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Chronicle publishes mini-profile on UO Matters blogger

“The Open Records King of Eugene”, by Eric Kelderman, here. (Gated if you’re off campus). Some extracts:

Since 2009 the University of Oregon has had five presidents, including interim officeholders. It has gone through four athletic directors, and it’s now advertising for its fourth general counsel.

During that time the institution has endured an almost endless stream of controversies, involving athletics, governance, union contracts, and allegations that the administration mishandled reports of sexual assaults by three student basketball players.

Through it all, there’s been one constant: William T. Harbaugh. Mr. Harbaugh, a professor of economics, has chronicled every twist and turn on his blog, UOMatters—a project he began more than five years ago, he says, to shed light on an administration that many believe lacks adequate transparency.

The blog, along with his persistent requests for public records, has earned Mr. Harbaugh the reputation of a muckraker, a thorn in the side of the administration, and the sharp end of faculty discontent.

In a narrow sense, Mr. Harbaugh might appear to fill the role of a well-known stereotype: The cranky campus crusader who is never happy and rarely effective. What sets Mr. Harbaugh apart is his ability to effect change through both the sharing of information with the university community and his work setting policy. …

Mr. Harbaugh is also an active member of the University Senate, where he is credited with leading efforts to pass several pieces of legislation, including measures relating to faculty involvement in the hiring and review of administrators. Administrators generally tell Mr. Harbaugh that they hate his blog, he says. …

“The most common comment I get is: ‘I really appreciate what you do and your willingness to stick your neck out,’” he says. …

The blog, meanwhile, has become a must-read for the region’s journalists—and for anyone else who is hungry for the unofficial version of the university’s actions. And there has been no shortage of material for the professor to skewer. …

Mr. Harbaugh says the university has strong free-speech protections for faculty members. He feels confident in his legal position. And he’s unlikely to back down quietly.

“I love the university and the state,” he says. “They’re not going to get me to leave here; I’m going to make this a better place.”


  1. transparent 01/27/2015

    looks like you have been outed as the owner of the 22,000 records

  2. nauseated with status quo 01/27/2015

    Right on Bill. Keep on trucking.

  3. Mr. G 01/27/2015

    That’s what I was wondering about, too – everywhere else the name of “the professor” is not revealed, but in this article they clearly claim that it is Mr. Harbaugh.

  4. no way 01/27/2015

    Wow that is a surprise.

  5. uO Alum 01/27/2015

    This sort of exposure in the Chronicle will bring generous offers from other universities.

  6. CommunityMember 01/27/2015

    Bless you for your work. As Howard Zinn said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Your work makes the U a better place.

  7. Mr_CU 01/27/2015

    Congratulations, Bill!!! You are VIP of the University of Nike.

    • eugene native 01/27/2015

      VIP to the enlightened.

      PNG to the skulking denizens of the smoke-filled-room.

  8. Anonymous 01/27/2015

    As a long standing member of the faculty I am unaware of any positive change the author of UO Matters has contributed to campus beyond his own self-aggrandizement. More to the point, I think UO Matters has poisoned the culture on campus by its relentless attacks and name calling. Whatever trust might have existed between the administration and faculty has been damaged by this blog. In my opinion, the author of UO Matters is seriously off his meds and should get a life. If a previous commenter is right in that there are consequences for sticking his neck out, I hope that it is chopped off.

    • uomatters Post author | 01/27/2015

      You’re welcome. I’m happy to have provided you with a place to post your opinion, Anonymous.

      Next time, please use a screen name.

    • eugene native 01/27/2015

      “Off with their heads” cried the Red Queen.

    • just different 01/27/2015

      When in doubt, shoot the messenger.

    • Anonymous 01/27/2015

      Then you just aren’t paying attention. Enjoy living in the fantasy that everything would have been rosy on campus but for UO Matters.

      Being self-aggrandizing and name calling doesn’t mean he isn’t right.

      • uomatters Post author | 01/27/2015

        Thanks, sort of, and please use a screen name.

    • screen name 01/27/2015

      I agree with Anonymous, I understand there is a big Bill fan club. But this blog combines the worst of Fox News and Nat Enquirer. A lack of objectivity, professionalism, academic common sense mixed with pure muckracking to serve one person’s ego. I realize the admins are evil and not serving our interests, but this blog is not the answer. And every individual who supports this blog is guilty of the same one-sided, no-perspective viewpoint that is *completely* opposite to what we cherish in an academic environment. Where I understand Bill has the right to write his blog, I, for one, am embarrassed to have him as a colleague. I often wish I was not at this University, in part because of our admins, but also in part because of Bill and others like him.

      • Grus canadensis 01/27/2015

        Wait…there are other UO bloggers?

      • just different 01/27/2015

        I often wish more full professors made better use of the incredible protection offered by tenure and academic freedom to provide public forums and make vocal and public stands about things that matter, even (especially!) if it means pissing some people off. I’d like to see more blogs like this–why don’t you start your own if you don’t like UO Matters?

      • Sports Fan 01/27/2015

        Bill’s opinions may run the gamut, but documents never lie.

      • Steve McAllister 01/28/2015

        Nice. “Everyone who disagrees with me is a big poopy head.” You must be killer in debates.

        I can’t speak to the Bill’s ego, but UOMatters was a crucial source of information and perspective for GTFs during our recent strike; I suppose you’re going to tell me that we were imagined that whole thing, and that the University Administration was blameless? We have on paper the numerous outright lies and total fabrications that the admin PR office produced, but BILL is guilty of being biased?

        Your call for “objectivity” is nothing but a remix of “both sides are just as bad,” mixed with “it hurts my feelings when people call bullshit, in so many words.” Maybe it’s easy for you to live in a happy bubble, but for less privileged workers and students on this campus, any source of insight into the black box bureaucracy that has so much power over our lives is welcome.

        Keep it up, Bill. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

    • Old Grey Mare 01/28/2015

      What poisoned the culture on this campus was the conflict over the Workers Rights Consortium, the massive increase in spending on athletics at the expense of academics, an ever-increasing number of highly-paid administrators, the firing of Lariviere, the admission of an ever-increasing number of students without a proportional increase in tenure lines, and, one last recent example, the ugliness over the GTF strike with administrators taking over faculty grading.

      I agree that some of UOMatters’ ad hominem attacks are excessive; but I would not blame this blog for poisoning campus culture.

  9. OR Native 01/27/2015

    Keep up the good work Bill. As an Oregon native and parent of a child at school there, I’m very interested in how my tax and tuition dollars are being spent. I appreciate your insights … even though it consistiently shows that my contributions are mis-spent.

  10. Thom Aquinas 01/27/2015

    I’m not ashamed to be at the UO, because there are folks like BH. Someone just has to call “bullshit” when a bull shits. And someone just has to rake the manure off our school, even if he’s called a muckraker for it. So – Thank you BH. You balance the score!

  11. Conflict of Interest 01/28/2015

    Anonymous needs to sharpen their understanding of “self-aggrandizement”. This typically describes someone trying to improve their own position, not somebody who risks the ire of the most powerful people in their own organization.

    What Bill does with this blog requires “courage”.

    Our JH admins have no courage. They turn a blind eye to prolonged incompetence (hi Jim) and blatant self-promotion (Kimberly Espy with the institute formed in the image of her own research, directed by her own associate VP with a mediocre research record, used to provide lab space for Espy’s personal postdoc in coveted space planned for other purposes) of their colleagues. Why do they allow such things? Because it would take courage to call them out. Because speaking true criticisms of JH admins could spoil their own position at the very rich trough they feed at. Instead, they smile, dole out sinecures to those that must eventually leave (hi Jim) and try to relieve the stress in their university-paid cars. No courage.

    Our JH admins are in fact a perfect example of self-aggrandizement. They continually inflate their own numbers and their above-comparator salaries while simultaneously the faculty they claim to represent endure 6 year salary freezes. THAT is self-aggrandizement.

    Thank you Bill. You shoot from the hip and wield snark without restraint, but at least you care enough to fucking try.

  12. Ben 01/28/2015

    Bill’s emails with Doug Park, et al. speak for themselves. If anyone is ashamed of this blog, they are either willfully ignorant, or value athletics over the health of the university as a whole (which ironically, thus includes athletics).

    • ashamed of this blog 01/28/2015

      I’m not willfully ignorant and I don’t value athletics over academics. If Bill would actually do some research before he spouts off his fantasies or makes shit up then maybe I would find some respect for the guy. Too many times he attacks folks without knowing jack about what is really going on.

      • Ben 01/28/2015

        I’ll grant you that some of Bill’s commentary should be taken with a grain of salt– there is an agenda at times, especially in athletics commentary, but the primary sources alone speak for themselves.

        Again, either willfully ignorant or valuing athletics over academics. Though I suppose if you skip the primary sources, you could just add extremely biased to the list if you want something milder.

  13. Texas Guy 01/28/2015

    Count me in as another supporter of UO Matters. I have never been so embarrassed or horrified as when, in response to the grad student strike late in the fall, our admin threatened international graduate students with deportation, threatened to raise undergraduate tuition, threatened faculty who dared to not go along with their plan of thoughtless grading and insisted on rhetorically treating a long-prepared (and easily avoided) strike as some kind of natural disaster. UO Matters shined a strong light on all these matters that was valuable to all.

  14. Alan Contreras 01/28/2015

    Here is a reprint of what I posted to the CHE as a comment to the story.

    As a graduate of Oregon and two-time employee of the institution, I can say with some certainty that the UO is a wonderful place that is going through a relatively painful transition period.

    I know Bill Harbaugh slightly and although I think there is a hint of fixation in his endless gnawing on the institution’s leadership (are you a secret Oregon State Beaver, Bill, all this gnawing….), the fact is that Bill has not been running the institution and the current strained, slightly out-of-sync operational norm at Oregon is the responsibility of those who have been at the wheel.

    As this story points out, in a crucial detail that I hope is not overlooked, turnover in key positions has been excessive in recent years. That matters, particularly at an institution where high turnover has not been the norm until very recently. At Oregon, the norm had been that many people stayed a long time and developed not only a sense of commitment to the university as an abstract entity but a personal knowledge base and set of relationships that allowed for what a romantic might call collegial problem-solving.

    Are there issues with the more informal norms of decision-making? Sure. One of them is that some issues don’t really get addressed because they are inconvenient. Oregon was neither glorious nor evil in this regard. Under some presidents it was pretty good. One of the things Bill has done is to unbrick the walls behind which a variety of issues, some important, some trivial, have been parked over the years. All colleges have such inconvenient closets; few have had them pried open all at once, every week for many years.

    Is this a good thing for the University of Oregon? In the short term, no. It adds to the general tone of negative energy with which the institution has been draped in recent years – the feel is much like that of the final year of the Jimmy Carter presidency. Yet for the longer term, I think the UO needs a fair amount of fresh air blown through it and is a very useful example to many other institutions: This Could Be You. In order to make sure that other institutions don’t go through the same lumpy-bumpy gotcha-again ride, they might learn some things.

    Among these things are the need for stable leadership exercised by well-matched people of true experience and demonstrated judgment. There are all kinds of successful people who have no business becoming college presidents, especially at a public university. And not just presidents, but a whole array of senior staff need to be able to work without fear and know that they can and should use their best judgment all the time.

    Bill has helped the broader community come to know what UO insiders have been aware of for years: we don’t currently have the right mix of leaders and senior staff, and haven’t for a while. I should say that I don’t know Scott Coltrane, the current acting president, but what I have heard has been pretty good.

    But the new president, whoever it is, will have the board chair sitting in operational meetings and the board secretary creeping about the institution watching, watching, watching. This is an example of grossly inappropriate university oversight and no president should put up with it. So our pool of candidates who have not been scared off by a faculty union at an AAU institution will shrink further when they learn that they are really being hired as a seal trained to bark on demand. Not a recipe for improvement.

    So I’ll give Bill a “B-“, which is a much better grade than I got in economics, for calling out that which has not been done well. To get an “A” I’d like to see him call out things that are good about our favorite university. Oh, and Go Ducks !

    • that effing Dog again 01/28/2015

      A lot of this analysis of the “State of the UO” lives in the sphere of perception. UOmatters certainly contributes to this perceptural sphere in both good and bad ways, but in general, it just helps to increase the chaos. Nothing wrong with this, up to a point.

      However, at some point, perception needs to be augmented with objective “facts” and data that compare the UO now, with the UO then.

      While I will not, at this time, publish any detailed quantitative comparison, I just list three areas in which the UO now is much different (worse) then the UO then.

      1. TTF to student ratio (enormously large now – reasonable Then where then refers to when the UO had 12000-16000 students)

      2. Per student FTE research funding (this means total amount of federal research dollars divided by total number of students – the former is flat, or even slightly down compared to 15 years ago, while the latter is way high).

      3. The ratio of dollars spent on athletic infrastructure vs academic infrastructure. (while the Now vs Then difference can be found in virtually all universities, our particular now vs then difference is near the top of the scale).

      These 3 areas, in principle, represent priority and policy areas which lend themselves to administrative control and oversight.

  15. Cynic 01/31/2015

    To Dog, nicely barked!

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