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“Duck Advocate” Tobin Klinger gets UO more great press attention

The Oregonian’s editorial page, here:

The University of Oregon administration continues to defend the way it mishandled an alleged rape of a student by three basketball team members long after common sense and common decency would have persuaded most anyone else to gracefully back down.

The university’s latest show of resolve comes after the Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners handed down a proposed $5,000 fine for Shelly Kerr, the director of the UO Counseling and Testing Center. The board found that Kerr had failed to “protect and maintain the confidentiality” of the student’s counseling records when Kerr, upon request by the general counsel’s office, delivered a copy of the woman’s therapy file to the university’s lawyers without notifying either the student or her therapist or getting the student’s permission, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Richard Read. The move violates state law and falls short of professional ethical standards, according to the board, which also proposes a reprimand and six hours of ethics courses for Kerr.

The university said it was “disappointed.” It has long maintained that it was abiding by a request from the student’s attorney – sent four months earlier – to preserve documents and records related to the case and to guard against deletion. Spokesman Tobin Klinger told Read that the university expects Kerr will request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge and that it supports her in that effort. In other words, the school believes that the board, like apparently everyone else who has called out the UO for the counseling file fiasco, got it wrong.

This isn’t really a surprise. Consider how the university responded after the student, referred to as Jane Doe, filed a lawsuit over its mishandling. The school denied Doe’s allegations. But it then decided to go on the attack, filing a counterclaim that sought attorney’s fees and making bizarro-world arguments that Doe’s lawsuit could harm sex-assault victims.

How? Apparently, her complaints about how the university mishandled the report could discourage others from reporting their own assaults. Does UO not realize how it is discouraging victims all by itself? At least this time, the university realized it was making yet another misstep and withdrew the counterclaim. The suit has since been settled with UO paying the student $800,000 and providing four years worth of tuition, housing and fees.

Fortunately, the case has motivated others to bring about the changes that UO should have adopted on its own. Outrage over Kerr’s handing over of the counseling file to university lawyers didn’t stop at the campus borders. As the story unfolded, state legislators passed bills that strengthened confidentiality for sex-assault victims and directed counseling centers on campus to make explicit the limits of a student’s privacy rights. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague” letter that advised universities that are in litigation with a student to not share student’s medical records with university lawyers without a court order or written permission. And U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici have proposed a bill that would make the education department’s guidelines mandatory. That kind of unanimity sends a clear message.

There are a couple developments to cheer. The university is developing a new confidentiality and privacy policy to roll out campus-wide. And the expectation that Kerr will request a hearing also counts as good news: Even with all the fallout, there’s been little explanation from the university about how this could have occurred in the first place. The community is still waiting for answers.

– The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board

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