UO Bias Response Team v. Journalism School’s Free Speech Champ Tim Gleason

6/6/2016 update:

Diane Dietz is here and there will be a recording posted somewhere, so I’m skipping the live-blog. Very glad to see the J-School organize this, and I thought the panel did a good job addressing the pros and cons.

It was amusing to hear former UO journalism dean Tim Gleason talk about the chilling effect that administrative groups like the BRT and anonymous complaints against faculty can have on academic freedom. At one point he even said they were potentially unconstitutional.

Quite a difference from his own efforts to get the faculty union to accept an extremely restrictive academic freedom clause in the 2013 CBA, and his participation in this attempt to chill my free speech, and this evil blog:

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My 2013 response to this attack:

… 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. …

It took me years and many public records requests to get Tim Gleason to fess up to his participation in writing this hilariously defamatory attack piece on me. But now suddenly he is a free speech advocate?  I wonder why.

Here’s a snippet of the heavily redacted emails. Gleason refused my repeated requests for them, so eventually I paid UO’s Public Record’s Office $250 to get them – which they apparently spent on blue ink:

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More here.

6/3/2016 update:

Dear members of the SOJC community,

Over the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of discussion around the Bias Response Team and its implications for the work we do here as faculty, staff, GTFs and administrators. In an effort to have an open and candid discussion around this issue, the school will host a panel discussion on Monday, June 6th at 4 pm in Allen 141.

A lot has been written on this topic of late in national media, but we hope to clarify the role of the BRT here at Oregon, its mission and its process. We also plan to discuss the specific ways we can balance inclusivity, free speech, and critical thinking. The panel will include:

Dr. Tim Gleason, Professor of Journalism and Director, Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism

Dr. Robin Holmes, VP for Student Life and Interim Dean of Students  

Dr. Dean Mundy, Assistant Professor and Chair, Diversity Committee

Teri Del Rosso, Doctoral Candidate in Media Studies

Quantrell Willis, Assistant Dean of Students

Moderator: Dr. Chris Chavez, Assistant Professor

I hope you all can make it for this very important discussion.

5/14/2016: Washington Post columnist ridicules UO’s Bias Response Team report

Catherine Rampell in the WaPo, here:

I’ve written before about the array of upsetting things that college students have demanded trigger warnings for (fatphobia, nude models in a life drawing class, etc.), as well as the kinds of activities that now get somewhat arbitrarily punished as “acts of bias.” Well, come take a look at another incredible document illustrating what supposedly discriminatory behaviors today’s students think worthy of redress or punishment.

In its annual report, the University of Oregon’s Bias Response Team has published a list of 2014-2015 “case report summaries.” These appear to refer to all the times students (and some faculty and staff) sought formal help from administrators when they believed they or their peers were victims of “bias.”

In some cases, it’s hard to understand what the actual offense was, why the person reporting said offense attributed it to “bias,” or why it would be appropriate to get administrators involved rather than resolve the issue through some other means. In other cases, the person reporting the incident takes the shotgun method of bias reporting and cites seemingly every possible demographic category as the targeted victims of “bias.”

A sample of the Bias Response Team’s case reports, and responses:

A staff member reported that a poster featured a triggering image.
Bias Type: Body Size
Location: Housing
Response: Reported for information only. A BRT Advocate offered support to the reporter.

An anonymous student reported that an official online form asked for demographic information in a way that excluded certain identity groups.
Bias Type: Gender Identity/Expression, Ethnicity, Race
Location: Administrative Building
Response: A BRT Case Manager met with administrators of the form to provide resources on inclusive surveying techniques. The administrators used these techniques on a survey they sent out the very next week.

An anonymous student reported that a newspaper gave less press coverage to trans students and students of color.
Bias Type: Ethnicity, Race, Political Affiliation
Location: Online
Response: A BRT Case Manager held an educational conversation with the newspaper reporter and editor.

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24 Responses to UO Bias Response Team v. Journalism School’s Free Speech Champ Tim Gleason

  1. anonymous says:

    Honestly, the descriptions are so vague it’s basically a Rorschach test. If you think college students are a bunch of coddled PC whiners, you can fill in the blanks to fit it into your preconceived narrative. If you think intolerance and discrimination are rampant, you can do the same. The WaPo columnist is obviously in the former camp.

    I don’t see anything intrinsically wrong with having people on campus who can facilitate conversations about community and inclusion when one or more of the parties directly involved would like some assistance. It could be done really well or really poorly. The report doesn’t give enough detail to tell which. I think it’s important to evaluate programs like the BRT but I don’t think this report is a good way to do it.

    • uomatters says:

      I agree. I can imagine circumstances where these sorts of responses could be helpful, and also circumstances where they could have a chilling effect on free speech. I hope UO’s BRT is trained and enthusiastic about letting everyone in these sorts of incidents know about UO’s Free Speech an dAcademic Freedom policies.

    • John McGrath says:

      It’s basically a Rorschach test whether you believe that anything like the BRT will “facilitate conversations”, rather than stifle free speech and invite discord.

      If someone feels that they have been mistreated by someone else, perhaps they should bring it up with that person, rather than run to mommy/daddy.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Some are pretty ridiculous though. “An anonymous student reported that a newspaper gave less press coverage to trans students and students of color” –> Then start your own paper! Or write an editorial to the paper to explain your position. Reporting this “incident” to an administrator just makes the students seem like whiny brats.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s less about the admin response, and more that the students feel like these selected incidents are worth reporting instead of resolving on their own (which they may have tried before reporting, admittedly). But some incidents I feel they shouldn’t be reporting at all, even if it wasn’t resolved.

    Ex: “A student reported that another resident purposefully avoided them in a biased manner.” Boo freakin hoo, get over it. So they’re avoiding you because they don’t like you or people of “your type”. Such people exist in this world. If they aren’t threatening you in any way (and avoiding you seems like the opposite of threatening), then stop wasting admin resources and time on this.

    • Dark Wing Duck says:

      Hopefully, the times when “A BRT Advocate offered support to the reporter” are a conversation on what is and isn’t reportable bias.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Is this you Harbaugh?

    A student reported that a professor wrote an insulting comment on their online blog.
    Bias Type: Religion
    Location: Online
    Response: A BRT Advocate met with the reporter, and a BRT Case Manager held a professional development conversation with the professor.

    • uomatters says:

      I don’t think this blog insults people for their religious beliefs, unless you count the faith that Duck Football will save UO as a recognized religion.

      I have yet to have the pleasure of a “professional development conversation” with the BRT. I did once make an insulting white-trash joke about Springfield in class, and a student, from Springfield, came up afterwards and told me it was hard enough dealing with the rich kids at UO without professors like me insulting her background. I felt horrible, and I hope I’ve succeeded in never saying anything similarly hurtful to a student. If she’d reported me to the BRT instead of having the courage to bring it up herself I probably would have been a lot more defensive when some administrator called me into JH, but I like to think I’d still have taken it seriously.

      I am nervous about the idea that the BRT keeps records on faculty though. Does anyone know more about this?

      • just different says:

        She probably guessed (correctly) that you weren’t the sort of asshole who would respond by accusing her of being too sensitive and lecturing her about how college is a place where you often encounter opinions that might make you uncomfortable.

    • anonymous says:

      Is it a thought crime to “write an insulting comment” about religion on a blog?

      Isn’t this the kind of thing that is protected by something called the First Amendment?

      The idea that something like this needs to be “investigated” by a “Bias Response Team” frankly strikes me as horrifying and frightening. As well as insane.

      I also suspect that it would be applied in an asymmetrical and, uh, biased manner. I doubt that someone insulting fundamentalists for not believing in evolution, or even insulting (many) Christians who believe that abortion is wrong, would get the BRT after them.

      • uomatters says:

        I like the way you think, anonymous.

        Obviously someone needs to report the Bias Response Team for bias. And as it happens they take anonymous reports. I can’t wait to read about how they handle this one in the Post next year.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The BRT keeps records on faculty incidents for 5 years – just in case the reeducation doesn’t stick the first time around.

  6. anonymous says:

    A lot of anonymous posters on this topic. I can’t imagine why.

  7. Is obtuse cool again? says:

    I was actually on the BRT once, and the coverage this is receiving is a little (or a lot) overblown. It was mostly letting people know why someone was offended, talking through why they would have sent us a report, and offering potential solutions if those seemed present/sensible.

    The language of our academic bureaucracy is so fraught with power imbalance that we react with fear to things that are both helpful and toothless.

    Also, to answer the questions from some other people, sometimes yes, we would talk about how a particular incident wasn’t “biased,” and sometimes we would talk about how to include the politically conservative and the religious (read: Christian).

    It’s curious, the language of free speech, and how we access it, and how our access to it is removed. Do students who feel marginalized to the point of invisibility have free speech? Did they ever? (Not a rhetorical device. A real and, if I may assert, important question.)

    None of this is to say we shouldn’t interrogate the BRT and its effectiveness/appropriateness. We did that all the time at our meetings, and even though I left the group a few years ago, I think we would have appreciated an open and critical conversation of this sort.

    • anonymous says:

      “Do students who feel marginalized to the point of invisibility have free speech? Did they ever?”

      Which students at UO do you mean? Republicans? Conservatives? Traditional Christians? Students who oppose racial preferences?

  8. Inquiring Mind says:

    I think one of the take aways from the list of incidents is that a great number of the more apparently egregious items happen in the dorms. More work to be done on making those welcoming places. Throw in a bunch of newly minted adults from different backgrounds with different expectations. With dorm life becoming mandatory for most freshmen, it is imperative to reduce the number of such incidents and set a tone of acceptance of others who might have very different experiences and world views.

  9. anonymous GTF says:

    I reported a incident to the BRT only after every other recourse (talking to the professor, talking to my Director of Graduate Studies, trying mediation, talking to the GTFF, etc.). BRT wasn’t able to help either, but at least they made me feel heard, which is a huge psychological help in issues where there is a power imbalance.

    • Anonymous says:

      The ombuds office should take care of these “I feel aggrieved so I am aggrieved” psychological issues without the baggage of the “Bias Response Team”.

      • disgusted not amused says:

        You mean the excellent,experienced Ombuds director who left abruptly because he wasn’t supported by admin? Lol.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t think the previous Ombudsperson would be interested in your problems. Try the current one.

  10. Old Infant says:

    I hope we manage to stay away from the New Infantilism:


  11. Teal says:

    I am relieved to have graduated in the late 1970s, before the PC follies took over. My impression of classroom and campus discourse was that there just wasn’t a lot of bias in evidence, and that the students, faculty and staff were made of sterner stuff. That isn’t to say that there weren’t objectionable matters from time to time, but they didn’t derail the educational process routinely to the extent that current matters do.
    If I were still hiring people, I’d take a closer look at their transcripts now along with their social media posts, in part to see if there is evidence of comity. I’d be hesitant to hire someone that was likely to hijack my business or alienate my customers based on their feelz instead of contributing.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Looks like we’re not the only school to have some questionable Bias Response Team logs. At Colby College: “Earlier this year, someone filed a report with the BIPR Team after overhearing an offensive figure of speech. The offending phrase: “on the other hand.” The BIPR Team’s files note that these words were flagged for targeting people on the basis of “ability.””

    I think all economists will be guilty of this one!