The University of Oregon administration has been bargaining a union contract with the UO faculty’s AAUP/AFT affiliate local since November. I regularly blog about the bargaining sessions. In February the University of Oregon’s administrative bargaining team wrote an unsigned “Open Letter” to the UO community, saying:
“We write this letter to our University community because we believe it is both necessary and appropriate to inform you of circumstances that are significantly impeding the on-going bargaining between the University and United Academics—the continued reporting of biased, erroneous and inflammatory reports from the bargaining table by Professor Bill Harbaugh on his blog, UO Matters, and Mr. Harbaugh’s insertion of himself into the bargaining process by filing repeated public records requests for information directly related to bargaining. We have raised this concern privately with the UA bargaining team several times, and the response each time is the same: what Mr. Harbaugh reports regarding bargaining is not our responsibility and there’s nothing we will do about it. Given the Union’s unwillingness or inability to address this matter, we have decided to bring it directly to the University community’s attention. …”
The administration’s bargaining team is led by the University’s General Counsel Randy Geller, and includes Senior VP for Academic Affairs Doug Blandy, Journalism Dean Tim Gleason, VPAA Barbara Altmann, and hired attorneys Sharon Rudnick and Kate Grado, from the HLGR law firm.
I thought this letter was more embarrassing to its authors than to me – although a few colleagues thought it was defamatory and professionally damaging. I mostly ignored it except for a letter to university President Mike Gottfredson asking him to disown it, which he did not respond to.
Then the administration rejected the union’s free speech and academic freedom proposals, countering them with restrictions that would give university administrators the ability to discipline faculty for criticism of the administration, which I frequently engage in.
At that point I made a public records request to get information about the authors of the letter and how it came about that Mr. Geller, an attorney, would approve putting such a thing on university letterhead and posting it on an official university website. Or alternatively, if your attorney allows, you may be able to get a letterhead template from somewhere like MyCreativeShop or somewhere similar.
To add to the absurdity, President Gottfredson’s Public Records Office, which is supervised by his Special Assistant Dave Hubin, replied by saying that I would have to pay $225 to see those documents:
The University of Oregon has received your public records request for “any emails, letters, or memos sent to, cced on, or received by UO General Counsel Randy Geller, regarding the 2/28/2013 open letter from the UO administration’s faculty union bargaining team to UO Economics Professor William T. Harbaugh…”, on 08/20/2013, attached. The office has at least some documents responsive to your request. By this email, the office is providing you with an estimate to respond to your requests.
The office estimates the actual cost of responding to your request to be $225.56.
The letter, and my unanswered reply to President Gottfredson are below:
From: Bill Harbaugh
Subject: your Feb 28 open letter about Professor Bill Harbaugh
Date: April 12, 2013 6:22:40 PM PDT
To: Sharon Rudnick , Randy Geller
Cc: James Bean , doug park , Barbara Altmann , Timothy Gleason , Doug Blandy , firstname.lastname@example.org, William F GARY , email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Bruce Blonigen , “firstname.lastname@example.org Coltrane” , President Gottfredson
, “Melody_Rose@ous.edu” , Ryan Hagemann , Robert Kyr , Margaret Paris
Dear Ms Rudnick and Mr. Geller:
I’m writing you in regard to the Feb 28 “Open letter from the UO Bargaining Team” which is attached, and which is posted on the official University of Oregon website for faculty contract negotiations, at http://uo-ua.uoregon.edu/fact-check/
A colleague came across this website a week or so after the letter had apparently been posted, and alerted me to it. I thought it was pretty hilarious, particularly in its discussion of the UO Matters blog at https://uomatters.com, which I edit, and in regard to the claims that I am “indelibly associated” with the faculty union.
In truth I fought long and hard against faculty unionization. I signed the membership card only at the end, because I wanted to be on the winning side, where I could make a difference. I have made it very clear on my blog and in conversations with many UO administrators that I am still quite skeptical of faculty unions and that my ultimate loyalty is to the University of Oregon and to the principle of public education for which it stands. I regularly tell the union organizers I will turn on the union the moment it starts doing more harm than good to this principle, and I’m pretty sure they believe me.
But I digress. Many UO faculty have now told me that I should be outraged by your letter, that it is harmful to my professional reputation, and even that it constitutes “defamation per se”, whatever that means.
While I’m no lawyer, on closer reading I think they may have a point. The letter is on UO letterhead, is posted on an official UO website, is addressed to my academic colleagues in my university community, and it even uses my professional title:
“We write this letter to our University community because we believe it is both necessary and appropriate to inform you of … the continued reporting of biased, erroneous and inflammatory reports from the bargaining table by Professor Bill Harbaugh …”
The letter and the website also make some damaging accusations about my actions and intentions, stating them as if they were facts. I note in particular the statement that my blog is “consistently anti-university”, and “He has also filed frivolous and repeated records requests for information directly related to bargaining.” I’m thinking maybe that was supposed to say “not directly related to bargaining” but regardless, I am not the sort of person who takes accusations of frivolity lightly, even confused ones. Economics is a serious subject, and no potential employer would want to hire a professor with a reputation for joking around.
However the strangest part of this open letter is that a group of UO administrators and attorneys would write something like this, put it on official UO letterhead, post it on an official UO website, and then not sign their names to it.
So, I am writing to ask Ms Rudnick, who is apparently the leader of this team, or perhaps more appropriately Mr. Geller, her immediate supervisor at UO, to send me the names of the people on the “UO Bargaining Team”.
I’m ccing all the people I’ve been able to identify as potential members of the UO Bargaining Team, from the website, the HLGR invoices, and a few other sources. I’ve also cced my department chair, CAS Dean Coltrane, President Gottfredson, OUS Chancellor Rose, OUS General Counsel Ryan Hagemann, current UO Senate President Kyr and incoming Senate President Paris.
I’d appreciate a prompt response, listing the names of the people on the UO Bargaining Team. If any of the team members want to disavow the letter, I’d appreciate it this would be posted on the website where the letter appears. Feel free to also post this letter if you’d like, and let me know if you’d like a signed copy on UO economics department letterhead.
Professor of Economics
1285 University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403
10/20/13 update: The administration’s fact-check website about the faculty union negotiations cost the academic budget about $250,000. It was unceremoniously taken down a week or two ago, and has now been quietly replaced by a new, partially sanitized site at http://uo-cba.uoregon.edu/. The new site keeps some of the old fact-check stuff, such as
Claim: UO Matters blogger Bill Harbaugh is also acting as an economic consultant for United Academics. Tuesday, when the UA bargaining team left the table to caucus, he went with the team. But that doesn’t mean he can get his numbers right.
but it removes the “open letter” from the administration’s bargaining team that accused me of being “consistently anti-university” and “indelibly associated with United Academics”. It also removes all links to that letter. It’s as if Rudnick and Geller never wrote it. (I’ve got an archive of the entire old site, let me know if you want the files.)
Under the resources tab, the administration’s site provides a helpful (if it weren’t broken) link to an Inside Higher Ed story that vaguely supports VPFA Jamie Moffitt’s arguments for increasing UO’s reserves, but I can’t find any mention of the more critical Inside Higher Ed story reporting on President Gottfredson’s efforts to limit academic freedom and freedom of speech. I’m happy to provide both: Budget story here, academic freedom story here, more on that issue and links to other stories here.