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VP Holmes hires election consultant for EMU expansion

Full version of the RBI Strategies EMU campaign plan is here.

Update: Why was the RBI contract for $25,000? Because Oregon administrative rules require public notice for contracts of $25,000.01 or more. Sneaky.

Update: Diane Dietz has the story in the RG. AP version here. VP Holmes spent $25,000 of student union money for the consultants report below, and was apparently planning on blowing another $30,000 on swag and propaganda. Ian Campbell in the ODE has this quote:

“The EMU Renovation Task Force Team asked the EMU staff if there was any possibility for there to be some help as they looked at the ways to put out the educational messages and the facts about the project and the best way to address that. The EMU staff contracted with a marketing team, they did not use student fees for this fee, they used auxiliary funds out of the reserve account that they had. We are currently taking a look at that contract and are potentially rethinking if we will be using that service or not at this time,” Holmes said.

“Potentially rethinking”? “Educational messages”? “Not an effort to fool students”? Bullshit. Come on ODE – just email [email protected] and make a public records request for the BANNER records, contracts, invoices, and emails between RBI and EMU task force members and UO employees. If you don’t make it clear that you will verify what administrators say when you interview them, they will keep lying to you.

Update: The EMU board – which presumably approved this use of funds – is supposed to have 3 faculty members, appointed by the UO president. The current board is listed here. 2 of the 3 “faculty” members are actually administrators – one for DPS, one for the Recreation Center.

Word in the comments is that OUS today passed the request for bonds, conditional on a positive election outcome, and that student union money was indeed used to pay the consultant and to hire at least ASUO student senator to work on the campaign.

8/17/2012: This is for $90 million in funding to renovate and expand the EMU student union building. The OUS finance subcommittee votes on the approval for bonds Friday 8/17, docket here. They are doing this in the summer to minimize student input – it almost worked, see below.

The UO students have voted against this several times, a fact which is conveniently not mentioned in the proposal to OUS. Costs have increased from $300 per student per year to $351 (note: part of this is for the associated rec center expansion, see the docket for details). Payment starts 2 years before construction finishes. Final OUS approval will be conditional on a positive vote from the students this fall, which new ASUO Pres Laura Hinman believes she can deliver. To put this in perspective, these fees will be about 4x what the students currently pay in subsidies for the athlete only Jock Box tutoring.

Now it turns out that VP for Student Affairs Robin Holmes (Update: and/or the EMU directors) are using $30K in student money to convince the students to vote to tax themselves for this project. I don’t see any other explanation for the documents below – unless the UO Foundation is footing the bill. Full report from the RBI election consulting firm is here, their estimated cost spreadsheet is here.

This is amazingly manipulative – and is it really legal to make people pay the costs of a campaign to convince them to vote yes on a bond initiative? My understanding is that a school board, for example, would be in serious trouble for something like this. Unfortunately UO general counsel Randy Geller’s new legal policy prevents student government from obtaining competent independent legal advice – they have to rely on UO’s general counsel Randy Geller.

The politically active and engaged Lamar Wise and other ASUO Senators are going to bring their objections to the project – and more importantly I think their evidence of manipulation – to the OUS meeting on 8/17/2012. Their full testimony is here. Excerpt:


  1. Anonymous 08/17/2012

    I’ll use my curse word allotment for this one. This is fucking sickening. Not to mention, I don’t think they got their money’s worth. The report is a joke apparently written by juvenile hacks. But hey, they were smart enough to get the clowns running our university to pay them.

    I hope they are embarrassed by this. As a member of faculty, I am. Who approves this kind of crap?

    • Ian Needham--EMU Board of Directors,Task Force Director/ASUO Senator Seat 5 08/17/2012

      It’s important to note that ,clearly, the report has been cut up and presented to you in the most dramatic way possible. If you would take a few minutes to research RBI Strategies at you will see that they are anything but “juvenile hacks”, having contributed to successful campaigns across the country like Obama For America and ballot initiatives like Judicial Term Limits in Colorado.

      As a student that has spent the better part of this summer organizing a fair campaign designed to communicate what we consider the benefits of the proposed project I think you,
      as a faculty member, should be more ashamed by your blatant mocking and undermining of efforts made by tuition paying students to improve our experience at this fine institution.

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      “The unifying theme to this plan and all the work to follow is winning.”

      “Deviation from a solitary vision of winning will almost certainly yield the opposite outcome.”

      Win at all costs? Is that a fair campaign?

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      I read the full report and based my comments on that. You stated I should be ashamed at the “undermining of efforts made by tuition paying students to improve our experience at this fine institution”. Isn’t that exactly what you paid these consultants to do – undermine the efforts of tuition paying students who have already said “no” to this?

      You might consider that you are being manipulated by an administration that is quite willing to use your tuition dollars for many things other than a new student union for you (like subsidizing high-cost tutoring for athletes).

      I’m all for you exercising your rights as a student to have your voice heard. But this whole thing just looks sleazy. I question the ethics of using those funds in this way.

  2. Anonymous 08/17/2012

    Given that there’s $16,000 in her budget for advertising in the Emerald, I’m guessing there’s not going to be a lot of investigative reporting on this.

    • UO Matters 08/17/2012

      Dear RBI Strategies:

      As a professional media outlet, this blog stands willing to bend its normally strict editorial independence policy, in exchange for $16,000 in single malt and a t-shirt.

      Sincerely, UO Matters

    • The Guy Who Used To Cover The ASUO 08/18/2012

      Considering that the last Executive’s ad budget didn’t stop the ODE from blowing open a cesspit of criminal activity perpetrated by Executive staff and other insiders, I think the ODE will pick up on this. It’s too big of a scoop for an enterprising student journalist to pass up on.

  3. Anonymous 08/17/2012

    I hope the Emerald is smart enough to report on it regardless of advertising.

  4. Anonymous 08/17/2012

    I’m no political scientist, but spending in the 2008 presidential election was roughly $10 per vote. About the same as these consultants want Robin Holmes to spend on a student government election. Wow.

  5. Anonymous 08/17/2012

    This is outrageous. Holmes should be fired.

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      Nobody’s going to fire Robin, she just got a big raise and she’s following orders. She just needs to be given new orders. But that’s not going to happen. Some influential people on the UO Foundation want this and Gottfredson’s not going to pick a fight with them. At best he’ll tell her not to get caught next time.

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      Influential people on the foundation, listen up:

      If you want this so bad, pay for it and quit overburdening our students.

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      Donors are paying 45M toward the 135M project. No other student building in the state has this much projected donor support.

  6. Anonymous 08/17/2012

    It will be interesting to see how long it will take MG to get a handle on these kinds of shenanigans and start kicking some ass…. Or, will it just continue on as in the past — business as usual?

  7. Anonymous 08/17/2012

    Oh one can only hope that amongst some innocent, incoming students, of whom the U of O has oversold space, some will know the terms “manipulation” and “bamboozled”, & recognize it in action.
    As if Uncle Phil could not bankroll the whole project, with pocket change– yes, Uncle Phil, student athletes use the student union sometimes too. Pony Up!

    I can almost hear Chip Kelly snickering in the distance, as he watches the sports palace with his personal hot tub being built.

    I can picture Chip cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West:
    Ahh ha-ha-ha-ha– pay an additional $351 per year suckers & I’m raising the cost of tuition AND game tickets too!

  8. Anonymous 08/17/2012

    I’m forwarding this post to a friend at the Chronicle of Higher Ed. Stay tuned.

  9. Anonymous 08/17/2012

    I am ashamed of my alma mater.

  10. Anonymous 08/17/2012

    Afolks, maybe some facts would be helpful. The EMU Renovation Task Force, called by the ASUO Student Body President, chaired by a student ASUO Senator and EMU Board Member, and made up of students representing various aspects of student life, are the energy and organizing for this campaign to renovate the student union and call for a new vote. They are working directly with the consultants and building a coalition of student groups that support the renewal of the most important, and inadequate and deteriorating, student building in the heart of campus. As much as folks want to make this a admin vs student issue, this effort is a student lead, ASUO initiative, not initiated or run by Robin Holmes. There are many of us students that believe we deserve a better student union and are working to make that happen.

    Another fact: the fee amount for the EMU would not be $351. Through project reductions and increase of donor contribution to include 45M, reduces the fee amount from $100 term. Yes, student will begin paying the fee before opening, this is how it is done throughout the country as well as in OUS. How else do you have the funding in place to finalize design and begin construction?

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      I don’t think many would argue that students need a better union. The question is how should it be funded. Thanks for the clarification. Can you clarify where the money to pay the consultant’s came from?

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      “Additionally, there should be a group of dedicated and campaign trained volunteers whose mission is to immediately counter any misleading or wrong information posted online about the measure. This group must hit back using the same message tool/s used by the opponent to disseminate the falsehoods.”

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      The money for the consultants comes from the construction fund. Since prolonging the project costs more and more money each day. Hiring a consulting firm to help pass the resolution reduces the overall cost and uncertainty of waiting. Sorry to burst your conspiracy bubble

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      and the fact that our comments need approval is ridiculous censorship to those running this site

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      To anon. above: How exactly is there a “construction fund” when no construction has been approved? I’m happy to disbelieve rumors on this site, but you need to provide links / documentation.

    • UO Matters 08/17/2012

      Comment approval is just to prevent spam, excessive cussing from the Dog, and the very occasional pointless nastiness. I approve everything else, including the nasty stuff with a point.

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      According to testimony given at the OUS board meeting today, no student funds have or will be used in the outreach campaign. The funding source is also not from a “construction fund”. The funds source are auxillary EMU reserve account funds generated from previous operating earned revenue, not student fees.

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      So the money could have been used to reduce student fees or increase student services?

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      After expressing concern about the RBI contract, today the OUS Board voted to approve a $1 placeholder in the capital construction budget this afternoon. Many students wrote the board to support this outcome. The project will move to the governor’s list to go the legislature only with a successful fall student referendum. The reason this is important is that if this did not get approved today, and students vote yes in the fall, the project cost would have gone up 5.5 million in inflation as it waited another year to get on the list. If the referendum is yes, we can build a 5.5 million better building. if the referendum is no, then it simply doesn’t move forward to the legislature. Pretty smart to get this placeholder approved IMHO.

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      If successful, those funds to help build a new Student Union will certainly increase student services, ie, a new student program resource center, new bike center, large and prominent multicultural center, multipurpose presentation space, student media center, larger craft center ect… Not to mention that millions of current student fee dollars go into all the deferred maintenance to run this decrepit building instead of going to reduce fee or increase services.

    • Anonymous 08/18/2012

      Students now pay the majority of the cost of most everything so not sure why classrooms and related academic support space aren’t even on any visible agenda this broken set of priorities was ridiculous from the outset.

    • Anonymous 08/18/2012

      That sounds like it was written by RBI. That’s the problem with hiring an outside consulting firm – now I don’t trust that these sorts of statements are genuine rather than designed to be manipulative.

    • Anonymous 08/18/2012

      To: Anon Aug 17 2012 “The money for the consultants comes from the construction fund. Since prolonging the project costs more and more money each day. Hiring a consulting firm to help pass the resolution reduces the overall cost and uncertainty of waiting. Sorry to burst your conspiracy bubble”

      Based on the matching principle of the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the money for the consultants cannot come from the construction fund because expenses must be matched with revenues. The purpose for which the consultants have been hired is to get the “revenue” or funds for construction which do not currently exist. Pledges by donors cannot be recognized as construction funds, based on the GAAP conservatism principle. Moreover, the legislature has not approved any bonds for the EMU project, hence no “revenue” has been received from bonds that have not been sold. Of course auxiliary funds generated by Student Affairs unit operations can be allocated arbitrarily for any purpose (e.g. maintenance expense, office supplies expense), but designating this money a “construction fund” suggests that the auxiliary funds were expressly granted, given or earned for the purpose of construction: they were not.

      And really, there is no project right now (just go the EMU and look around, there is no construction equipment and neither are there signs that say “HARD HAT REQUIRED”), so there is no way to prolong project costs that do not exist. At this point, the construction of a new EMU is hypothetical. In fact, if no more money is spent on consulting firms to “help pass the resolution,” the “overall costs” will actually be $0 (sans what has been already wasted) and students will actually come out ahead since spending what you do not have is costly (see P.S. below).

      P.S. Basic introductory level accounting ACTG 211 courses are offered each term (must have sophomore standing so check DuckWeb to determine class standing) by the capable accounting department folks at the Lundquist College of Business. While all sections for Fall 2012 are currently full, a nifty wait-list system is available. Otherwise, ANON can use Google and search “accounting principles” for some self-education, oh and he or she might want to double check their bank account balances, check book register and credit card statements… If they are currently spending money they are waiting to get (e.g. allowance or inheritance from parents/guardian, and hopefully not financial aid disbursement), it is actually quite costly since interest must be paid to spend money you do not have.

  11. Anonymous 08/17/2012

    Sources within the EMU say that the EMU is paying a student board member to work to pass the referendum with a “yes” campaign.

  12. Anonymous 08/17/2012

    CLASSROOMS should be the University’s FIRST building priority. STUDENT ENROLLMENT HAS INCREASED BEYOND CLASSROOM CAPABILITIES. Half the classes are taught in embarrassing rooms. After they’re fixed, go ahead with a new union. Before they’re fixed, I cannot support this.

    • Anonymous 08/17/2012

      We don’t need classrooms – didn’t you get today’s Beangram? We’re going online! Kidding aside, I echo this sentiment.

    • Anonymous 08/18/2012

      dog says

      and/or have a remodeled EMU contain a substantial number of
      learning spaces/studios (can’t call them classrooms …) – there are not nearly enough multimedia production studios or, what I will call, hands-on learning collaborative spaces (these require a flat floor and easily moveable furniture).

      In terms of UO history – when the Living Learning Center was built on the last piece of central campus real estate – it became clear the classroom were not a priority at all. At the time the LLC increased dorm capacity by 8% – yes there are 2
      classrooms there and one multi purpose one – but we could have build a building with 4000 classrooms seats on that footprint.

      Good classrooms as well.

      This was mentioned by a pack of angry wolves (dog’s cousins) at a planning meeting before the LLC was built. Our of a list of 100 UO priorities, this one numbered 319 …

    • Anonymous 08/18/2012

      classrooms are just one component, albeit maybe the most important, of offering a complete quality student experience, and education. Student buildings, like dorms, emu, src, health center, are financed through student fees, not tuition dollars or academic based bonds. The emu renovation is not competing with the opportunity to build more classrooms. so it’s kinda lame to say you don’t support updating anything before the classroom problem is fixed.

    • Anonymous 08/19/2012

      To the extent that these projects impact the the University’s amount of debt, they absolutely compete with classroom expansion. Read the Board’s report. This project will increase the debt load and put it close to the state limits.

  13. Anonymous 08/18/2012

    So someone hires an outside consulting firm that advises, among other things, that opponents of the EMU renovation should be attacked for being “political active and engaged”. None of the defenders of this report are bothered by this; Robin Holmes is not bothered by it–even though her website says that she stands for “global citizenship” (see ). I guess she means politically passive, non-engaged citizenship. If the firm were explaining how to have a real discussion, fine. Instead, it wants to stigmatize and isolate student activists, as having no place in the university that EMU renovation is contributing to create.

    • Anonymous 08/18/2012

      Shouldn’t those students opposed to this get an equal amount of funds to run a counter campaign? That would at least approach fairness.

  14. Anonymous 08/18/2012

    I am much less disturbed by the win-at-all-costs perspective shown by an ASUO student senator, who has not yet learned what it means to be a “representative,” than I am by the lack of adult supervision shown by the UO administration.

    Students are, by definition, not wise. They see the world in absolutes. That’s all fine and good. They are at university to learn, and this travesty is a good learning opportunity for those willing to dig into why public bodies in Oregon are barred from financing this sort of campaigning.

    Whether the UO is a place where such learning can happen is another matter. The ASUO elections scandal combined with this incident do not engender much confidence in the UO’s culture of governance.

    • Anonymous 08/18/2012

      Amen. Where are the grown-ups? And, are you suggesting this action was illegal?

  15. Anonymous 08/18/2012

    The tactics proposed by Holmes’ consulting firm are clearly illegal under Oregon election law. Nothing of “value” (e.g. backpacks, t-shirts) can be given away as part of a campaign. The senior George Bush got in trouble for this in the Oregon primary of 1980. Presumably, U of O elections answer to different laws, but one would think that the principle is the same–these are bribes.

    • Anonymous 08/18/2012

      an ASUO referendum is of course not a official state election and is not subject to Oregon election law, but the asuo constitution. A special election provides an advisory opinion of students, but is not binding in any way.

    • Anonymous 08/19/2012

      Does the ASUO Constitution allow bribes for votes? For only one side?

    • ASUO Gnome 08/20/2012

      Not in the Constitution, but the Election Rules includes these couple points:

      Egregious campaign violations shall consist of, but are not limited to:
      Submitting votes for other students; Tampering with the electronic election
      system; Harassment, intimidation, bribery or fraud with the intent of affecting the
      outcome of the election; Libelous or slanderous statements or conduct; Tampering
      with another campaign’s materials with malicious intent; Intentional actions to
      mislead or obstruct the duties of the Elections Board.

      6.4.a. Consequences for egregious violations can include but not limited to
      loss of all campaigning rights, removal from ballot, and removal from office.”

      Obviously the jurisdiction on “removal from office” probably doesn’t mean the Constitution Court can throw administrators out, but bribery is mentioned.
      However, generally student-run campaigns have used similar swag to attract potential voters, so it’s probably a matter of how they hand out the t-shirts, drawstring backpacks, etc.

  16. Anonymous 08/19/2012

    The part of that quote where Holmes blames this on the EMU staff and the students? Priceless.

    • Anonymous 08/20/2012

      please share this quote you refer to

  17. bojack 08/19/2012

    It’s the same lessons that the students have been getting from the athletic program for years: Win at all costs. Enrich yourself and your friends. And now, use money to prevail in the marketplace of ideas.

  18. Anonymous 08/19/2012

    Read the full RBI report. This kind of manipulation of a public debate has no place on a university campus, even if it’s standard operating procedure elsewhere in American life. These tactics deserve condemnation by the faculty regardless of the merits of the EMU expansion itself. Rational discourse, uncorrupted by money and manipulation, is not just something we confine to the classroom.

    • Anonymous 08/19/2012

      Amen, amen.

  19. UO Matters 08/19/2012

    Dear University of Oregon Public Records Officer:

    This is a public records request for copies of all emails or other communications between UO Student Government President Doug Neidermeyer, UO Dean Vernon Wormer (or any other UO employees) and employees of RBI strategies, involving their efforts to influence the outcome of student referenda and OUS authorization of $85 million in bonds for the Student Union and Rec Center expansion. I also ask for all contracts and invoices between UO and RBI since 1/1/2010.

    I ask for a fee waiver on the basis of public interest, as demonstrated by fact that Animal House was the top 57th grossing movie in history (after inflation adjustment) and that public can therefore be expected to be interested in the story behind this real life version.

    Yours, UO Matters

  20. Anonymous 08/19/2012

    For the university to provide free back-packs and t-shirts to students, as Robin Holmes’ out-of-state firm recommends, could cause serious problems for any student on financial aid. Believe it or not, the U of O almost took away a student’s financial aid because she got a free t-shirt as a reward, and it put her over her financial aid limit. It took a year to sort this out. (Look what happens to athletes when they accept free stuff!) But, as Holmes’ firm says, “winning” is the “sole aim”.

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