New law lets DA fine Kevin Reed’s office $200 for public records fails

HB 2353 has now passed the Oregon House and Senate unanimously, and Governor Brown is expected to sign it soon:

I like how the fine goes to the requester of the records. This emergency legislation is indeed necessary for the sake of the public peace. In the past year the Lane County District Attorney has had to order Kevin Reed’s office twice to comply with Oregon law, and provide records that UO was trying to hide from the public:

And, in November 2018:

Brad Schmidt has petitioned the District Attorney to review a denial of a public records request made to the University of Oregon (University).

Mr. Schmidt asks that the University be ordered to disclose,

All Nike Elite allotment orders, including product descriptions, sizes, costs and delivery/shipping information, from the 2017-18 allotment made by the following individuals: Mike Mennenga, Josh Jamieson, Kevin McKenna, Tony Stubblefield.

In a letter explaining it’s opposition to the petition, the University characterizes the issue as follows.  The University has contracted with Nike, which requires, among other things, that Nike provide product to the University in a certain dollar amount.  In return, the University agrees that certain University personnel, and athletes, wear Nike apparel at what is described in the contract as “program activities.”  The University asserts that the contract requires it to provide Nike products to the affected employees and athletes to wear at such “program activities,” and that it does so through products provided to the University, and passed on to employees.  The University has also chosen to take a certain amount of the allotted Nike product amount, and dedicate it to a system referred as the “Nike Elite” website.  Currently this amount is set at $185,000.

The selected employee is given an allowance in a determined amount.   The University then notifies Nike of the employee who is authorized to receive product from the University’s allotment, and the amount of the employee’s allowance.  The employee then receives access to the Nike Elite website, where the employee can order Nike product.  The University places no restrictions on what is purchased, or for whom.[1]

The District Attorney’s review of the petition must be conducted under the umbrella of ORS 192.314(1), that,

Every person has a right to inspect any public record of a public body in this state, except as otherwise expressly provided…

That statute, and the exemptions thereto, reflect a broad public policy that disclosure of public records is the rule, and that any exemptions must be explicitly stated by statute and not simply implied therefrom.  Guard Publishing Co. v. Lane County School District, 310 OR 32(1990).

The University has proffered 3 reasons why the petition should be denied.

First, the University argues that the requested documents are not “public records,” as defined in ORS 192.311(5)(a).  The University asserts that the records are private records of the expenditure of compensation by an employee, and that the University does not possess the records, rather the involved employees possess the records.

The possession of the records is irrelevant. It is instructive to note that ORS 192.311(5)(b) provides that records of the public’s business are considered “public records,” even though they may be located on a personal computer.  Therefore, the threshold question is do the records “contain(s) information relating to the conduct of the public’s business.”  ORS 192.311(5)(a).  Further, the University refers to the conduct as “purchases” and “spending” or “expenditure” of compensation.  However, no money changes hands.  Simply put, the University grants the employee access to an account to obtain Nike product, that otherwise belongs to the University.  Although the University does not control the website, the University controls whether the employee is authorized to use the website to obtains portions of Nike product allocated to the University.  This is not private conduct, it is public business.

The University claims a number of “exemptions” protecting the records from disclosure.

First, the University asserts, pursuant to ORS 352.22(12), the records are “personnel records,” and are exempt from disclosure.  ORS 352.226(13) sets forth the definition of “personnel records.” The University does not specifically assert that the individuals named in the original public records request are “academic staff member(s).”  However, even if one or more of these individuals are covered by the statute, the records requested to not meet the definition of “personal records” as defined in the Faculty Records Policy.

Second, the University asserts that the petition should be denied pursuant to ORS 192.355(2)(a).  That section exempts from disclosure,

…information of a personal nature…if public disclosure would constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy, unless the public interest by clear and convincing evidence requires disclosure in the particular instance.  The party seeking disclosure ears the burden of showing that the public disclosure would not constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy.

The District Attorney, in general, agrees with the assertion of the University that how a public employee spends their compensation, is a matter of personal privacy.  For instance, once an employee’s monthly pay is deposited in his/her bank account, it is not “public business” how that employee spend the money. However, as stated above, in this instance, the public employee is using a system to which they only have access by virtue of their public employment.  If that system is used to conduct public business, as opposed to private business, such use no longer qualifies as “information of a personal nature.”

In the blanket denial of the request, the University has failed to meet the burden of setting forth an individualized showing that specific instances of disclosure would be an unreasonable invasion of privacy.  (See Mail Tribune Inc. v. Michael S. Winter, 236 Or App 91 (2010), requiring a sheriff to make an individualized showing that disclosure of a particular concealed weapons permit would be an unreasonable invasion of privacy).

At this point in time, the District Attorney has not asked the University for the records described in the petition, so that they may be reviewed to make the determination described above.  In fact, the University asserts they do not possess or control the records. ORS 192.411(1) provides the District Attorney with authority to  take one of three actions with regard to a petition, (1) grant the petition;(2)deny the petition; or (3) grant the petition in part and deny the petition in part.  The District Attorney has no other authority to order the public body to take any action, other than the disclosure of the records.

Given the amount of money involved, it can be assumed the records would be voluminous.  Further, simply reviewing the records themselves would not answer the question whether they are exempt from disclosure.  Rather, persons familiar with the records would be the ones to assert that particular records are exempt from disclosure and specific reasons why.

In Mail Tribune,   the court was faced with a similar circumstance.  Rather than try to parse out what hypothetical circumstances might render a record exempt from disclosure, the court instead noted that the burden of proof is on the public body, in a specific instance, to show that disclosure would be an unreasonable invasion of privacy.  The court went on to hold that the sheriff had not made a showing in any specific instance, and therefore ordered the disclosure of the entire request.  Further, since no showing had been made by the sheriff, the burden of proof did not shift to the party seeking disclosure to show that the public interest nevertheless demands disclosure.

Therefore, it is the order of the District Attorney that the petition is granted.  The University is ordered to disclose the records. The University has seven days to comply with this order, unless it issues a notice of declaratory or injunctive relief.

[1] The University advises that the employee can also use their allowance at the “Nike Store.”  These records are not part of the original public records request.

Trustee McIntyre to propose tuition freeze & cuts to Duck subsidies

Just kidding, there’s no sign that Faculty Trustee Laura Lee McIntyre will make any such motion, or raise any questions about why the board continues to rubber-stamp raises for Rob Mullens and his coaches while increasing undergraduate tuition and cutting museums.

BOARD OF TRUSTEES, Th 9:30 AM FORD ALUMNI CENTER

Full Board meeting.

Original meeting materials here. Latest release here. For some reason the webcast link isn’t working.

– Call to order, roll call, verification of quorum – Approval of March 2019 summary (Action) [There is no mention of what this summary is in the posted materials.]

Public comment: 

The room is full, the public comments are blunt, calling out the Board for incompetence etc., e.g.:

Immediate Past Senate President / Current Faculty Union President Chris Sinclair:

The board of Trustees at the University of Oregon is in an untenable situation. The people ‘below you’ on the .org chart—represented by the people in this room—are supremely unhappy with the financial management and strategic vision of the university. Simultaneously the people above you, legislators and political appointees, are supremely unhappy with the financial management and strategic vision of the university.

It seems the only people happy with university leadership on budget issues are donors (and trustees themselves).

The mission of the university, approved by this body, is:

The University of Oregon is a comprehensive public research university committed to exceptional teaching, discovery, and service. We work at a human scale to generate big ideas. As a community of scholars, we help individuals question critically, think logically, reason effectively, communicate clearly, act creatively, and live ethically.

And aside from the vapid “human scale to generate big ideas” phrase, it is a good mission. The mission is the touch stone for decision making. It should be the North Star of the board—the words to revisit when making your decisions.

You are about to be asked to approve an extremely high tuition increase. You are being asked to finance the university on the backs of Oregon students. By doing this you are implicitly agreeing that it is more important to preserve athletics and other donor driven initiatives in exchange for millions in additional debt for Oregon students and families.

The University of Oregon has already telegraphed the message that, instead of plugging the looming budget shortfall. it is more important to install state-of-the-art sound systems in athletics facilities. The new speakers will undoubtedly come from donor money, but this is irrelevant. Legislators have already heard the message that speakers are more important than students. Faculty have heard the message that world-class athletics facilities are more important than students. Students themselves have heard that we’re broke, and that they should take on debt (and years of financial risk) to accommodate the fickle whims of an octogenarian billionaire.

How do these decisions, and the resulting negative change in public perception, benefit students? How do they benefit the relationship between the university and the state? How do they support the mission—the North Star—of the university?

This is but one example, and it is emblematic of a larger problem.

Cultivating donors is like trophy hunting for University Presidents. However, as a skill, it is only valued by other university presidents and those who measure their success in dollar signs. Our president is particularly good at this aspect of his job, and it will undoubtedly lead to a promotion to a better university one day.

On that day, will we be looking at a university with a handful of expensive white elephants littering campus, and serving a handful of elite researchers/coaches, while the core academic facilities rot from neglect, classrooms overflow, and Oregon students are saddled with debt?

Or will we see a “community of scholars, who help individuals question critically, think logically, reason effectively, communicate clearly, act creatively, and live ethically.”?

The choice is yours, and it’s time for you as trustee to shift the financial decision making back to the mission of the university. You must be brave. You must do this. The University of Oregon is counting on you.

Thank you.

Chris Sinclair
Associate Professor of Mathematics, University of Oregon

A student: “You ask us to go to Salem and lobby for more state money, but the legislators tell us they don’t trust you to spend the money wisely”

Prof Ellen Scott (Sociology) walks the board through some of the work that LERC and UO faculty and grad students have done and how it has led to changes in Oregon laws that have improved the lives of working Oregonians.

Prof Maram Epstein (East Asian Languages) asks the board to exercise their independent fiduciary responsibility to redo the proposed budget in a way that is consistent with UO’s mission as a public university.

Many, many students make comments as well.

Former staff Trustee Kurt Willcox: The university is turning away from its outreach mission to the state by defunding LERC and the museums.

1. ASUO and University Senate Reports

-ASUO President Maria Gallegos and Incoming ASUO Vice President Montse Mendez and Chief of Staff Hibo Abtidon

“Hayward Field does nothing for me. I’m a student.”

– Incoming Senate President Elizabeth Skowron

written comments in board materials

2. Provost’s and President’s Reports

these seem to be postponed

3. Undergraduate Resident Tuition (Action): Michael Schill, President; Jamie Moffitt, Vice President for Finance and Administration and CFO; Kevin Marbury, Vice President for Student Life

VP Marbury is upset because the ASUO President criticized him.

President Schill blames outgoing Provost Banavar for the budget cuts to LERC and the museums. This is chickenshit bizarre.

12:47, and none of the trustees have yet mentioned any of the issues that came up in the public comments, such as cuts to athletic subsidies.

Ginevra Ralph asks why students don’t understand about gift restrictions. VP Moffitt explains that they do, they just think the university should shift its fundraising priorities. (Or just tax athletic donations. The UO Foundation already taxes donations, but won’t explain where the money goes.)

Wilhelms reports that Pathways costs about $6M.

Lillis calls the question on President Schill’s tuition increase.

Ralph and Paustian talk about how difficult this is and what a great job VP’s Moffitt and Marbury have done. Paustian says he will vote no – but doesn’t present an alternative motion. Colas gives a shout out to the students and GTFFs – but doesn’t present an alternative motion.

Vote: All in favor except Paustian.

Recess: Estimated to Reconvene at 1:00 p.m.

4. Resolutions from Committee (pending May 22 committee action)
–Seconded Motion from FFC: Capital Construction Project (Housing Project Preliminary Costs) –Seconded Motion from FFC: FY20 Expenditure Temporary Authorization

5. Student Conduct Code Changes (Action): Kris Winter, Dean of Students

6. A Look at PERS: Tim Nesbitt, Interim Deputy Director of PERS Solutions for Public Services and former Higher Education Coordinating Commission Chair; John Tapogna, President and Partner, ECONorthwest economic research and consulting firm

7. Academic Area in Focus – ShakeAlert, ALERTWidlfire, and the Emerging Internet of (Wild) Things: Professor Doug Toomey, Earth Sciences

Meeting Adjourned

Native American Students Association protests Pioneer statue

11-2 today. Thanks to a reader for the tip:

As you know, “The Pioneer” is a statue that glorifies white supremacy
and settler-colonial violence against people of color, especially Native
people.

NASU is holding a protest to take the statue down THIS WEDNESDAY
from 11am to 2pm. Please pass this on to your membership to attend!
We’ll have signs but feel free to BYOS (bring your own signs) as well.
See you there!

More in the Emerald here. In unrelated news, Harbor Freight has a good deal on an appropriate winch for a midnight removal to the Pioneer Cemetery. Just $399, until the Trump Tarriffs kick in:

Board of Trustees to meet Wed, Th on tuition, etc

See below for some light live-blogging. So far my takeaway is that most of the trustees haven’t done their homework and are asking softball questions, when they have any questions at all.

Note that Wednesday’s public committee meetings and the executive (closed) meeting of the board are in the Art Museum, starting at 8:30, while Thursday’s full Board meeting is in the Alumni Center, starting at 9:30.

Board Secretary Angela Wilhelms buries the agenda information in pdf files deep within the Board’s website, so as usual I have put it in more accessible form below. I’ll add some clips later and do some live-blogging.

Wed 8:3o AM Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art | Ford Lecture Hall

Finance and Facilities Committee

Meeting materials here. Note that, as usual, the Trustees have only been given the information about budget planning today, presumably so that they won’t have had time to digest it and ask tough questions. The new packet is here.

I assume that Board Chair Chuck Lillis learned this trick when he was on the board of Washington Mutual as it collapsed in one of the largest bankruptcies in history, leaving stockholders with 2 cents on the dollar.

For some reason Lillis has left his WaMu service and the lawsuits about the board’s failure to conduct due diligence off his UO Trustees biosketch:

1. Housing Transformation Capital Project – Authorization for Preliminary Expenditures (Action): Roger Thompson, Vice President for Student Services and Enrollment Management; Michael Griffel, Assistant Vice President and Director of University Housing

Sorry missed most of this. No coffee for the plebes.

2. Critical Business Functions Audit Project – Report and Update: Trisha Burnett, Chief Auditor

The usual.

3. Quarterly Financial Reports: Jamie Moffitt, Vice President for Finance and Administration and CFO

As usual Jamie focuses the discussion narrowly on the E&G budget, and doesn’t talk about what the administration talk about – e.g. the subsidies for athletics and the law school – which were supposed to be phased out by now but which instead continue to grow:

4. Financial Reports and Discussion: Savings Initiatives, Expenditure Reduction Efforts, and LongTerm Financial Projections: Michael Schill, President; Jamie Moffitt, Vice President for Finance and Administration and CFO

Jamie explains that UO is making significant administrative cuts from what is already a low level. Allyn Ford says that if this continues maybe the university should consider substantial program cuts. I assume he means the baseball program.

Ross Kari asks if Jamie can calculate what % tuition increases of this period would be needed.

Chuck Lillis points out that the problem is not costs, it’s revenue. Too little tuition, too little state support, too little donations. These, of course, are the problems that the UO Board was supposed to address, and which it has consistently failed at. Except for increasing tuition – they’re great at that.

Schill points out that, because we are unionized, the administration can’t arbitrarily freeze or cut faculty salaries during a recession, while continuing to subsidize themselves and the coaches. Yea union!

Short break.

5. FY20 Budget and Expenditure Authority Authorization (Action): Jamie Moffitt, Vice President for Finance and Administration and CFO

Approved, sent to full board.

6. Department of Intercollegiate Athletics Overview: Rob Mullens, Athletic Director; Eric Roedl, Deputy Athletic Director

As usual, they Ducks have prepared a flashy presentation. Will the trustees ask them any tough questions? Some obvious ones:

The university is in a budget crisis. Why aren’t you helping out by reducing your costs?

Why hasn’t the millions we spend on the Ducks lead to increased out of state enrollment?

Do you think your bragging and profligate spending on coaches’s salaries and shiny new facilities are part of the reason the Legislature doesn’t want to give UO more money? Because that’s what the legislators say.

Why do you keep pushing the costs of the Duck’s legal problems onto the rest of the university?

Yours is a risky business. Now, it makes no difference to me how a man makes his living, but don’t you think you should have more than a week of expenses in reserves? Or do you just plan on hitting up the academic side for more subsidies when you get another lawsuit?

When do you think the news about the most recent sexual assaults by your players will become public?

What do you think about the fact that the UO Foundation has withdrawn its guarantee for the 2021 IAAF championships?

Trustee Ginevra Ralph doesn’t ask anything above, but she does ask how one-and-done’s reflect on UO’s academic mission. Mullens says everyone else does it.

Meeting Adjourns

12:45 WEDNESDAY: EXECUTIVE SESSION

Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art | Ford Lecture Hall

Meeting materials here.

Executive Session re Labor Negotiations

The Board of Trustees will meet in executive session pursuant to ORS 192.660(2)(d) for purposes of conducting deliberations regarding labor negotiations with the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation. This session is closed to members of the public and the media. The meeting will be called to order and adjourned. No other topics or matters will occur on May 22. Notwithstanding the location listed above, this May 22 executive session will occur in the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

Wed 1:30 PM Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art | Ford Lecture Hall

Public meeting of Executive and Audit Committee

Meeting materials here.

1. Quarterly Audit Report and FY20 Audit Plan (Action): Trisha Burnett, Chief Auditor

Burnett reports that the number of reports to UO’s ethics hotline are unusually low for a university or size. Presumably this is because of the lack of trust that many UO staff and faculty have in her office – which has had a mixed past. The link to the hotline is here. As you can see you can report all sorts of things, anonymously:

Ginevra Ralph asks about the independent audit of the internal auditors. It turns out it’s not really that independent – it’s done by the internal auditors professional association.

Pres Schill asks about the audit of university committees. Burnett reports it’s a bit of a look at internal Governance. Schill asks if the audit will include Senate committees. Good question. Burnett says the intention is to start at the top, which I assume means the President and Provost’s committees.

Committee approves report.

2. Semi-Annual Enterprise Risk Update: Andre LeDuc, Associate Vice President and Chief Resilience Officer

I’d sort of thought this would include some actual information about the cost of UO’s various insurance policies, athletics riders, deductibles, payouts, etc. Nope. It’s all buzzwords and silly diagrams:

3. Semi-Annual Transform IT and Information Services Report: Jessie Minton, Chief Information Officer

Sorry, end of today’s live-blogging. I’ve got to get ready for the Senate meeting. See you tomorrow at 9:30AM and the Alumni Center.

4. New Program Proposal – PhD in Planning and Public Affairs (Action): Rich Margerum, Professor and School Head for Planning, Public Policy and Management

Meeting Adjourns

Th 9:30 AM FORD ALUMNI CENTER

Full Board meeting.

Meeting materials here.

– Call to order, roll call, verification of quorum

– Approval of March 2019 summary (Action)
– Public comment

1. ASUO and University Senate Reports
-ASUO President Maria Gallegos and Incoming ASUO Vice President Montse Mendez and Chief of Staff Hibo Abtidon -Incoming Senate President Elizabeth Skowron

2. Provost’s and President’s Reports

3. Undergraduate Resident Tuition (Action): Michael Schill, President; Jamie Moffitt, Vice President for Finance and Administration and CFO; Kevin Marbury, Vice President for Student Life

Recess: Estimated to Reconvene at 1:00 p.m.

4. Resolutions from Committee (pending May 22 committee action)
–Seconded Motion from FFC: Capital Construction Project (Housing Project Preliminary Costs) –Seconded Motion from FFC: FY20 Expenditure Temporary Authorization

5. Student Conduct Code Changes (Action): Kris Winter, Dean of Students

6. A Look at PERS: Tim Nesbitt, Interim Deputy Director of PERS Solutions for Public Services and former Higher Education Coordinating Commission Chair; John Tapogna, President and Partner, ECONorthwest economic research and consulting firm

7. Academic Area in Focus – ShakeAlert, ALERTWidlfire, and the Emerging Internet of (Wild) Things: Professor Doug Toomey, Earth Sciences

Meeting Adjourned

UO Senate to meet Wed May 22nd: Elections, Online ed, CAS, FPC, governance, Core Ed

Location: EMU 145 & 146 (Crater Lake rooms)
3:00 – 5:00 P.M.

3:00 P.M.   Call to order

  • Introductory Remarks; Senate President Bill Harbaugh

3:15 PM   Approval of Minutes

3:16 PM     Business / Reports:

  • Report: Faculty Personnel Committee; Jack Boss (Music)
  • Legislative Update; Melanie Muenzer (Assoc VP Vice Provost of Academic Initiatives)

4:42 PM   Open Discussion
4:43 PM   Other Reports
4:44 PM   Notice(s) of Motion
4:45 PM   Other Business

  • Executive Session: Awards

5:00 PM   Adjourn to Faculty Club, all invited!

“Oregon Promise” shifted students from 4-year to community colleges

From InsideHigherEd, here. Read it all. The intro:

Boost for Community Colleges Means 1-Year Bust for Universities

New analysis of Oregon Promise tuition-free scholarship program found that it increased community college enrollment but decreased enrollment at four-year institutions in the first year, and that fewer first-generation and low-income students benefited financially than expected.

CONFIDENTIAL: search committee sideswipes 1/2 Price Provost run

Update: The Chronicle’s Zipporah Osei has an interview with me here (gated off campus).

Q. Do you think you would’ve been able to work with the administration, given the reputation you have with your blog?

A. Ironically, I have a very good working relationship with the university’s current president, Michael H. Schill. I think I’m actually one of his strongest faculty supporters. I’ve been serving as Senate president this year, and I was Senate president two years ago. I’ve been able to work with people in the administration to do some really good things for the University of Oregon. The most recent example would be the teaching-evaluations reform.

5/20/2019: I’m not really sure why this would be CONFIDENTIAL. I applied for the job of provost at a public university, and I didn’t get an interview. Surely that’s all public record – isn’t it?

From: University of Oregon Search <search@uoregon.edu>
Subject: CONFIDENTIAL – Thank you for your application
Date: May 20, 2019 at 11:18:48 AM PDT
To: William Harbaugh <harbaugh@uoregon.edu>

Dear Bill,

Thank you very much for your application for the position of Provost and Senior Vice President. The search committee gave very careful consideration to your application. We are sorry to inform you that you have not been selected for an interview.

We appreciate your interest in this important position and that you took the time to send us your application. Decisions of this sort are never easy, and we appreciate your desire to serve the University of Oregon.

Sincerely,

[signed, search committee co-chairs]

I can only speculate as to why they refused to interview me. I did agree to a criminal background check, but my lawyer said that thing in Pocatello was expunged and not to worry.

Perhaps the committee has decided to take up Raghu’s 45% Provost offer?  Or maybe this student senator’s 25% offer – they clearly have a bright administrative career ahead of them:

“I will offer my bid to be “Quarter Priced Provost” and will do whatever President Schill tells me to do. I think I have a shot!”

In any case, I did get this great letter of recommendation from union president Chris Sinclair, which I’ll keep on file until the job opens up again:

VP for Communication Kyle Henley limits communication and trust

The email sent on his behalf below would seem to go against the advice in President Schill’s Open Mike from last week, which said:

  • Transparency is the best policy. Whenever possible administrators should be as forthcoming as possible, subject to the privacy rights of members of our community.

as well as UO’s Academic Freedom Policy, which states:

The University of Oregon encourages and supports open, vigorous, and challenging debate across the full spectrum of human issues as they present themselves to the university community. The University of Oregon protects free speech through Policy No. 01.00.16. This policy on Academic Freedom builds on these existing commitments by recognizing the special contexts of scholarship, teaching, governance, and public service.  …

c. POLICY AND SHARED GOVERNANCE. Members of the university community have freedom to address, question, or criticize any matter of institutional policy or practice, whether acting as individuals or as members of an agency of institutional governance.

Thanks to an anonymous reader for the email:

Update: Millions from staff and students, not a cent from Duck athletics or Law

5/20/2019 update:

President Schill has sent his tuition increase recommendations to the BOT, below. His proposal cuts TFAB’s support for low income students, keeps the LERC and museum cuts, and leaves athletic subsidies untouched. The TFAB’s proposal was for a progressive increase in financial aid as tuition increased. Pres Schill’s recommendation is for only $350K in new financial aid, and that only if the tuition increase goes above 5%, the level which triggers HECC review.

Meanwhile, the “temporary” budget funding for law school scholarships increases by $190K. Of the $44M in fee remissions President Schill mentions below, $7M or goes to UO’s ~410 law school students, for an average of $17,100 each, per year. (I don’t know how it’s split up). The other $37M is divided among UO’s 22,350 other students, for an average of $1,650.

5/20/2019 Letter from Pres Schill:

Continue reading

Open Mike from Pres Schill on rumor control

Colleagues,
I am the first person to admit that I am not an expert when it comes to social media and the way that information is consumed, created, and shared in our digital-first world. I like to follow friends on Facebook and I fully appreciate that Instagram and Snapchat are among the preferred communications channels of many University of Oregon students, but I am not personally active on social media. In so many ways our society and lives are better for the speed, power, and access that comes from living in the digital age, but there are times when it also comes at a cost. Over the last weekend, we experienced one such moment at the UO, when the rapid circulation of misinformation on social media unnecessarily created a problem—or the perception of a problem—on our campus.
Early Saturday morning, a member of the UO community—a person in the midst of a mental health crisis according to family members—posted on social media some things that rightfully caused concern. The original posts did not threaten the campus, threaten physical harm to an individual or forewarn a shooting. Still, the posting was of such a nature that it did catch the eye of the University of Oregon Police Department, which leapt into action. Within about 12 hours, UOPD officers had humanely contacted the individual and helped the person seek appropriate care. As the family noted on Monday, the individual is “under secure care this week.” I want to thank and acknowledge UOPD for the way officers handled a very sensitive situation. It was superb. They recognized a member of the community in need, responded empathetically, delivered support, and ensured campus safety. They do it every day in ways both big and small, and most of us never know it.
The fact is that UOPD had already successfully addressed the situation before it started to spread on social media Saturday. It is not completely clear whether the rumor machine started by word-of-mouth or online, but campus community members were posting pictures of the individual on social media with the message that, according to one post that was widely shared, the person “was allegedly planning a shooting on Monday” on the UO campus. That allegation was baseless and not part of the individual’s original social media post, but the viral nature of spreading social media fear had a resonating impact across campus. Students groups saw the posts and cancelled meetings. Faculty members, deans and staffers wondered whether they needed to do anything within their units: Were classes going to be cancelled Monday? Should we lock classroom doors?
The university activated our UO Alerts system—usually reserved for extremely urgent public safety messages—on Sunday to let campus know that there was no threat and that campus operations were not going to be interrupted. It is not often that you have to resort to using crisis communications tools to let people know there is no crisis. In fact, sending the message at some level seemed to only heighten the tension. People who had not been aware of the issue, suddenly became worried. Even after we sent the UO Alerts texts and emails trying to allay concerns, we learned that some people did not trust the message from UOPD. Calls and viral social media sharing of the incorrect information did not drop off. We felt it necessary to use the alerts system again on Monday to deliver a message from the individual’s family that the person was receiving care and reiterating that the original messages did not contain the language or threats alleged by others.
We are asking ourselves a lot of questions after-the-fact. Could we have somehow stopped the rumor mill before it got out of control? Maybe, but I am honestly not sure how. As a society, we are seeing this phenomena play out much more frequently. This was the first time we have had to deal with something like this at the UO since I arrived. Was it appropriate to use a mass communication tool to respond to an internet rumor? I think, yes, in this instance, but it comes at a cost. Could our messaging have been clearer? Perhaps; it is possible that we shared too little in our first message. We had a team of law enforcement, communications, and legal experts working diligently and very quickly to balance the public’s right to know with an individual’s right to privacy. That is a very difficult, sometimes impossible, task. In fact, it really is the crux of the challenge we face in these types of situations.
So, what are the take-aways from this Open Mike? For me, it boils down to a few things:
  • Do not spread rumors. We all have a responsibility to know what we are talking about and be informed before we speak or post. That is true whether we are sharing something on social media, talking with a student in our office, kibitzing at the faculty club, or commenting on an online forum. Remember, words have consequences.
  • Take appropriate action. Immediately and directly share information or concerns about a possible threat to the community. Do not simply share on social media. Call 9-1-1, or contact police at non-emergency numbers: UOPD 541-346-2919; Eugene Police 541-682-5111. If you are concerned about a student and it is a non-emergency, complete a report to the Office of the Dean of Students.
  • Transparency is the best policy. Whenever possible administrators should be as forthcoming as possible, subject to the privacy rights of members of our community.
  • Let’s learn to trust. I get it, we have all become desensitized to being lied to by leaders and institutions we are supposed to trust. It is a sad commentary on our national political climate that we are not shocked by it anymore. However, universities are communities of scholars, and academic communities are built on trust with a healthy dose of skepticism thrown in. Skepticism is a good thing in moderation, but let’s stop assuming that our colleagues—even those who are administrators—are driven by malevolent or self-serving motives. And let’s stand up against those in our community who spread innuendo and seek to undermine trust with falsehoods.
I truly appreciate all that you do to serve the UO and our students every day. It is an incredible honor to be your president. Thank you for indulging another one of my Open Mikes.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law

Kevin Reed’s office tried to hide cap & trade lobbying records

5/17/2019 update:

The Oregonian’s Rob Davis reveals still more of the documents UO tried to hide from the public, including more new information about the redactions by Kevin Reed’s Public Record Office.

If I understand the story right, Reed’s office let the lobbying group decide what UO should redact from UO’s public records. They made some interesting choices. Weird. Full story here with links to all the records:

What UO didn’t want the public to know about industry group’s climate bill opposition

… The newly released documents documents include the alliance’s legislative updates, lobbyist reports and memorandums to members. The university originally contended portions of the documents were protected by the attorney-client privilege and by an exemption allowing material submitted confidentially to be withheld in very narrow circumstances.

Ed Finklea, the alliance’s natural gas director, told The Oregonian/OregonLive it was the energy alliance’s attorney who made the redactions when the university released the records. Molly Blancett, a school spokeswoman, said the university “always solicits the input of third parties when it comes to their records that have made their way to the university’s possession.”

The clean documents show a consistent theme in what was initially redacted: References to potential benefits of Brown’s proposed climate change bill. …

5/14/2019 update:

I have it from a generally reliable source that, as of yesterday, UO has withdrawn its membership in AWEC, the industry group that is lobbying against Governor Brown’s Cap and Trade legislation.

5/12/2019: It backfired. Rob Davis has the story in the Oregonian, here. A few snippets:

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