Bowl of Dicks trial reveals UOPD’s casual spying on employees

10/8/2015: This is from the trial transcripts, which I’m slowly getting through:

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 7.29.18 PM

8/4/2015: UO administrator accessed employee email account without notice

Here’s the description of recent events, from an anonymous correspondent:

Administrators Are Permitted to Monitor Emails without Notice or Authorization

Consider the following scenario: Alice,* a staff member with a disability, has been ordered by her doctors to utilize her federally protected leave in order to recover from symptoms emerging from a potentially hostile work environment. Alice has been in contact with the Union, who are investigating the climate at her department for possible discrimination.

While Alice is away in recovery, Bob,* her supervisor and a department administrator, somehow acquires full access to all of Alice’s emails. Bob does not notify Alice that he intends to access her information, nor does he seek authorization from Information Security, General Counsel, or the Union. Rather, Bob simply unilaterally seizes full, unsupervised, and ongoing access to the entirety of Alice’s email account, including her correspondences with the Union.

Such an obvious conflict of interest and invasion of privacy would seem ludicrous if it wasn’t for the fact that it recently occurred at the University of Oregon.

As soon as this data breach came to light, the Union contacted UO’s Chief of Information Security Officer (CISO) to clarify what exactly the criteria were for an administrator gaining access to an employee’s email. The CISO responded that the UO does not offer “wholesale access to another employee’s email.” There would have to be a “specific request” driven by a “business need” and submitted through the proper channels. If such criteria are met, then Information Security will attempt to provide the specific information, and only that information, which was requested. The CISO continued, “The only time we would give over all email would be in the case of a subpoena or other legal request.”

Under such criteria, Bob had obviously violated university policy by accessing and monitoring all of Alice’s emails during her absence from the office. The Union reported the data breach immediately, in conformity with the newly minted executive policy on Data Security Incidence Response.

A few weeks later, the Union inquired with the Director of Employee & Labor Relations (DLR) at Human Resources to inquire after the progress of the investigation. What a difference a few weeks can make! The DLR responded that there had been no violation of policy, because UO in fact has no policy at all restricting administrator access to an employee’s email.

The Union reached out again to the CISO to clarify. The CISO responded that he believed that the situation was handled poorly, and that he did not believe that Bob was “philosophically” justified in accessing Alice’s data. Unfortunately, he admitted, there are no “specific policies” in place at UO at present to prevent, discourage, or reprimand an administrator who unilaterally decides that they have a “business need” to access and monitor an employee’s personal data without their prior knowledge or consent. Obviously, if the University were using software similar to a keylogger (pcTattletale explain what a keylogger is here if you are unfamiliar) then they would need a policy in place but as he has directly accessed the emails, there is less of a need for a policy, although there still is one.

The CISO seemed as disturbed by this state of affairs as the Union, noting that it “raises a need for a procedure to be put in place regarding access to an employee’s email account” and that he “intend(s) to write up a procedure for situations like this” which will “hopefully alleviate situations like this in the future by providing a standard process.”

The Union applauds the CISO’s pledge to put policies in place that will provide the necessary checks and balances to reign in administrators who feel justified in violating their employee’s privacy at will.

The response at HR has been less encouraging however. As of this writing, the DLR has chosen to fully back management in this matter. Amazingly, rather than stand up for the rights of one of the most vulnerable members of the UO community in a case of discrimination, harassment, and gross invasion of privacy, HR has chosen instead to escalate the harassment by pursuing disciplinary action against Alice on behalf of Bob.

And as of this writing, Bob still retains full access to Alice’s email.

So, until the new policies are in place, be careful what you write and who you write it to.

* All names have been changed.

It’s more than two years since I started the thread below, trying to find out UO’s policy for email monitoring and access. Page down for the entire history. Obviously there are situations when supervisors need access to an employee’s email, e.g. a public records request or a court order, an emergency illness or death, etc. On the other hand there are situations where that access would be very problematic, e.g. like that above, or when an employee has a complaint about the supervisor, or has used UO email to contact a doctor or counselor or lawyer, etc. So most universities have a sensible policy along the lines of UC’s, here:

An electronic communications holder’s consent shall be obtained by the
University prior to any access for the purpose of examination or disclosure of the
contents of University electronic communications records in the holder’s
possession, except as provided for below. …

1. Authorization. Except in emergency circumstances (as defined in Appendix
A, Definitions) in accordance with Section IV.B.2, Emergency
Circumstances, or except for subpoenas or search warrants in accordance with
Section IV.B.6, Search Warrants and Subpoenas, such actions must be
authorized in advance and in writing by the responsible campus Vice
Chancellor or, for the Office of the President, the Senior Vice President,
Business and Finance (see Section II.D, Responsibilities).1
This authority may not be further redelegated. Authorization shall be limited to the least perusal of contents and the least action necessary to resolve the situation. …

3. Notification. The responsible authority or designee shall at the earliest
opportunity that is lawful and consistent with other University policy notify
the affected individual of the action(s) taken and the reasons for the action(s)
taken.

Each campus will issue in a manner consistent with law an annual report
summarizing instances of authorized or emergency nonconsensual access
pursuant to the provisions of this Section IV.B, Access Without Consent,
without revealing personally identifiable data.

UO’s policy is here. It’s not as cogent, but it also seems to ban the sort of blanket access that is described above. And UO IT also passes on the following helpful advice, here:

  • Never share your password with anyone. This includes your supervisor, co-workers, and IT staff.
  • There may be some destinations (such as China, Russia, and other areas overseas) where it may be difficult or impossible to prevent your computer from being attacked and electronically compromised.

China and Russia indeed.

8/2/2013: UO has no policies limiting which administrators can read your email or monitor your web use, or why. From Dave Hubin’s PRO:

Continue reading

Trigger Warning

The gist:

… However, the Faculty Senate does not endorse offering “trigger warnings” or
otherwise labeling controversial material in such a way that students
construe it as an option to “opt out” of engaging with texts or
concepts, or otherwise not participating in intellectual inquiries.

… In issuing this statement, the Faculty Senate affirms that shielding
students from controversial material will deter them from becoming
critical thinkers and responsible citizens. Helping them learn to
process and evaluate such material fulfills one of the most important
responsibilities of higher education.

AMERICAN UNIVERSITY FACULTY SENATE RESOLUTION ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

9/9/15 Unanimously Approved

For hundreds of years, the pursuit of knowledge has been at the
center of university life. Unfettered discourse, no matter how
controversial, inconvenient, or uncomfortable, is a condition
necessary to that pursuit. American University stands in this tradition,
as stated in section 4 of the Faculty Manual.
(http://www.american.edu/provost/academicaffairs/faculty-manualtoc.cfm)

Freedom of speech–protected by the First Amendment to the United
States Constitution– undergirds the cherished principle of academic
freedom. As limits, either subtle or explicit, are increasingly placed on
intellectual freedom in venues of public discourse, the academy is
committed to the full expression of ideas.

American University is committed to protecting and championing the
right to freely communicate ideas—without censorship—and to
study material as it is written, produced, or stated, even material that
some members of our community may find disturbing or that
provokes uncomfortable feelings. This freedom is an integral part of
the learning experience and an obligation from which we cannot
shrink.

As laws and individual sensitivities may seek to restrict, label, warn,
or exclude specific content, the academy must stand firm as a place
that is open to diverse ideas and free expression. These are standards
and principles that American University will not compromise.
Faculty may advise students before exposing them to controversial
readings and other materials that are part of their curricula. However,
the Faculty Senate does not endorse offering “trigger warnings” or
otherwise labeling controversial material in such a way that students
construe it as an option to “opt out” of engaging with texts or
concepts, or otherwise not participating in intellectual inquiries.
Faculty should direct students who experience personal difficulties
from exposure to controversial issues to resources available at
American University’s support-services offices.

In issuing this statement, the Faculty Senate affirms that shielding
students from controversial material will deter them from becoming
critical thinkers and responsible citizens. Helping them learn to
process and evaluate such material fulfills one of the most important
responsibilities of higher education.

FIRE free speech lawsuits producing results

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education advocates for free speech for students and faculty. Starting last summer they decided to ramp up their game, with a legal fund set up to hire local law firms to sue universities that violated free speech rights.  They’ve had a good year:

One year ago today, with support from allies like you, FIRE launched our Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project and signaled the start of a new era for our advocacy. In the time since, Stand Up For Speech has dramatically reshaped the fight for free expression on campus.

None of the project’s successes would have been possible without your support. Whether through a direct contribution, a “like” or “retweet,” a forwarded press release, or a personal conversation, you’ve joined us in standing up for speech. You’ve helped us coordinate 10 lawsuits, secure five settlements, record nearly 40 individual policy changes in court or on campus, attract over 200 media mentions, and expose some of the nation’s worst speech codes to fellow liberty-lovers.

Even more importantly, you’ve given a voice to “the little guys” on campus. Thanks to you, students at Modesto Junior College and the University of Hawaii no longer have to confine their activities to tiny “free speech zones,” Citrus College student activists can organize events without a two-week wait, Western Michigan University student groups are no longer required to submit flyers for approval, and individuals at Ohio University no longer have to worry about a ban on “demeaning” language. By empowering each individual Stand Up For Speech plaintiff, you ultimately empowered more than 150,000 other students, who are now free to enjoy their expressive rights more fully.

This was just the beginning.

By donating today, you can help more students and professors fight back against the unconstitutional policies that fuel campus censorship. With your support, FIRE will continue to team up with the “little guys” to take on unconstitutional policies and absurd acts of censorship, coordinating lawsuit after lawsuit until administrators finally recognize and respect the First Amendment rights of their students and faculty members.

We’ve come a long way in a single year, and FIRE is proud of these accomplishments. As we move forward, I hope you will help us add to that record. Your 100% tax-deductible donation will empower more plaintiffs, challenge more unconstitutional policies, and expose more overzealous administrators. Ultimately, together with allies like you, FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project can generate the pressure necessary to finally rebalance the incentives in higher education and restore the marketplace of ideas on campus.

Yours in Liberty,
Greg Lukianoff
President and CEO

P.S. Please help us celebrate by sharing our anniversary materials with your friends, so that more and more Americans start to stand up for speech!

As a commenter has noted, UO is currently on FIRE’s “red light list” for free speech violations – the worst ranking in the state. We used to have a green light, based on Lariviere’s free speech policy, but last summer a student yelled “I hit that first” out a dorm window. The Office of Student Conduct got medieval, so the student went straight to FIRE, who got them to back off pretty quick – this time without a lawsuit. Story here.

Law professor Eugene Volokh on UC’s racial “microagressions” policy

From his Washington Post law blog, here:

One of the latest things in universities, including at University of California (where I teach) is condemning “microaggressions,” supposed “brief, subtle verbal or non-verbal exchanges that send denigrating messages to the recipient because of his or her group membership (such as race, gender, age or socio-economic status).” Such microaggressions, the argument goes, can lead to a “hostile learning environment,” which UC — and the federal government — views as legally actionable. This is stuff you could get disciplined or fired for, especially if you aren’t a tenured faculty member.

Continue reading

AAUP censures Illinois over firing Professor Salaita for tweets, Chancellor responds

Colleen Flaherty has the story in InsideHigherEd, here:

In a statement submitted to the AAUP, Salaita (who was not at the meeting), said, “One can disagree with my viewpoints and still see that [the] administration made a grave mistake it refuses to redress, based on outside interference and a host of assumptions about my pedagogical capabilities entirely bereft of — indeed, contrary to — evidence.”

The statement continues: “In fact, even if one deplores my viewpoints, that person cannot reasonably support the conduct of the [campus] leadership. As you all well know, the university’s malfeasance — and your considered response — have a lasting effect far beyond this individual academic.”

Phyllis Wise, chancellor of Urbana-Champaign, said in an emailed statement that the institution is “one of the world’s pre-eminent universities, with a longstanding commitment to the principles of academic freedom and shared governance.”

Presumably referring to previous attempts to settle with Salaita — who is pursuing an ongoing lawsuit against the university and the John Doe donors whom he alleges interfered in his appointment — along with promises to adjust the timeline for approvals of faculty members by the board, Wise said the university has “taken several key steps to address the concerns raised by AAUP. We are disappointed to be the subject of an AAUP censure, and we want to support faculty who are impacted by this censure by demonstrating our unyielding commitment to the principles of academic freedom while remaining focused on the excellence in learning, discovery, engagement and economic development that are at the core of our mission.”

A brief history of “civility” and its abuses, ancient and current

I’ve always thought “civil speech” meant honest and effective talk about how to resolve matters of importance to civil society, but for many people, including many university administrators, it seems to mean polite niceties that do not offend.

Historian Joan Scott has a fascinating piece in The Nation on the rather ugly history of “civility”, and its current abuses. In “The New Thought Police: Why are campus administrators invoking civility to silence critical speech?” she explains what’s really going on when people invoke civility:

… All of these efforts presume a certain benign self-evidence for the use of the term “civility.” As the University of Maryland statement puts it, “niceness” is “easily understood by all parties”: We know civility when we see it. Left aside in these invocations are not only interpretive differences among individuals and groups (one man’s or woman’s presumed civility may strike another as uncivil), but also the history of the term. Although, as with any word, the meanings of “civility” have changed, the concept still carries traces of its earlier use. I’d argue further that although the contexts and specific applications have varied over time, the notion of civility consistently establishes relations of power whenever it is invoked. Moreover, it is always the powerful who determine its meaning—one that, whatever its specific content, demeans and delegitimizes those who do not meet its test.

The most comprehensive history of civility is Norbert Elias’s classic, The Civilizing Process(1939). In this account of the development of manners in Western Europe, civility is the standard that defines the identity of a group against a reviled and subordinate “other.” Elias explains that whether it was Christians against barbarians, or court aristocrats against the rising middle class, or the upper bourgeoisie attempting to distinguish themselves from the lower orders, “civilisé was…one of the many terms…by which the courtly people wished to designate…the specific quality of their own behaviour, and by which they contrasted the refinement of their own social manners, their ‘standard,’ to the manners of simpler and socially inferior people.”

Scholars have documented these power differentials and how notions of civility were used to define them. Kathleen Brown describes the association of civility with cleanliness in 16th-century America: “Writers documenting contact with Native Americans and West Africans evoked civility in exclusive ways, conjuring fears of animal natures unmitigated by Christian virtue and foreshadowing the meanings attached to civilization a century later.” William Chafe points out that during the sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, peaceful demonstrators—deliberately conducting themselves respectably and in a nonviolent manner as they claimed their civil rights—were charged with incivility. John Murray Cuddihy, a sociologist of religion, wrote of the effects of what he called “the Protestant etiquette” on “emancipated” Jewish intellectuals. The problem for these men (Marx, Freud, and Lévi-Strauss) was at once to live by the codes of decorum their societies required for success and to wrestle with the designation of their kind as the embodiment of incivility: obsessive, fanatical, vulgar, effeminate, unrestrained—the disruptive Jewish id to the responsible Christian superego.

She goes on to connect this history to more recent abuses of the term by university administrators, for example in trying to justify the firing of Stephen Sailita at UIUC, and other faculty at other universities. Thanks to a reader for pointing me to this article.

A brief history of the UO administration’s efforts to impose civility rules on the faculty is here. The attempt was led by Mike Gottfredson, Tim Gleason, and Randy Geller. It was beaten back by the faculty union and then finished off by the Senate’s ad hoc Freedom Committee, chaired by Michael Dreiling. Every now and then the administration tries to revive it – as in the current faculty union bargaining – but at this point the pro-freedom faculty coalition is pretty strong.

AAUP threatens UIUC with censure over firing of Prof Salaita for “incivility”

Colleen Flaherty has the story in InsideHigherEd, here. A snippet:

There’s been no shortage of criticism, both formal and informal, of how the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign handled the withdrawn faculty appointment of Steven Salaita last summer. (The university has a substantial number of supporters who say it was right to reject Salaita for the tone of his anti-Israel remarks on Twitter, but detractors have been numerous and vocal.) The latest disapproving report, out today from the American Association of University Professors, offers familiar complaints and also paves the way for the organization to hold a censure vote against the university later this spring.

The AAUP isn’t a regulatory body, but institutions generally hope to avoid landing on its censure list for alleged violations of academic freedom and sometimes work hard to remove themselves once on it.

The UO faculty union and the Senate fought hard with President Gottfredson over academic freedom. Gottfredson and his negotiators Tim Gleason, Doug Blandy, Randy Geller and Sharon Rudnick wanted the union contract to include rules requiring civility and proper respect, and they didn’t want the university to give explicit protection for criticizing administrative policies.

After a year of hard work by United Academics and the UO Senate’s Ad Hoc Committee on Freedom, Gottfredson and Geller are gone, Gleason has been put out to pasture as FAR, and UO now has a very strong Academic Freedom Policy – perhaps the strongest in the country – which says:

… Members of the university community have freedom to address, question, or criticize any matter of institutional policy or practice, whether acting as individuals or as members of an agency of institutional governance. … Public service requires that members of the university community have freedom to participate in public debate, both within and beyond their areas of expertise, and to address both the university community and the larger society with regard to any matter of social, political, economic, cultural, or other interest. … The academic freedoms enumerated in this policy shall be exercised without fear of institutional reprisal.

As well as Lariviere’s strong Free Speech Policy, which says:

Free speech is central to the academic mission and is the central tenet of a free and democratic society. The University encourages and supports open, vigorous, and challenging debate across the full spectrum of human issues … The belief that an opinion is pernicious, false, and in any other way despicable, detestable, offensive or “just plain wrong” cannot be grounds for its suppression. …

These policies are of course founded on basic human rights and the social purposes of universities, but they are also entirely practical. No sensible university leader or trustee wants to get distracted from their jobs by a political fight over some statement by some professor that offends some politician, donor, or alumnus.

They want to be able to respond like this: “Yes, that statement by professor X about Y in Z was deplorable. Despicable, even. But I can’t interfere. I’m sorry, and I appreciate your years of support for the athletic program, but the only response our university can make to free speech that someone doesn’t like is — more free speech.”

Judge approves free speech lawsuit against ISU Pres “in his personal capacity”

I’m no lawyer, but my understanding is that the normal immunity of state officials for official acts does not hold in cases involving violations of civil rights:

AMES, Iowa, January 7, 2015—Yesterday, an Iowa federal judge denied Iowa State University’s (ISU’s) motion to dismiss a First Amendment lawsuit filed by students. Chief Judge James Gritzner of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa rejected every one of ISU’s arguments in his 19-page order. This is the first time a judge has ruled in a case brought as part of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE’s) Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project. Three other lawsuits in the project have already been settled in favor of free speech, for a total of $210,000 in fees and damages.

“We’re very pleased with the court’s decision to deny every part of ISU’s motion to dismiss,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “FIRE looks forward to a successful outcome that affirms ISU students’ right to freely advocate for their beliefs.”

Student-plaintiff Erin Furleigh said, “It feels so good to know the facts can’t be ignored anymore.”

Furleigh and fellow student Paul Gerlich, the vice president and president, respectively, of ISU’s student chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), sued ISU in July 2014 as part of FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project. In their complaint, the students detailed how the university censored the group’s T-shirts based on their marijuana-related messaging and imagery, removed NORML ISU’s advisor, and implemented new guidelines for using ISU’s trademark in order to restrict NORML ISU’s speech. Attorneys at the Washington, D.C., office of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, which represents Gerlich and Furleigh, argued that ISU’s actions amounted to censorship that violates the First Amendment.

In response, ISU filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the case was a matter of trademark use and not a free speech issue. The university also argued that NORML ISU’s T-shirts constituted government speech. Other grounds on which ISU sought dismissal include sovereign immunity, qualified immunity, and procedural due process.

The court refused to dismiss the case on any of these grounds. With respect to the trademark argument, the court’s order states that “[n]o infringement is involved in the case at hand,” confirming that NORML ISU’s right to advocate for marijuana legalization is a First Amendment issue. Furthermore, the judge’s order noted that well-established case law “hold[s] that college administrators cannot control the speech of campus groups because of disagreements with the groups’ viewpoints.” Judge Gritzner also allowed Gerlich and Furleigh to pursue their claim against ISU President Steven Leath in his personal capacity for violating their constitutional rights.

The case’s discovery process, in which the parties exchange documents and take depositions, will continue until June; trial is scheduled for December 2015.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

I’ve been a little worried about my use of the UO logo and Puddles on the “crap-free UO webpage“, but Exhibit A eases my fears. Any ideas for new coffee cups?

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.48.37 AM

University pays prof $120K in damages for denying him leadership roles on committees, etc.

11/7/2014: The ACLU has the good news here:

Washington State University is paying former journalism professor David Demers $120,000 to drop his five-year-old federal free-speech lawsuit against four WSU administrators.

“I am extremely pleased with the settlement,” Demers said. “It sends a strong message to university administrators that those who intend to violate professors’ free-speech rights will be held accountable.”

The bad news? Demers had to file for bankruptcy over his legal bills, and all this money goes to his lawyers. The other good news? These sorts of lawsuits now look like easy lucrative wins for lawyers.

On Monday, 3 November from 7-9 pm, there will be a presentation on identifying and challenging retaliation. The presentation will be held at the Wesley Foundation Campus Ministry (1236 Kincaid St). The primary speaker will be Eugene attorney Jennifer Middleton. This event is organized by the UO Coalition to End Sexual Violence.

Information on Ms Middleton’s credentials is here:

Shareholder Jennifer Middleton brings seventeen years of distinctive legal service, advancing and defending the rights of individuals in employment and civil rights matters including discrimination, wrongful termination, sexual harassment, disability rights, whistleblowing, and medical leave claims. … Prior to joining Johnson Johnson & Schaller, Jennifer served as an attorney at the Employment Law Center in San Francisco and for the American Civil Liberties Union at its New York headquarters, prosecuting civil rights claims nationwide. She currently serves as the President of Oregon’s ACLU Board of Directors.

Update: I attended this session. It was very educational.

Administrator eats crow over academic freedom violation

10/28/2014: The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has the news, here:

NEW YORK, Oct. 28, 2014—In a victory for free speech, New Jersey’s Bergen Community College (BCC) has rescinded its punishment of an art professor it placed on leave and forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation for posting a picture of his daughter wearing a Game of Thrones T-shirt.

After learning of BCC’s outrageous actions, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) connected Professor Francis Schmidt with FIRE Legal Network member Derek Shaffer, a partner at the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, and Gabriel Soledad, an associate at the firm.

Bergen-Community-college-game-of-thrones-TshirtIn a recent letter to Schmidt, BCC Director of Human Resources Patti Bonomolo acknowledged that the college “may have lacked basis” for punishing him and that doing so “potentially violated” his constitutional rights. “Lest there be any doubt, BCC recognizes and respects that you are free to exercise your constitutional rights, including your right to freedom of speech and expression, even to the extent that you may disparage BCC and/or its officials,” wrote Bonomolo.

“I’m very happy to have my First Amendment rights back. I’m glad to have this thing behind me and would like to get back to teaching animation,” said Professor Schmidt. “I’m happy to know groups like FIRE are out there, protecting my valuable First Amendment rights as an academic. Without them our higher education system would be all the weaker.”

“Saying that Bergen Community College’s punishment of Francis Schmidt ‘may have lacked basis’ is like saying that King Joffrey may have been a less than ideal ruler,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff …

4/17/2014: “I will take what is mine with fire and blood”

No, that’s not a quote from a UO law professor, or Kimberly Espy, (or the faculty union treasurer) it’s from Daenerys Targaryen. The Foundation for Individual Rights has the story on how it got a professor put on leave and sent to a psychiatrist by his paranoid administrators.

Professor suspended over ironic comments and inappropriate sighs

Rumor has it that some Johnson Hall administrators – and perhaps a few members of our new Board of Trustees – still dream that the civility restrictions on academic free speech that Mike Gottfredson tried to enshrine in the faculty union contract will someday come to pass. Meanwhile The Daily Telegraph has a hilarious story about how they could be used:

[Professor of English] Thomas Docherty was banned from the University of Warwick in January for allegedly giving off “negative vibes” and undermining the authority of the former head of his department.

The case against him included “inappropriate sighing”, “making ironic comments” and “projecting negative body language”.

The English, of course, have nothing like our First Amendment. They do, however, have a wicked sense of humor. After being subject to the necessary amount of ridicule, their university administrators backed down too.

U of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise’s sneak attack on academic freedom

The UO faculty union and the Senate fought hard with President Gottfredson over academic freedom. Gottfredson and his negotiators Tim Gleason, Doug Blandy, Randy Geller and Sharon Rudnick wanted the union contract to include rules requiring civility and proper respect, and they didn’t want the university to give explicit protection for criticizing administrative policies.

They lost, after a year of hard work by United Academics and the UO Senate’s Ad Hoc Committee on Freedom. Gottfredson and Geller are gone, Gleason has been put out to pasture as FAR, and UO now has an Academic Freedom Policy which says:

… Members of the university community have freedom to address, question, or criticize any matter of institutional policy or practice, whether acting as individuals or as members of an agency of institutional governance. … Public service requires that members of the university community have freedom to participate in public debate, both within and beyond their areas of expertise, and to address both the university community and the larger society with regard to any matter of social, political, economic, cultural, or other interest. … The academic freedoms enumerated in this policy shall be exercised without fear of institutional reprisal. 

As well as Lariviere’s strong Free Speech Policy, which says:

Free speech is central to the academic mission and is the central tenet of a free and democratic society. The University encourages and supports open, vigorous, and challenging debate across the full spectrum of human issues … The belief that an opinion is pernicious, false, and in any other way despicable, detestable, offensive or “just plain wrong” cannot be grounds for its suppression. …

These policies are of course founded on basic human rights and the social purposes of universities, but they are also entirely practical. No sensible university leader or trustee wants to get distracted from their jobs by a political fight over some statement by some professor that offends some politician, donor, or alumnus.

They want to be able to respond like this: “Yes, that statement by professor X about Y in Z was deplorable. But I can’t interfere. My job is just to manage the administrative side of the university. I’m sorry, and I appreciate your years of support, but the only response our university can make to free speech that someone doesn’t like is more free speech.”

The latest example of the practicality of this approach is in Illinois. UI made a job offer to a professor. He then wrote something controversial. (The professor’s name is Steven Salaita, his writing was about Israel and Gaza, and it was on Twitter, but that is irrelevant). The Trustees and donors got upset about what he’d written and put pressure on the Chancellor, who caved and rescinded the job offer. The Chronicle has an article about some of the backlash.

Scott Jaschik has an excellent report on this in InsideHigherEd.com, with emails between the chancellor, trustees, and lawyers obtained from public records requests. And the AAUP blog Academe has an excellent post as well, by John Wilson:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign chancellor Phyllis Wise has written an open letter to the campus (copied below) explaining her decision not to allow the hiring of Steven Salaita. The letter is an appalling attack on academic freedom and a rejection of the basic values that a university must stand for.

Wise argues, “What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.”

Of course, this standard is ridiculous: individuals should be free to say personal and “disrespectful” things about others (for example, everyone should be free to say that Wise’s argument here is both stupid and evil, without facing punishment from the respect police). Respect is not a fundamental value of any university, and being “disrespectful” is not an academic crime.

But it’s notable that Salaita really didn’t say anything personal about anyone. So here Wise greatly expands the concept, declaring that not only persons but “viewpoints themselves” must be protected from any disrespectful words. I am puzzled as to exactly how a free university could possibly operate when no one is allowed to be disrespectful toward any viewpoint. Presumably, Wise will quickly act to fire anyone who has ever disrespected or demeaned Nazism, terrorism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Since all “viewpoints” are protected, then biology professors must be fired for disrespecting creationism as false, along with any other professor who is found to believe or know anything.

Wise’s other main argument confirms this absurd approach: “A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner.”

If what a professors tweets before they’re even hired might undermine those “confident” feelings, then all professors would have to be banned from ever expressing any opinion anywhere, lest it create any doubt that a student will be unable to debate in a respectful manner. There is clear evidence in Salaita’s teaching evaluations that students are free to express disagreements with him. But since the standard that Wise sets is the imagined feelings of students, rather than actual evidence or reality, Salaita’s long experience as a teacher is no defense.

Wise claims, “We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.” That sentence is exactly right. But Wise’s grotesque mistake is imagining that one of the rights of an individual is to be protected from the possibility of hearing “disrespectful” criticism. To the contrary, one of the fundamental rights of individual students is the right to hear dissenting points of views without censorship, and Wise is clearly violating that right of students to hear Salaita teach when she imposes her personal standards of “civility” on a university.

UO Trustees “Go Ducks” free, so far

8/9/2014: One of the big worries about UO Independence was that the Board of Trustees would end up dominated by athletics boosters, as has happened with the UO Foundation, now run by Steve Holwerda, whose life dream is to become Duck Athletic Director. So far, it’s been quite the opposite with the Trustees. Chair Chuck Lillis and the board have been focused on academic excellence.

Here’s the current count of occurrences of “Go Ducks”, a now notorious phrase which many on the academic side would like to ban from official use (except of course as allowed by our new hard won Academic Freedom Policy and Lariviere’s Free Speech Policy, which notes: “The belief that an opinion is pernicious, false, and in any other way despicable, detestable, offensive or “just plain wrong” cannot be grounds for its suppression.”) Out of respect for Trustee Connie Ballmer, I’m mixing in a little Bing:

UO Board of Trustees: Go Ducks count = 0:

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 12.51.51 PM

UO Foundation: Go Ducks count = 23:

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 12.43.33 PM

FIRE files four free speech suits, one supporting faculty muckraking blog

This is good news, just in time to celebrate the 4th of July:

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a.k.a. theFIRE.org, has just announced a major new legal initiative. In the past FIRE has worked as an advocacy group, and co-ordinated free speech lawsuits on behalf of students and faculty. Now they have some serious new funding and have hired “preeminent First Amendment attorney Robert Corn-Revere of the national law firm Davis Wright Tremaine as counsel for students and faculty members participating in the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project.” Pursuing a lawsuit can take up a lot of time and money that people may not have, especially students, however, you can get lawsuit funding for your case within a short period of time if it is needed right away, from companies like Legal-Bay Lawsuit Funding, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I’ve had a few talks with FIRE and with a DWT lawyer over what I saw as attempts by UO and the UO Foundation to harass and retaliate against me for this blog. (For example, UO F, and UO.) The DWT lawyer spent several hours with me on the phone, and more on email. I asked what the bill was, and he laughed and said “nothing – this is a really interesting one, and these people are hilarious.”

These people are passionate about the importance of free speech in academia, and from what I can tell they know the law cold. And now they’ve got money, too. Today FIRE started off by filing four free-speech lawsuits, and they say more are coming. The most interesting case, from my perspective, is this:

At Chicago State University, administrators have repeatedly attempted to silence CSU Faculty Voice, a blog authored by Professors Phillip Beverly, Robert Bionaz, and other faculty members that exposes what they see as administrative corruption. After bogus accusations of trademark infringement failed to intimidate the professors, CSU hastily adopted a far-reaching cyberbullying policy to silence its critics. It then used the cyberbullying policy to investigate one of the faculty bloggers for harassment, leading to today’s lawsuit from Beverly and Bionaz.

The full complaint is here:

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 11.15.33 AM

FIRE redlights UO’s student conduct codes over free speech issues

The people at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education are dogged fighters for campus free speech rights. They’ve now given UO a “red-light warning” on its free speech policies, as explained here. While UO has a strong policy on freedom of speech, signed by President Lariviere and approved by the Senate, the interpretation by the Office of Student Conduct is significantly less liberal. For example, that office says that it is a violation of the student conduct code for a student to use curse words in an email to a professor. I don’t have many grad students who could pass that standard! FIRE also raises questions about the legality of the language UO uses regarding prohibited racial harassment. Their letter to President Gottfredson, asking for a response by June 26, is here:

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 2.36.37 PM