain the full range of my legal options which the waiver you demand I sign would eliminate.

I have tried to complete the sign up form without consenting to the waiver, but your “new system” prevents this. I have volunteered with the track program for nine years and had expected to be doing so for many more but if this what you now demand for my free labor, I – with great regret – must inform you that you just lost at least one volunteer, and I suspect many more.

I hope you will reconsider and retract this new policy and act in a manner that respects the volunteers who make the Oregon Track program function.

If you google volunteer liability release site:edu you’ll find that these releases aren’t uncommon. But UO’s language is particularly mean-spirited:

I also agree to INDEMNIFY, DEFEND, AND HOLD the University and its officers, employees, and agents HARMLESS from any and all claims, actions, suits, procedures, costs, expenses, damages and liabilities, including attorney’s fees brought as a result of my involvement in the Activity and to reimburse them for any such expenses incurred.

No need to shout, we get the message. If you volunteer for UO and they are negligent and you get hurt, our General Counsel’s Office will want you to pay UO’s legal expenses.

“Oregon Promise” takes from the poor, sends the rich to community colleges

The technical term is “lose-lose”. Saul Hubbard has an excellent story on the results of Oregon State Senator Mark Haas’s experiment – free community college tuition regardless of how rich you are – in the RG here:

-More grant recipients than the state expected come from well-off and middle class families. That reduces the amount of federal aid they receive, driving up the share of their tuition the state must pony up. Over 30 percent of “Promise” funds are going to students coming, for example, from a household with two kids and a gross income of $110,000 a year or more.

– African-American, Latino, and Native American students are all statistically underrepresented in grant receipt, compared to the respective shares of Oregon’s high school population they make up.

The only ethnic group that’s overrepresented, slightly, in this year’s crop? Non-Hispanic whites.

Oregon’s seven public universities, which saw a slight dip in in-state enrollment this year, are pointing to some of those problems and calling for the state to scrap the “Oregon Promise” next year.

The universities argue that the money would be better sent directly to them and to community colleges to hold down tuition increases, or redirected to the existing Oregon Opportunity Grant program, which provides financial aid exclusively to low-income students at universities and community colleges.

But Sen. Mark Hass, the Tualatin Democrat who led the charge to create the “Oregon Promise” in 2015, is bullish on its future. …

Next year’s story will be on how few of those students are still in school, given community colleges low retention and transfer rates.

Data on grades, courses, and meal cards helps students graduate on time

Yesterday UO’s AVP for Student Success Doneka Scott and Director of Academic Advising Kimberly Johnson talked to the Senate about UO’s efforts to use predictive analytics to help students graduate on time. Today the NYT has a report on similar national efforts – which include using data on social interactions – here:

… Different courses at different universities have proved to be predictors of success, or failure. The most significant seem to be foundational courses that prepare students for higher-level work in a particular major. Across a dozen of its clients, the data analysts Civitas Learning found that the probability of graduating dropped precipitously if students got less than an A or a B in a foundational course in their major, like management for a business major or elementary education for an education major. El Paso Community College’s nursing hot spot was a foundational biology course. Anyone who got an A had a 71 percent chance of graduating in six years; those with a B had only a 53 percent chance.

At the University of Arizona, a high grade in English comp proved to be crucial to graduation. Only 41 percent of students who got a C in freshman writing ended up with a degree, compared with 61 percent of the B students and 72 percent of A students.

“We always figured that if a student got a C, she was fine,” said Melissa Vito, a senior vice provost. “It turns out, a C in a foundation course like freshman composition can be an indicator that the student is not going to succeed.” The university now knows it needs to throw more resources at writing, specifically at those C students.

… At the University of Arizona, Sudha Ram, the director of Insite: Center for Business Intelligence and Analytics, has been experimenting with tracking freshmen — the category of students most likely to drop out — as they swipe their identification cards to go to the library or gym, pay for a meal in the cafeteria or buy a sweatshirt in the bookstore.

“We are measuring social interaction,” Dr. Ram said. “How many people do they tend to hang out with for different activities, and is their hanging out dropping off week by week or getting stronger? A lot of theoretical work has been done on this.”

The findings are put into algorithms to predict who is in danger of not making it to sophomore year.

“Most of the predictive-analytics people are looking at grades,” Dr. Ram said. “A lot of times it’s not the grades but whether they feel comfortable and socially integrated. If they are not socially integrated, they drop out.” ..

 

Jerry Falwell Jr. to lead Trump efforts to cut higher ed administrative bloat

The Chronicle has the news here:

Jerry L. Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, has been asked by President Trump to head up a new task force that will identify changes that should be made to the U.S. Department of Education’s policies and procedures, Mr. Falwell told The Chronicle on Tuesday.

The exact scope, size, and mission of the task force has yet to be formally announced. But in an interview, Mr. Falwell said he sees it as a response to what he called “overreaching regulation” and micromanagement by the department in areas like accreditation and policies that affect colleges’ student-recruiting behavior, like the new “borrower defense to repayment” regulations.

“The goal is to pare it back and give colleges and their accrediting agencies more leeway in governing their affairs,” said Mr. Falwell, who said he had been discussing possible issues with several other college leaders and at least one head of an accrediting agency for the past two months. “I’ve got notebooks full of issues,” he said. …

UO Town Hall tonight on response to Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban

Update: Standing room only for an excellent talk from UC-Davis’s attorney for supporting DACA/Dreamer students.

Meanwhile our wily neighbors to the north are taking advantage of Trump’s fear-mongering by offering an easy path to Canadian citizenship for international students who get a Canadian college degree. The catch, according to the NYT, is that you have to spend your college years in Newfoundland.

Update: UO Administration to host Town Hall tonight at 6PM in EMU ballroom, on UO’s implementation of the Sanctuary Campus resolution and other efforts related to Trump’s travel ban.

Dear University of Oregon community,

The United States has historically attracted and welcomed people from around the globe who helped build our nation, made scientific discoveries, contributed to the arts, fueled our economy, and created our diverse civic culture. Our nation’s first president, George Washington, observed that the “bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respected stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges . . .” Part of the University of Oregon’s mission, as a public institution, is to continue to support this tradition by bringing the best and the brightest here to be part of a rich and vibrant community of scholars.

Academic excellence and global engagement go hand in hand at the UO. By continuing our long history of welcoming eager, talented scholars from many countries, we draw global perspectives into our community and enrich the educational experience. By sending 25 percent of every graduating class to study abroad or participate in overseas internships, we widen our worldview, develop cross-cultural skills, and prepare students for a global economy.

We are troubled by the decision of the new US administration to begin a process of closing our borders by indefinitely banning refugees from Syria, placing a 120-day ban on refugees from all over the world, blocking new visas from seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) for 90 days, and signaling a religious test for admittance of new refugees. The UO is proudly committed to welcoming talented individuals from all countries to study, teach, and carry out research and scholarship on our campus. We stand with the Association of American Universities in supporting a visa system that “prevents entry by those who wish to harm us, while maintaining the inflow of talent that has contributed so much to our nation.”

Many in our community are worried that recent executive orders send the wrong message about our country. Many are concerned for our fellow students, faculty members, and staff members from the targeted countries. If you feel vulnerable and unwanted because of the US president’s actions, please know that you are welcome and appreciated at the UO. You are part of our community, and we stand with you in defense of our shared values of inclusion, equity, curiosity about the world, and global engagement as core to academic excellence. 

Like other public research universities across the nation, the UO welcomes and supports students without regard for immigration status. We clearly stated this as our leadership signed onto a statement by our University Senate on November 16, 2016. The university is now in the process of creating an administrative position within the Division of Student Life that will be a point of contact and a resource for undocumented students and those covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

More recently, we have been working to make sure the most directly affected members of our community receive our full support:

  • Last week we communicated directly with students, faculty and staff members from the seven countries targeted for a 90-day visa ban, recommending these students avoid travel outside the US, given the ban and ensuing uncertainty.
  • We identified all of our students currently on UO study-abroad or overseas internships. While none are from the seven targeted countries, five are non-US citizens, and we are working to ensure their smooth return to campus at the end of their international academic programs.
  • A few UO academic units are about to admit graduate students from the seven targeted countries. We also have undergraduate applicants and potential American English Institute applicants from these countries. We will work to maintain the academic integrity of the admissions process (seek and welcome the best candidates, with an eye toward equity and inclusion), while also acknowledging that the UO cannot control the issuance of US entry visas at embassies and consulates abroad. We will signal willingness to work with these newly admitted students and applicants, on a case-by-case basis, to explore every option available, as we gain more clarity on visa policies to follow the 90-day ban.
  • We will hold a town hall on changing immigration rules at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, January 30, in the EMU Ballroom. Experts on international immigration will review the current state of affairs, answer questions, and reinforce the core message that this university cares deeply about international and undocumented students. The event is open to all. 

We know many people may have questions and concerns. We will soon provide a list of frequently asked questions on UO policies and programs related to international students, faculty and staff members. In addition, the following individuals are available to answer questions:

  • General questions about international policies and programs at the UO can be directed to Vice Provost Dennis Galvan in the Office of International Affairs, dgalvan@uoregon.edu or 541-346-5851
  • International students and visiting scholars can contact Abe Schafermeyer, director of International Student and Scholar Services, abe@uoregon.edu or 541-346-1215
  • International employees may contact international employment specialist Jennifer Doreen, jdoreen@uoregon.edu or 541-346-2638, or Bill Brady, assistant vice president for employee and labor relations, wbrady@uoregon.edu or 541-346-2305

As we have stated so often recently, the UO remains committed to fostering an academic environment that is inclusive and welcoming to all, and it bears repeating that this commitment includes our international students, faculty, and staff.

Sincerely,

Michael H. Schill

President and Professor of Law

Scott Coltrane

Provost and Senior Vice President

1/29/2017: Muslim-ban protesters ignore free-speech time, place and manner restrictions.  The NYT has the report on the JFK protests here. Think of it as a how-to guide for future protests. And the RG has a report on the Eugene rally here.

University presidents act to protect hate speech

FIRE has the report here:

At the University of Maryland (UMD), President Wallace Loh issued a statement yesterday in response to a set of 64 demands from ProtectUMD, a coalition of 25 student groups. The demands, issued in late November, include calls for punishing speech protected by the First Amendment. Specifically, the coalition demands an “[i]mmediate response to hate speech or actions from the University including a consequence (e.g. mark on transcript, potential suspension).” Tellingly, “hate speech” is left undefined.

The University of Maryland has an obligation under federal law to respond to discriminatory harassment, which is unprotected by the First Amendment, as is speech that constitutes incitement or a true threat. But there is no First Amendment exception for “hate speech,” an inherently subjective concept that has no legal definition; one person’s “hate speech” is another’s political manifesto. The vast majority of speech that some or even most might consider “hate speech” is protected by the First Amendment, and for good reason. ProtectUMD’s call for punishing “hate speech” runs headlong into UMD’s legal and moral obligation as a public institution to uphold the First Amendment.

In response, President Loh’s statement—titled “True to Our Values”—explains why freedom of expression must remain at the core of the university’s commitments. While acknowledging “the rise of angst, hurt, and anger in fraught times,” President Loh writes that UMD community members “cannot learn, teach, pursue truth, and advance knowledge without academic freedom and freedom of expression, civility and respect, diversity and inclusion, openness and shared governance.” Instead of censorship, President Loh embraces the challenge of free speech and its necessity for our democracy:

No anodyne will heal the divisions in our country today, nor should it. At the University of Maryland, we do not fear the clash of ideas and values. I ask every member of our academic community to help us move forward with an open mind, consider different perspectives, and debate with respect and civility. These are the qualities that make trust, collaboration, and progress possible in a democracy.

…  University of California, Berkeley

Meanwhile, 2,800 miles to the west, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks also recognized the necessity of free speech in a statement to the campus community. Chancellor Dirks’ letter was prompted by an upcoming visit from Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, planned for next Wednesday and sponsored by the Berkeley College Republicans. Responding to calls for censorship and disinvitation, Chancellor Dirks wrote:

Since the announcement of Mr. Yiannopoulos’s visit, we have received many requests that we ban him from campus and cancel the event. Although we have responded to these requests directly, we would like to explain to the entire campus community why the event will be held as planned. First, from a legal perspective, the U.S. Constitution prohibits UC Berkeley, as a public institution, from banning expression based on its content or viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are hateful or discriminatory.

Regaining public trust in higher education

Insidehighered has a report on a recent symposium:

SAN FRANCISCO — Public trust in colleges and universities is eroding at a time when liberal education is crucial — and institutions must respond aggressively. That was the current running through several panels here Thursday at the annual meeting at the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“A liberal arts education is situated as reserved for those within the ivory tower, reflecting a willful disconnect from the practical matters of everyday life,” said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the AAC&U, during a plenary address called “Always on the Fringe: Closed Futures and the Promise of Liberal Education.” It’s a trend that’s been “exacerbated by the recent political jockeying and appeals to people’s fears and prejudices, in which rational inquiry built on evidence has all but been abandoned.”

In order to restore trust and “destabilize the attitudes at the basis of proposals that devalue education,” Pasquerella said, “we need to demonstrate in a more compelling way to those outside of the academy, Democrats and Republicans alike, the extent to which we are teaching students 21st-century skills, the ability to solve the world’s most pressing problems — local, national and global issues — within the context of the work force, not apart from it.”

Beyond that, she said, “championing liberal education must reaffirm the role that it plays in discerning the truth.” …