Fired Archivist James Fox tells his side of the UO Archives release

4/17/2015 PM update: The Library Journal has now updated its report on “the incident”, with statements from UO Library Dean Adriene Lim, here:

In January Harbaugh received a letter from Doug Blandy, senior vice provost for academic affairs. The letter stated that the material was provided to him in violation of state and federal law, and demanded that he return the USB drive to UO dean of libraries Adriene Lim, destroy any and all copies he had made, and remove any documents that he had posted online. “I was surprised at that because I always assumed that library circulation records were confidential,” Harbaugh told LJ. He added that he did not know how, or whether, Lim consulted the archivists.

“The incident itself,” Lim later explained to LJ, “was more of a data breach, because we have policies and procedures regarding the breach of FERPA-protected personal information…. What I really had to do was follow university policies.” By then, Bill Harbaugh had had the records in his possession for six weeks.

At that time Lim consulted with the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF). In a letter to UO administration dated February 17, director of ALA OIF Barbara Jones stated, “we believe it was ethically appropriate for Dr. Lim to report a data breach and to focus only on the breach itself and the alarming amount of confidential information that was leaked.”

“Leaked” has some negative connotations these days. These documents were not leaked. I got them by making a request by email, from my official U of O email address to the UO Special Collections and Archives reference desk, and agreeing to the usual boilerplate about confidentiality.

Ms Jones never contacted me before sending this letter supporting Ms Lim’s actions and calling this a leak. In fact I still haven’t seen the full text of it. Dean Lim has refused to release it and other relevant documents unless I pay $210 in public records fees:

The ALA ethics code is very explicit about not releasing circulation records except under a court order, and only after the librarian has verified that order. The policy could not possibly be clearer:

2. Advise all librarians and library employees that such records shall not be made available to any agency of state, federal, or local government except pursuant to such process, order or subpoena as may be authorized under the authority of, and pursuant to, federal, state, or local law relating to civil, criminal, or administrative discovery procedures or legislative investigative power. (

However, the ALA website also notes that the ALA does not do ethics investigations or otherwise enforce its code of ethics. It gives some good explanations and history for this policy. Perhaps this inadequately researched and hasty letter from ALA Director Jones should be added to the list of examples, here:

4/17/2015 AM: Two very powerful stories today on the UO administration’s scapegoating of Archives Director James Fox, from Diane Dietz in the RG and Rich Read in the Oregonian. Well worth reading all of both, I am only posting a few extracts:

From the Oregonian:  Archivist James Fox says UO Interim President Scott Coltrane’s team betrayed, scapegoated him

University of Oregon archivist blamed and terminated after a massive records release deemed “unlawful” by UO’s interim president said Thursday he had nothing to do with the debacle and is being scapegoated.

James Fox, head of the UO Special Collections and University Archives, said during an interview in Portland that Interim President Scott Coltrane‘s office should be responsible, as the “creating office,” for vetting records to remove confidential information concerning students, faculty and staff members.

Instead, Fox said, Coltrane’s office transferred the responsibility to librarians in a written agreement that Fox wasn’t shown. Kira Homo — a lower-level digital archivist, who has since resigned after also being suspended with pay — released the 30,000 pages digitally without telling Fox they weren’t vetted, he said.

Fox’s Portland lawyer, Craig Crispin, said he has filed notice to warn that the archivist may sue the university, which, the attorney wrote, has “irreparably damaged Mr. Fox in his professional standing and occupational reputation by placing him in a public false light.”

Fox said that since arriving at the university in 2000 he had attracted large donations and numerous authors’ papers to the UO Libraries, diversifying collections to include material from prominent African American, Latino and native American writers.

Since then, Fox said, he repeatedly warned superiors that records management was a disaster waiting to happen.

“I love my job and I love the University of Oregon,” Fox said. “I’m shocked and hurt that I’m in this position right now. I’ve been a very loyal employee. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Fox’s interview, although solely from his perspective, sheds light on some of the mysteries and accusations surrounding the controversial records release. While Coltrane pointedly faulted archivists during a Feb. 13 interview, UO spokespersons have disclosed few specifics, at times citing legal prohibitions against commenting on personnel matters.

But UO publicists have also refused to release a full investigative report produced by a law firm hired by the university. That report is almost certainly a public document under Oregon’s open-records law. …

From the RG: Former UO archivist James Fox tells his side of his dismissal

The library was being deluged with electronic archival material, Fox said. The mass of material was so great that there was no way special collections could vet or even organize the data, he said.

Archivists nationally are struggling with the same problem, he said.

The backlog for vetting and organizing material got so long, scholars couldn’t get to what they needed for years.

So libraries, including the Knight Library, instituted a system that required patrons using special collections to sign a document that said there may be confidential personal material in the collection they’re requesting, and they agree not to publish the information.

“You as a research have a responsibility, if you find something like that, to alert us immediately and not to use it. The burden is on you. People sign off on that,” Fox said.

In the meantime, Fox said he sounded an alarm. His eight-person department was not equipped to guarantee that personal information or other confidential information was held back from release.

A routine review of the library by outside experts in 2013 found the library was understaffed and took on too many responsibilities for the wider campus.

…  “I remained pretty clear headed and clear of heart because I knew I had done nothing wrong. That’s what sustained me through this,” he said.

In the weeks since Fox’s removal became public, supporters have submitted letters of support to The Register-Guard editorial page.

This week, more than 100 faculty members signed a letter asking the university to renew Fox’s contract.

Nationally recognized science fiction author Ursula Le Guin, who has given her papers to the university, published and open letter.

Fox has done a “superlative” job, she wrote.

“As for responsibility, reliability, honesty: He is in charge of all my papers including those that are and must kept private, and I trust him completely, unquestioningly, with that charge,” Le Guin wrote.

His dismissal “is an egregious error in judgment and in justice,” she wrote.

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16 Responses to Fired Archivist James Fox tells his side of the UO Archives release

  1. The Truth says:

    “Fox’s Portland lawyer, Craig Crispin, said he has filed notice to warn that the archivist may sue the university, which, the attorney wrote, has “irreparably damaged Mr. Fox in his professional standing and occupational reputation by placing him in a public false light.””

    Hoo boy, more billable hours for HLGR!

  2. anonec says:

    “On March 18, an armed UO police officer stood guard when Fox, who is 5-foot 6-inches, slim and gray-haired, went to meet Lim in her office, he said.”

    I thought the private sector was cruel when they watch people pack their belongings but this is really concerning…

  3. double standard? says:

    “Kira Homo — a lower-level digital archivist, who has since resigned after also being suspended with pay — released the 30,000 pages digitally without telling Fox they weren’t vetted, he said.”

    So wait, Fox, throws his underling, someone he directly supervised, under the bus and that’s ok by you all? If he was in Johnson Hall I can already imagine what the UOMatters headline would be.

    • Someone from the Library says:

      I hear ya. Rumor has it Fox didn’t know about the “secret agreement” because it was JH bunk to begin with — divide and conquer, looks like.

  4. Ben says:

    Bill, you need to go liveblog the court case! Lots of juicy things they can’t charge you to see…

  5. Publius says:


    “Since being placed on leave, Fox said, he has endured the humiliation of waiting in Eugene’s Pioneer Cemetery each time he needs to go on campus.”

    “Fox said he was denied campus access to attend a luncheon Jan. 21, when he said he received a Martin Luther King Jr. Award in absentia for bringing more diversity into Libraries collections. The plaque sits in his office, he said.”

    In less than one academic year, the Scott Coltrane administration has set a record for paranoia, incompetence–and now, sheer cruelty. Fire a loyal U of O employee, a man near retirement–for what?

    • 'dead duck' says:

      The “Peter Principle” strikes again ??

      I tend to believe rather that quality administration depends much on the quality of those advising the administrator. It is not simply that Coltrane may not be up to the task, but that he made a decisive failure i relying for advice on those who had a proven record of incompetence.

      If the new president follows this script and fails to clean out JH I fear that I will not be the only ‘dead duck’

      • Conflict of interest says:

        I agree with ‘dead duck’, but how sad is it that a president paid so much above comparators is merely a mouthpiece for those incompetent advisors.

        These obscene salaries are supposed to reflect outstanding capabilities, but instead they are now openly acknowledged to be a salve for entering the smoking ruins of a university ravaged by incompetence and the cowardly inaction of “leaders” like Coltrane. No one in JH will rock the boat…it’s just too damn lucrative for all those admin passengers.

  6. SaveUofO says:

    Add another lawsuit to the pile created by this administration. Add more money out of the pockets of students to pay for lawyers to defend it. It is clear that no employee is safe on this campus even when they do the right thing. JH is out of control. I hope Fox sues the administration and sues each of them personally and in their official capacities. So now we are using UofO police to stand around and escort people on administrative leave around campus? Must be nice for the administration to have their own personal police force. This is all so very wrong.

  7. Conflict of interest says:

    Just imagine what might have been if JH admins were subject to this kind of rapid punitive response for their long list of incompetent self-interested actions. That plush office would be empty by now. Instead the typical response for JH misconduct is a long long drawn out committee study that eventually releases a toothless statement of concern (see the RAP report on Kimberly Espy’s reign of destruction and incompetence and self interest), a lucrative sinecure out of the limelight where incompetence was discovered (hi Jim)….or, more likely…nothing at all. They are unaccountable while their underlings and others are wood for the fire.

    • SaveUofO says:

      There is little oversight of and nearly zero accountability at the higher levels of administration. These are people who have apparently written their own salaries and contracts while giving their former colleagues lucrative legal contracts. Students, staff and faculty have become fodder during times of crisis, many of these crises self created by the administration. The good reputation of people means nothing to them. Just look at how this man has been dragged through the streets by an ineffective administration bent on doing whatever it feels necessary to retain their status quo.

  8. Jim Schumock says:

    Scapegoating: the oldest profession! Was about to donate literary interviews of 25 years because Walt Curtis did and said Fox was a good guy. Saw firing while looking for Fox number.

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