LibraryGate: RG editorial on Presidential Archives records release

1/24/2014: The case of the UO records. In the Register Guard, here:

Decoding the curious case of the University of Oregon’s misdirected records requires the deductive powers of a master sleuth — one with an ear for dogs that do not bark, an eye that can detect the fig behind the leaf, and a nose that will wrinkle at the whiff of a rat. But in the absence of a Holmes, a Columbo or even a Clouseau, ordinary Ducks are left to sort through the case on their own by eliminating various possibilities.

Did an unnamed professor do anything wrong when he obtained 22,000 pages of UO presidential documents? Apparently not — the records were placed in the university’s open archives, and were available to anyone. All that sets the professor apart from other members of the public was that he knew what to ask for.

Did the UO’s librarians or archivists, two of whom have been placed on paid leave for releasing the records, commit a breach? Evidently not — making archival materials available to the public is the very essence of their job. The records should have been redacted to protect against the release of such material as legally protected information about students, but redactions should be made by those who are the source of the documents and know what they contain.

Did the office of the president or someone else in the administration cause grave offense? A spokesman for the president says the documents do not contain Social Security numbers, medical records or financial data, eliminating several of the most serious possible violations of student privacy. So far no damage has been done.

What’s in the records, anyway? The only clue is a 14-page memo by the UO general counsel discussing the possibility of dissolving the UO Senate after the university faculty voted to unionize. To those who suspect the administration of plotting to undermine shared governance at the UO, it’s a smoking gun. To the administration, it’s an opportunity to show that the UO stuck with shared governance despite being given a legal argument for weakening it.

The other 21,986 pages could contain information about former UO President Michael Gottfredson’s departure, or the administration’s response to allegations of sexual abuse against three UO basketball players. Information of this kind should be public, or is likely to become public in the course of litigation.

So no wrongdoer can be identified in the release of the records, and no damaging consequences have followed. A detective might conclude that there’s nothing for the university to be terribly upset about.

I apologize to the Register Guard for posting their entire editorial. Given the subject, I hope they won’t sue me. All my posts on the Presidential Archives can be found here.

Rich Read of the Oregonian’s latest report is here:

As university officials urgently seek return of the documents, they are warning employees not to talk with reporters. Adriene Lim, dean of UO libraries, wrote an internal memo instructing library faculty, managers and staff members to keep a lid on information.

But Lim’s memo was leaked to Bill Harbaugh, a UO economics professor who posted it Thursday on his blog, Harbaugh has repeatedly declined to comment on matters including whether he’s the person who has the records. He says his attorney has advised him not to talk yet.

“If you receive any media inquiries about this situation, please do not try to handle them yourselves,” Lim wrote in the memo obtained and posted by Harbaugh. “Refer these calls to Tobin Klinger in UO’s Public Affairs group.” …

In a July 15 post, Harbaugh skewered Klinger, writing: “Go away Mr. Klinger. UO needs more faculty, not more PR flacks.”

The skewering was in response to the letter Klinger – a trained media professional, whom UO’s pays $115K a year, and who really ought to know better – sent to the RG editors:

I’m a recent transplant to Eugene, having spent a majority of my adult and professional life working with media in northwest Ohio. Like many, I idealized life in the Pacific Northwest. Eugene and its people have lived up to my vision. Eugene is access to independent film, unique foods, outdoor activities, cultural happenings and community pride. I don’t know that this shines through on the pages of The Register-Guard, particularly with the sophomoric “reporting” of Diane Dietz. …

Sorry Tobin, but Eugene’s community pride isn’t just about “unique foods”. We’ve also got a legacy of free speech (obligatory Wayne Morse link) and some of us aim to keep it that way.

Speaking of which, redacted U of Nike coffee mugs are still available, here. All profits go to buy UO public records from Dave Hubin. Or maybe to someone’s legal defense fund?

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13 Responses to LibraryGate: RG editorial on Presidential Archives records release

  1. Leporello says:

    I loved their first paragraph, best I’ve seen in the editorial column.

    • Anas Clypeata says:

      “Dogs [who] do not bark” indeed. Sounds like a certain commenter we know well.

      But it’s not a fig behind the fig leaf. It’s a Johnson Hall.

  2. UO Grad says:

    Is this blog maintaining a tally of nationally embarrassing scandals?
    I count three in the past 10 months.

  3. Oryx says:

    If the 2nd paragraph is really true,:
    “Did an unnamed professor do anything wrong when he obtained 22,000 pages of UO presidential documents? Apparently not — the records were placed in the university’s open archives, and were available to anyone. ….”
    Why on earth is the administration making a big deal about this? Why is the president sending emails to everyone on campus?

    • just different says:

      Why indeed? There are generally two possible explanations for inexplicable acts: incompetence and malice. Ordinarily I’d go with the first, but this looks to me like a case of the second gone horribly wrong.

      • insider says:

        Librarians make info available to patrons. If JH or the BOD wants a vault, they should pay for it. It might cost 1 or 2 high level admin positions for a few public records specialist librarians ($200k admin salary = 4 librarian positions, or figure it out by lawyer fees). But as it stands, the UO Library does not have the resources to deal with controlling any level of sensitive public records. They can barely keep up with regular requests and archiving tasks.

        BOD, JH, and Library Dean all owe everyone at university archives a huge apology for the way they have been stomped on and abused. Pathetic.

      • Hen says:

        Does it have to be either/or? Looks like both to me.

  4. Leporello says:

    I’m extremely disappointed with the way our new Library Dean threw her employees under the bus and turned her back on ALA principles and professional archival standards.

  5. Disappointed Duck says:

    “A detective might conclude that there’s nothing for the university to be terribly upset about.”

    Or a detective might wonder whether the UO’s lengthening string of ham-handed attempts to cover up scandals, stonewall media, sideline faculty power, and raise unnecessary alarm might point toward deeper issues. There are certainly things for the UO to be terribly upset about. For instance: This latest blunder is, in addition to everything else, a textbook case of how not to do public relations. The weird timing and wording of Coltrane’s alert, designed to set the framework for public debate – a classic PR move to be first out of the box and make this about security, safety, and illegality rather than cover-up — succeeded to a degree (note reader comments in the media recommending that the archivists and the professor who requested the documents be fired). But it was handled so badly that it’s backfiring, raising more questions and inquiry, and making the admin look foolish. My bet is there’s something damning in those documents; but even if there’s not our hapless UO administrators are doing their best to make it look like there is. It’s a tragedy either way.

  6. chuck says:

    is it really all this hard?

    one walks into the Barncroft and sits down


    this is what it is all about

    but instead we get…

    Phil Knight skirts all laws to build the Taj Mahal on campus in the name of “student” athlete education…with a moat no less…with an architecture complete anathema to the collegiate setting…

    crooked athletics, crooked administration…

    the entire deal at the University of Oregon has become a freaking joke

    BA Univesity of Oregon 1968
    BArch Tulane 1975

  7. weary retiree says:

    It would be really nice if you could ask what has happened to those poor archivists who have probably given their professional lives for you.

  8. uomatters says:

    Believe me, I want to know too.