Oregon State panics over public records request by journalism advisor

Bennett Hall has an excellent story in the Corvallis Gazette Times:

Oregon State University student media adviser Kate Willson thought she was just doing her job when she filed a public records request with the university. Now she’s worried it could get her fired.

OSU’s chief spokesman says Willson’s job is safe and the university was not trying to muzzle her. But he also says Willson was out of line when she tried to obtain public records from the institution she works for and that all such requests should be filed by student journalists, not their adviser. …

Willson assumes that OSU will honor the remainder of her contract, but she doesn’t expect to be offered another when the current agreement expires. Her experience has left her feeling frustrated and confused.

“They’re making such a big thing, and it’s not,” Willson said. “It’s a public record — who cares if I get it?”

The Oregon Public Records Law was passed by the Legislature in 1973 in a spirit of transparency and open government, Willson added.

But various agencies and institutions have chipped away at those foundations with one exception after another, steadily eroding the public’s ability to access government information. Wilson feels an obligation to do something about that.

“Every time they deny and we don’t push back, we make it worse,” Willson said.

Here’s the part that would never happen at UO: She actually got a meeting with her university’s general counsel. Here at UO, GC Randy Geller would have just sent her a threatening email. Of course OSU GC Meg Reeves is a little confused about the law:

Steven Wilker, a media law attorney with the Portland law firm of Tonkon Torp, said he’s baffled by Oregon State’s position. …

He’s also puzzled by Reeves’ assertion that, by virtue of her position as the university’s general counsel, she automatically has an attorney-client relationship with Willson, a university employee.

“Her client is the university; her client is not that teacher,” Wilker said.

But even if Willson were, in fact, Reeves’ client, that would not give Reeves the power to order Willson not to repeat what they said or wrote to each other. That’s “Lawyer 101,” Wilker said.

“The nature of attorney-client privilege is it’s a privilege of the client,” he said, “and the client is free to waive that privilege.”

But even if Willson were, in fact, Reeves’ client, that would not give Reeves the power to order Willson not to repeat what they said or wrote to each other. That’s “Lawyer 101,” Wilker said.

“The nature of attorney-client privilege is it’s a privilege of the client,” he said, “and the client is free to waive that privilege.”

My experiences with the OSU public records office have been generally positive – much quicker and cheaper than at UO. On the other hand the data Willson is seeking on faculty salaries is easily available for UO, thanks to our Institutional Research office. See ir.uoregon.edu. Only in pdf form however – if you ask UO’ Public Records Office for a machine readable file, they’ll hit you up for $280 dollars in inexplicable fees, and you’ll wait for a month or two.

Under VPFA Mark McCambridge OSU was a leader in financial transparency. His efforts to put all financial transactions on the web are explained in this InsideHigherEd story, and were an inspiration to UO’s Nathan Tublitz, who after a long fight with Frances Dyke got the very watered down “Financial Transparency Tool” added to Duckweb (under employee information). It seems like OSU’s new VPFA Glenn Ford is backsliding on transparency.

OSU

5/4/2010: Lots of OSU visitors lately. Sorry, we got nothing for you, just UO stuff. Get your own blog! Wait, here’s a copy of the OSU Affirmative Action plan. Your Associate General Counsel Charles E. Fletcher tried to sell this to us, and said he didn’t want it posted online. We got it free, and here it is. Sorry Mr. Fletcher, you just don’t understand our business model. FWIW, it’s a much more professional job than the UO AA Plan and from what I can tell your AA budget is about half what Penny Daugherty charges UO. Let’s not even mention UO’s Vice President for Diversity Charles Martinez and his budget – it’s a crime. You should be proud. Go Beavers.

Not very well coordinated bullshit:

4/26/2010: Jamie Moffitt has been put in charge of the Athletic Department’s finances. Excellent move. But read the bullshit in the RG story, from our new Interim AD Lorraine Davis:

“The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics has experienced a period of rapid growth and success. This new position will help the department to develop and implement the necessary budgeting, financial, human resource, and contractual practices to support this expansion,” she said. “A key element of Jamie’s role will be assessing the department’s ongoing needs,” Davis said.  “Jamie and her team of financial and human resource professionals will ensure that the organizational structure, staffing, and financial resources are in place to achieve department priorities.”

“I felt there needed to be a high-level finance and administration person to coordinate all the functions of budgets, finances, human resources, strategic planning and contracts,” Davis said. “It’s not as coordinated as it needs to be.”

No kidding. Not very well coordinated, that’s the biggest problem with our athletic department? Compare this with what President Lariviere said:

“In the past this university has not followed acceptable business practices. That will not continue under my administration.” 

Here’s hoping he can quickly hire an AD that isn’t entirely beholden to the old guard, and that Lorraine can go back to proctoring exams for athletes and arranging the recruit / sorority girl mixers, while paid out of of the Tenure Reduction Program budget on the golden parachute contract she got from Frohnmayer. Not that we’re jealous.

Things are bad in Canada

2/17/2010: People may remember current Senate President Tublitz’s Motion on Financial Transparency, from last April. Passed on a unanimous voice vote, it says

MOTION: The University Senate directs the University of Oregon Administration to establish a publicly accessible, on-line budget reporting system at the University of Oregon by 1 September 2009 that will allow users to track current and retroactive individual university expenditures as is currently done at our sister institution Oregon State University on their budget reporting website.

Despite speaking against the motion in the Senate, a week or so later, VP for Finance Frances Dyke agreed to implement the system, in this memo:


Obviously it is now nearly a year since the motion, and 6 months past the date Ms Dyke suggested for having a working system. There is something in place – available through the employee menu in duckweb – but it does not even allow you to drill down to the specific account level, much less transactions. So, for example, you can’t see what you have spent from your ASA or grant account or what is left.

In December Peter Gilkey appointed a Senate Working Group to help move this along. They are working now with the UO Controller, Kelly Wolf – who has already done a lot to improve reporting of UO financial information.

2 weeks ago the group met with the OSU VP for Finance Mark McCambridge, who showed us his system – now several years old – and talked about its benefits in terms of trust, transparency, and efficiency.  

The group was supposed to meet Tuesday with the programmers in charge of the UO effort, but that was canceled by the UO administration at the last minute without explanation. They are going to try again to meet with the programmer in charge of the project today.

The following week the group meets with General Counsel Melinda Grier about how Oregon’s public records law applies to this system. McCambridge has said there have been no problems with the OSU system.

Oh yeah, what about Canada?

EDMONTON – University of Alberta faculty have agreed to take six unpaid days of vacation next year in exchange for the chance to review and critique previously confidential financial planning documents.

audits and missing money

12/23/2009: Here’s an interesting story in insidehighered.com about faculty hiring independent auditors to figure out the actual financial position of their universities. Apparently Frances Dyke is not the only VP for Finance with negative credibility. Here at UO we hear that Brad Shelton is still trying to disentangle the mess that Frances has allowed to build up over the years. Unfortunately Brad has no staff, and Frances still has all the power. Why hasn’t Larviere fired her yet? Rumor is that a few weeks back someone found $7 million tucked away somewhere, unaccounted for and unknown to Frances. Merry Christmas. Another part of Moseley’s rainy day fund, perhaps?

Crippleware for UO accounting transparency

11/29/2009: We’ve written before about UO Senate efforts to increase transparency by providing a way for faculty to see how the UO spends money. These efforts were motivated by general tendency of the administration to hide spending info from the faculty, and more particularly by claims by Provost Bean that UO’s admin expenses were 38% of our peers, that we were making money on the Bend programs, and by a OUS audit that found former Provost Moseley was improperly using expense money for personal travel. The motion (which passed easily, after someone said “You are asking us to take furloughs. We deserve to know how you are spending our money.”) stated:

The University Senate respectfully requests the University of Oregon Administration to establish a publicly accessible, on-line budget reporting system at the University of Oregon by 15 November 2009 that will allow users to track current and retroactive individual university expenditures as is currently done at our sister institution Oregon State University on their budget reporting website.

Frances Dyke’s office has now put up a reporting system, which any faculty member can use from their Duckweb account, under the faculty menu. However, it is crippleware. You cannot track individual university expenditures, as the motion calls for and as the OSU system easily allows. The closest you can get is annual summaries of expenses and sources, at a very aggregated level. In addition to not being transparent, this is not very useful – for example you can’t use it to check your grant or ASA balances.

The FAC is meeting this week to discuss this issue. There’s no reason UO can’t do what OSU did more than a year ago now –  unless there is something to hide?

Tublitz’s Transparency Resolution

11/9/2009: In May Nathan Tublitz’s motion to increase financial transparency by providing access to UO accounting records passed the UO Senate. The new administration seems to be taking this seriously, and the Senate website now includes this memo: (Note that due to a new state law, in January UO will start posting all employee salary numbers online.)

Transparency of University Financial Transactions (this report is made jointly by Don Harris and Frances Dyke)

The UO Senate passed the following motion:

The University Senate respectfully requests the University of Oregon Administration to establish a publicly accessible, on-line budget reporting system at the University of Oregon by 15 November 2009 that will allow users to track current and retroactive individual university expenditures as is currently done at our sister institution Oregon State University on their budget reporting website ( https://bfpsystems.oregonstate.edu/webreporting/).

Frances Dyke comments:

The CIO, Don Harris is here to answer any of the more technical questions you may with regard to the financial reporting tool that will be available on November 16 (the first workday after November 15). As discussed at the May University Senate meeting work began on developing this tool after a major enterprise software upgrade project was completed in September.

The tool you will be able to access starting next Monday is the initial roll out of a financial reporting tool for compliance with the university Senate motion on financial transparency. In the course of discussions related to development the work group has identified impediments to our ability to provide transactional level detail in a publicly available financial reporting tool. There are issues of both security and legally binding confidentiality that must be balanced against the desire for full transparency. As mentioned at the October Senate meeting I am now asking the Senate President to appoint an advisory group to help analyze these problems and find solutions that can be legally and operationally implemented. In making this request I also recommend that the Senate President consider creating this advisory group by drawing on membership of the Senate Budget Committee and other members of the Senate or university community who have a particular interest or expertise in financial management reporting.

As a side note the state will be implementing a web site to comply with HB 2500 on financial transparency at the state level. This website will be active in January 2010 and will contain salary information on all state employees including all employees in the Oregon University System. It will also include information summarizing payments from agencies to vendors. A copy of the House bill is attached.

Don Harris comments:

The application developed uses the WEB development portal tool kit and will be accessible via DuckWeb. This was done so that we could deploy a resource that could be supported by IS Enterprise Administrative Applications and several programmer/analysts who are trained in the use of this toolset. The application will be easy to use and incorporate pull down menus, drilldown capability within specified limits, the ability to compare several years of data, and the ability to download data into an Excel spreadsheet. We have developed this application to be responsive to the senate motion while seeking to balance the needs for transparency and the security and confidentiality issues that have become apparent. As the VPFA and I work with the advisory group appointed by the Senate president appropriate modifications will be made.

This is a big step forward. Just 6 months ago we were getting emails like this:

Professor X:

Thank you for your inquiry.

The Business Affairs Office is working on a complete redesign of our web presence. Part of that project is to review information currently accessible on our website to decide what to transition to the new portals. During this review period, we looked at the Chart of Accounts page you referenced below.

We discovered that certain information available through the Chart of Accounts is considered confidential pursuant to OAR 571-030-0025(1). As such, we removed the information from our publicly-accessible website and restricted access to personnel with a “demonstrably legitimate need for particular information in order to fulfill their official, professional responsibilities.” Those personnel include those who perform business and budget transactions within the BANNER enterprise accounting system (i.e. campus budget and business officers and core-office personnel.)

If you have any other questions related to Chart of Accounts data, please let me know.

Sincerely,

Kelly B. Wolf

Kelly B. Wolf
Director of Business Affairs and Controller
University of Oregon
Phone: (541) 346-3165
Fax: (541) 346-5820
kbwolf@uoregon.edu

Accounting secrets at OSU and UO

At Oregon State there are none.

OSU’s VP for Finance Mark McCambridge has posted all financial information to the web – every single transaction. See https://bfpsystems.oregonstate.edu/webreporting/ (10/7/2009: now apparently restricted to OSU IP addresses.)

Quoting from the Inside Higher Ed news story:

Since the university already maintained a central database storing transaction information, the process of bringing it into public view took just a few months, with a price tag below $10,000.

“It’s pretty basic, but it is very transparent. Everybody in the institution can see everything that goes on everywhere,” says Mark McCambridge, vice president for finance and administration at Oregon State.

At UO, VP for finance Frances Dyke has been busily instructing her employees to remove what little accounting info is available from her website. (See update here.)

Quoting from the email we were sent by an employee of Ms Dyke’s and written at her instruction:

… we removed the information from our publicly-accessible website and restricted access to personnel with a “demonstrably legitimate need for particular information in order to fulfill their official, professional responsibilities.” Those personnel include those who perform business and budget transactions within the BANNER enterprise accounting system (i.e. campus budget and business officers and core-office personnel.)

You can be sure uomatters.com is making every effort to find out exactly what Ms Dyke is trying to hide (legal disclaimer: if anything) and that we will post it publicly as soon as we do.

UPDATE: Soon after we sent her the URL for this post, Ms Dyke sent the email below to all UO faculty and Staff. She sends this out 6 months after the policy is adopted? How does she expect people to report “financial irregularities” when they can’t get any of the accounting information? Oh, wait, I get it – she’s afraid that…

To: University of Oregon Community

From: Frances L. Dyke, Vice President for Finance and Administration

Date: May 4, 2009

Subject: Financial Irregularity Reporting Hotline

All of us share responsibility for ensuring that the university conducts its financial transactions in ways that are ethical, honest, and reflect sound fiduciary practices. Because the University of Oregon and the Oregon University System (OUS) take this obligation seriously, a revised Financial Irregularities Policy was adopted in November 2008 by the Oregon State Board of Higher Education. This revised policy encourages employees to report any suspected financial misconduct to the appropriate university office, the OUS Internal Audit Division, or through the Financial Concerns hotline.

The OUS has contracted with EthicsPoint, an independent, third-party vendor, to provide a confidential and anonymous telephone and Internet system for reporting your financial concerns. The OUS Internal Audit Division administers the hotline system and will follow up on reports.

Additional information concerning the hotline and related policies and procedures can be found on the OUS Reporting Financial Concerns webpage (www.ous.edu/financialconcerns). A link to the OUS Financial Irregularity Reporting Hotline has been provided on the UO Business Affairs (http://baowww.uoregon.edu/) and VPFA (http://vpfa.uoregon.edu/) web pages.

Your commitment to integrity and honesty is an important element in maintaining an ethical and secure workplace environment for everyone. Your help in calling attention to unethical or irregular financial practices is greatly appreciated.