A clean, well lighted place

Professor Harper announces that the UO Faculty Club will be open this Wed and Th, under the usual rules:

WHO: The UO Faculty Club is open to all UO statutory faculty—tenure-track faculty, career non-tenure-track faculty, and OAs tenured in an academic department, as well as people retired from positions in these categories.  Eligible people may bring anyone they like as guests.

WHAT: Cash Bar; complimentary hors d’oeuvres.

WHERE: The Faculty Club meets in a designated room on the ground floor of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.  Enter at the museum’s main entrance and turn right; the club room is right off the lobby.

WHEN: 5:00-8:00 pm every Wednesday and Thursday through the last week of Winter Term (March 16); activity will resume again for Spring Term on April 5.

CHILDCARE (reserve spots ahead of time): Enjoy socializing in the faculty club while your child (ages 3+) participates in an art workshop in the museum’s art studio, directly across from the faculty club. Cost is $10 for the first child, $5 for the second sibling. RSVP to Jordyn Fox, jordynf@uoregon.edu.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Faculty Club Board Chair James Harper (associate professor, History of Art and Architecture), harperj@uoregon.edu.

New Duck football coach opens up three scholarship slots for his new recruits

That would be the cynical take. Kenny Jacoby has the scoop in the Daily Emerald here:

Three Oregon football players who had off-the-field issues have been dismissed from the team, UO athletics spokesman Craig Pintens confirmed Monday afternoon.

No news yet on the General Counsel’s investigation of the Duck Athletic Department’s threats to Jacoby over his investigative stories about the recent assaults by their football players. Meanwhile the NYT has an interesting story on new research on football and brain damage, here.

Lawyers Guns and Money takes on Volokh for his WaPo opinion

A while back I asked commenters for links to legal analyses defending the administration’s decision to discipline Prof. Shurtz. The popular Lawyers, Guns and Money blog has one of sorts, with many comments: http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2016/12/bad-applications-of-anti-harassment-law-should-not-be-used-to-justify-mostly-eliminating-anti-harassment-laws. The beginning:

I agree with the bottom line of Eugene Volokh’s analysis here: Shurtz’s foolish decision to wear blackface at a party to which her students were invited is not legal harassment and, as an isolated incident, should not be a firable offense. (Although I remain unclear what exactly the sanction is: is it just a temporary suspension with pay? Is the university moving to fire her?) But there are a couple of problems with Volokh’s analysis:

Shurtz had told the students that she would be “going as a popular book title”; she didn’t tell the students up front what it was, but the book was the recent (and acclaimed) “Black Man in a White Coat,” a black doctor’s “reflections on race and medicine” (according to the subtitle). Shurtz’s “costume incorporated a white doctor’s lab coat, a stethoscope, black makeup on her face and hands, and a black curly wig resembling an afro.” The university report states that Shurtz “was inspired by this book and by the author, that she greatly admires [the author] and wanted to honor him, and that she dressed as the book because she finds it reprehensible that there is a shortage of racial diversity, and particularly of black men, in higher education.”

But many people find whites putting on makeup to look black to be offensive. I’m skeptical about the soundness of this view: The university report justifies the view by saying that “Blackface minstrelsy first became nationally popular in the late 1820s when white male performers portrayed African-American characters using burnt cork to blacken their skin” and that “wearing tattered clothes, the performances mocked black behavior, playing racial stereotypes for laughs” — but it doesn’t follow to me that wearing black makeup without mocking black behavior or playing racial stereotypes for laughs should be perceived as offensive. Nonetheless, it is a fact (though one that Shurtz apparently didn’t know) that many people do, rightly or wrongly, view this as offensive.

Oh come on. I’m sure that Shurtz had an elaborate rationalization for why her use of blackface was a subtle attack on racism, but 1)the reaction to her use of blackface was entirely predictable and not in the least irrational and 2)it is beyond belief that Shurtz was unaware of the likely reaction. To state the obvious, the students seeing Shurtz in blackface were highly unlikely to be aware of the context of a fairly obscure year-old book and to immediately make the association. They were much more likely to see an affluent white woman wearing blackface, and to be perfectly reasonably offended by this. In an academic setting — and while it was a party at her house, if you’re inviting students from an ongoing class you should be acting as if it’s a classroom — you have to consider your audience and the context from which they’re viewing your actions. Here’s a handy rule: if you’re a white person and wondering whether you should wear blackface, the answer is “you shouldn’t.” And if you’re not wondering you probably should be.

President Schill on controversial Halloween costume & free speech

Dear Colleagues

Over the past couple of months, the University of Oregon’s handling of events associated with Professor Nancy Shurtz’s decision to wear a controversial Halloween costume has garnered significant media attention, both locally and nationally. A number of editorials, letters to the editor, and blog posts have engaged in discussions on the topic. Some of the coverage has been, in my opinion, thoughtful but some has, perhaps not surprisingly, sensationalized and caricatured what is a very serious incident that deeply affected our students and, by extension, our entire university community. A number of colleagues have asked me for my own views on the matter. I hesitate to burden you with this personal reflection, but because this incident has polarized our community I have decided that it would be useful for me to share some of my own thoughts about the matter.

At the outset, I should state that, under university policies, the provost, not the president, is the figure whose job it is to respond to complaints against faculty members. Therefore, I have not played a formal role in responding to the incident. I write this to clarify my institutional role and not to decline responsibility. To the contrary, as president, I am ultimately responsible for everything on our campus. 

When Professor Shurtz invited her two classes to her home for a Halloween party on October 31 and dressed up wearing blackface, she created a conundrum that is the stuff of a very difficult law school examination question. Two very important principles were potentially in conflict—the right of students to be free from racial harassment and the right of faculty members to exercise free speech. A law firm that the university hired to do an impartial investigation of the matter interviewed students and faculty members who were at the party and made a factual finding that at least some of the students felt compelled to attend their professor’s party and that they would potentially suffer negative consequences if they left early, despite being deeply offended and affronted by Professor Shurtz’s costume and its strong connotations of racism. The investigators made a factual finding that the behavior by Professor Shurtz constituted racial harassment under university policy V.11.02.

Of course, this is only part of the story. Professor Shurtz told the investigators that she didn’t intend to act in a racist manner. Instead, she said she was dressed “as a book” she had recently read that highlighted the shortage of black doctors in the medical profession. She also told the investigators that she was making a statement about the paucity of African American doctors. The law firm weighed the harms from the harassment against the value of her conduct and determined that, according to the balancing test prescribed by Pickering v. Board of Education, the former outweighed the latter, rendering her conduct unprotected. The provost accepted the findings of the investigation and, pursuant to university policy, took appropriate actions to make sure that Professor Shurtz understood the gravity of the incident and would not behave in a similar fashion in the future. I am not able to divulge the nature of these actions because university policy mandates confidentiality. 

As I consider the case of Professor Shurtz, I have to admit I am torn. I believe that freedom of speech is the core value of any university. When faculty members pursue their avocation—teaching students and conducting research—they must be able to say or write what they think without fear of retribution, even if their views are controversial, and even if their research and their views risk causing offense to others. Otherwise, advances in learning will be stunted. This freedom of speech includes the freedom to share political views, academic theories, good ideas, and even bad ones, too. It includes speech that offends others. Without academic freedom we could scarcely call the UO a university.

For me, stating that principle in the abstract is easy and uncomplicated. But here is the problem—figuring out when and whether there are legitimate limits on freedom of expression actually is complicated. In general, it is not acceptable for someone to use her rights to deprive another of her rights. I should not be able to use my speech to deny others of their right to be free from racial or sexual harassment. I can hold—and share—controversial views. But that does not give me the right to harass specific individuals or to speak in any way I wish to, in any place, or any point in time. 

But, when exactly does offending someone turn into proscribed harassment? Only a small number of legal commentators would say that faculty members should be immune from all harassment charges on academic freedom grounds. Instead, most of us recognize that speech rights are extremely important, but they also fall on a continuum. For whatever it is worth, I personally am fairly close to the end of the spectrum that believes speech should be maximally protected. But even I believe that there are cases when speech or conduct is of relatively minimal value compared to the great harm that it may do to our students—particularly to students who already struggle with isolation and lack of representation. For example, imagine a required class in which a professor repeatedly uses the “N” word for no apparent reason except to elicit a reaction. Could African American students forced to sit through this class have a claim of harassment? I think so. Similarly, imagine a class in which a professor makes repeated, sexually explicit remarks to a student or students for no educational purpose. Free speech principles should not, in my view, prevent the university from taking appropriate actions to make sure these actions stop and do not recur in the future. 

To be sure, the case of Professor Shurtz is not quite as clear-cut. The events took place in her home, not in the classroom. Her stated intention ex post was not to offend, but to draw attention to systemic racism. Still, some of her students felt that they were in a similar situation to students in a classroom being subjected to harassing speech, as they felt pressure to attend and to remain at the event. They felt that they could not leave without jeopardizing their standing in the class, and they also felt that the offensive nature of the blackface was the equivalent of hearing the “N” word. In these circumstances, should the university have ignored the event or should it have taken action proportionate to the offense? What lesson would we be teaching our students if we let the incident end without even an official letter of reprimand?  These were the very difficult questions that Provost Coltrane had to grapple with, and I am supportive of the process he used and the fairness he displayed in making his decision.

Some commentators have taken to the barricades, and suggested that any finding or action taken with respect to Professor Shurtz will ultimately open the door to firing professors for expressing their political views. Really? In law, we call this the “slippery slope” argument or “the parade of horribles.” While I have tossed and turned for nights over the fact that the university found that a professor’s expressive conduct constituted harassment, I think the reaction of those commentators is overly dramatic and not supported by anything that took place in this case. Go online and you will find that Professor Shurtz remains a member of the law school faculty. Name a single faculty member who has been punished by the provost for his or her political views. This has not happened and you have my vow it won’t happen as long as I occupy my office in Johnson Hall. 

The blackface incident has been a painful one for everyone in our UO community. It came at a time of heightened emotions with respect to the treatment of African Americans on our campus and on campuses throughout the nation. It also came at a time of turmoil and recrimination in our national politics. In my opinion, each of us should be uncomfortable with the harassment that our students experienced at the home of a senior faculty member. Each of us should also be uncomfortable with the fact that the provost felt it necessary to take remedial actions with respect to a faculty member in connection with her expressive conduct. Maybe I am just being a Pollyanna, but ultimately I hope that this discomfort will serve a good purpose.  I hope that we come out of this experience with a greater understanding both of the value of free speech and the ways in which our speech can harm each other.


Michael H. Schill

President and Professor of Law

University Board sends helpful meeting announcement with detailed agenda info

That would be the Oregon State University Board, which has some significant business on their agenda, as usual:

Public Meetings Notice
January 9, 2017

The Oregon State University Board of Trustees will meet on Friday, January 20, to discuss Oregon State’s efforts to advance equity, inclusion, and social justice and to receive an update on efforts to prepare for the 2017 Oregon legislative session and to develop a vision statement for 2030.

Trustees will also consider the university’s 10-year business forecast, a framework to guide evaluation of investment policy change requests, amendments to the Public University Fund investment policy, an amendment to the OSU capital plan, and an adjustment in presidential compensation.

During the meeting, the Board will hold an executive session pursuant to ORS 192.660(2)(e) and 192.660(2)(h) to conduct deliberations with persons designated by the governing body to negotiate real property transactions and to consult with legal counsel in regard to current litigation or litigation likely to be filed.

A public comment period is provided at each board meeting. Commenters must sign up prior to the public comment period of the meeting. Commenters may register by e-mail before the meeting by contacting Marcia Stuart at marcia.stuart@oregonstate.edu or may register at the meeting itself. There is also a public comment opportunity before the Board votes on each action item listed on the board agenda.

The meeting will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Horizon Room of the Memorial Union, 2501 SW Jefferson Way on Oregon State’s Corvallis campus. The meeting open to the public.

On Wednesday, January 18, the Finance & Administration Committee of the Board will meet from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the Willamette Room of the CH2M Hill Alumni Center located at 725 SW 26th Street, Corvallis. The committee will review fiscal year 2017-18 tuition and budget scenarios. There will be an opportunity for public during this agenda item. Commenters may register by e-mail before the meeting by contacting Marcia Stuart at marcia.stuart@oregonstate.edu or may register at the meeting itself. In addition, the committee will also discuss the university’s fiscal year 2016 financial statement analysis and financial metrics and consider the annual internal bank report and an amendment to the university’s capital plan. The committee meeting is open to the public.

The following Board committees will meet on Thursday, January 19, in the Horizon Room of the Memorial Union. These meetings are also open to the public:
· The Executive & Audit Committee will meet from 8 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. to review the Office of Audit Services charter and final progress report and audit plan. The committee will also consider an adjustment in presidential compensation and will discuss the university’s statement of mission, principles and core values.

· The Executive & Audit and Finance & Administration committees will hold a joint meeting from 9:45 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. to consider and approve the university’s fiscal year 2016 annual financial statements.

· The Finance & Administration and Academic Strategies committees will hold a joint meeting from 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. The committees will consider the university’s 10-year business forecast.

· The Academic Strategies Committee will meet from 12:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. to hear reports on OSU’s research enterprise; initiatives regarding student behavior, student housing and Corvallis community livability; the OSU’s freedom of expression policies; and campus policies and practices regarding student protest. The committee will also consider a new academic program in geography and geospatial science and will hear a status report on new and existing academic program reviews and accreditations in progress.

· The Finance & Administration Committee will meet from 3:15 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. to consider a framework to guide evaluation of investment policy change requests. The committee will also hear presentations on an intercollegiate athletics financial sustainability plan and on the 2017 Oregon legislative session.

The agendas and meeting materials will be posted as they are available at http://oregonstate.edu/leadership/trustees/meetings. The public can listen to the meetings by calling the toll-free number listed on the agendas. If special accommodation is required, please contact Marcia Stuart at (541) 737-3449 or marcia.stuart@oregonstate.edu at least 72 hours in advance.

Men get credit where women do not

A (sole-authored) paper presented at the American Economic Association annual meeting this weekend. Summary from InsideHigherEd:

To determine the impact of co-authorship, Sarsons tracked all of economics professors who came up for tenure between 1985 and 2014 at 30 top universities, all places that stress tenure candidates’ research credentials. She considered various factors to control for paper and journal quality through such measures as citation indexes.

Her findings:

  • Men and women who are solo authors of most of their papers have similar rates of tenure, when factoring in measures of paper quality.
  • When men co-author papers, each such paper is associated with an increase of 8 percent in the odds of the man earning tenure. But when women co-author papers, each such paper is associated only with a 2 percent increase in the odds of earning tenure.

Sarsons argues in her paper that there is additional evidence that women and men are judged differently when they co-author papers. When women co-author papers with women, the impact of co-authored papers is similar to that for male faculty members. But when papers are co-authored with men, there is more of an impact, suggesting that review committees assume that papers written by a man and a woman reflect the work of the man more than the woman.

UO Alert! Provost yields to incessant tweets and ice, cancels classes

Wow, and I thought this blog gets some pointed comments. I don’t see anything that would be illegal under the protection of the First Amendment, but knowing how our administration feels about free speech I’m just reposting a few of the more civil ones:

Perhaps Coltrane was so reluctant to cancel classes because he remembers what happened last time:

Of course the faculty and staff will make it:

January 8, 2017 – 2:15 pm

Members of the University Community,

We expect the University of Oregon to be open on Monday, Jan. 9, however, all classes are canceled, and the new term will officially start on Jan. 10.

While temperatures are expected to warm considerably in the Eugene area by tomorrow morning, the impact of snow, ice, and extreme cold stretching from Northern California to Portland and beyond has made it extremely challenging for many students to return to campus in time for classes tomorrow. There have been numerous flight delays and hazardous road conditions in many areas on the west coast. For this reason, we are canceling classes on Monday.

We encourage students, faculty, and staff to use caution and stay safe as you travel to and around campus, and we specifically ask that faculty continue to be flexible for students who cannot make it to campus in the next several days due to continued travel-related delays.

UO Campus Planning and Facilities Management crews have been working overtime to make safe designated walking paths around campus, but some areas may remain challenging early Monday. We encourage everyone to please use caution and plan for extra travel time.

Below you will find a list of resources. Visit alerts.uoregon.edu for continuous updates as weather conditions continue to evolve.


Scott Coltrane

Provost and Senior Vice President

The College Sex Bureaucracy

A long analysis in the Chronicle of Higher Ed from Jacob Gersen and Jeannie Suk Gersen, professors at Harvard Law School. (May be gated if off campus):

Often with the best of intentions, the federal government in the past six years has presided over the creation of a sex bureaucracy that says its aim is to reduce sexual violence but that is actually enforcing a contested vision of sexual morality and disciplining those who deviate from it.

Many observers assume that today’s important campus sexual-assault debate is concerned with forcible or coerced sex, or with taking advantage of someone who is too drunk to be able to consent. But the definition of sexual assault has stretched enormously, in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. Indeed, the concept of sexual misconduct has grown to include most voluntary and willing sexual conduct.

Behind this elastic idea of sexual misconduct is a web of well-meaning federal statutes, especially Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education, and the Violence Against Women Act, which, in its 2013 reauthorization, requires colleges to publicly disclose how they define, prevent, investigate, and discipline sexual misconduct. Under President Obama, the Department of Education’s interpretations of those laws have greatly expanded the control exercised by the federal government over sexual conduct.

In essence, the federal government has created a sex bureaucracy that has in turn conscripted officials at colleges as bureaucrats of desire, responsible for defining healthy, permissible sex and disciplining deviations from those supposed norms. The results are not only cringeworthy but also unfair, potentially racially discriminatory, and detrimental to the crucial fight against sexual violence. …

Can the administration fire Shurtz? Will they?

Not without a formal judgement by her peers following established procedures. In fact the administration can’t even punish her without that. Academic freedom is still pretty strong at UO.

See the “final investigative report” from UO’s employment law specialists Edwin A. Harnden & Shayda Z. Le of Barran Liebman, LLP, and the letter from Provost Coltrane posted here. Page 5 of the Harnden-Ze Report cites UO’s Academic Freedom Policy – signed by former UO President Mike Gottfredson, after months of negotiations between him, the UO General Counsel’s Office, and the UO Senate:


These freedoms derive immediately from the university’s basic commitment to advancing knowledge and understanding. The academic freedoms enumerated in this policy shall be exercised without fear of institutional reprisal. Only serious abuses of this policy – ones that rise to the level of professional misbehavior or professional incompetence – should lead to adverse consequences. Any such determinations shall be made in accordance with established, formal procedures involving judgment by relevant peers.

Coltrane’s letter to the faculty does not even hint at the possibility that he followed any “formal procedures involving judgment by relevant peers” before issuing his personal judgement that “… the violation and its resulting impact on students in the law school and university outweighed free speech protections provided under the Constitution and our school’s academic freedom policies”,  or that he plans to do so. Yet that same sentence makes clear that Coltrane’s decision that Shurtz had engaged in “Discriminatory Harassment” was made after consideration of her academic freedom, so the above policy clearly applies. Harnden & Ze even put it in their report. Very helpful.