Student Conduct Office drops charges after FIRE free-speech investigation

11/28/2017: Just thought I’d repost this classic.

8/26/14: Four word joke nets UO student five unconstitutional bad-conduct charges:

Saul Hubbard has an excellent report on this in the RG. Peter Bonilla of FIRE notes: “Universities have never prevailed in court when defending their [anti-free speech] codes,” he said. “Every single time there’s a court challenge, they lose.” Of course that won’t stop Sharon Rudnick from collecting $300 in UO tuition money for each billable hour trying, just as she did with Gottfredson’s academic freedom restrictions.

If you’re a UO police officer keeping a list of people who should “eat a bowl of dicks” you get a promotion, high paid legal help from Dave Frohnmayer’s law firm, and UO Chief Strategic Communicator Tobin Klinger will write an angry letter to the editor denouncing the reporter for printing the story.

But UO’s rules are a little tougher for students. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has the story:

EUGENE, Oregon, August 26, 2014—The University of Oregon (UO) has filed multiple, blatantly unconstitutional conduct charges against a female student who jokingly yelled “I hit it first” from a dormitory window. The student, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. FIRE is calling on UO to immediately dismiss all charges against the student and reform its unconstitutional speech policies.

…On June 9, 2014, the female student in question was visiting with friends in UO’s Carson Hall dormitory. The student, looking out of the dormitory window, spotted a male and female student walking together (she did not know either of them) and shouted “I hit it first” at them in jest. The female of the couple responded with two profanities and the couple reported the student’s comment to the Resident Assistant of the dorm. The Resident Assistant located the student and insisted that she apologize to the couple for her remark.

The student readily obliged. That did not end the matter, however. On June 13, the student was shocked to receive a “Notice of Allegation” letter charging her with five separate conduct violations for her four-word joke. In addition to dubious allegations of violating the residence hall’s noise and guest policies, UO charged the student with “[h]arassment,” “disruption,” and “[d]isorderly conduct.” After being presented with these outrageous and unconstitutional charges, the student contacted FIRE. …

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Actually, thanks to Richard Lariviere UO has a very clear and strong free speech policy, but Doug Blandy is in charge of it, and as is often the case at UO implementation leaves something to be desired.And this all raises a very important question: Do these OARs trump official UO policies that have been adopted by the Senate and signed by the President?

8/28/2014 update: UO drops “I hit it first” charges but keeps them on student’s permanent record

From FIRE, and an RG story here:

UO did not respond to FIRE’s August 1 letter or to a previous June 5 letter regarding its problematic speech codes. In an August 27 article on the student’s case in The Register-Guard, a UO spokesperson defended the university’s Student Conduct Code as “appropriate” and claimed that it “doesn’t conflict with speech laws,” despite FIRE’s overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Later that day, however, UO informed the student via email that it was removing the charges against her. While still claiming that her “behavior may be a violation” of the UO Student Conduct Code, no record of the incident will be noted in her file and no further action will be taken.A first small step towards sanity from the Coltrane administration, or just another reminder that ridicule in the national press is the only way to make Johnson Hall do the right thing?

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7/23/2015: The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wins another one:

ATLANTA, July 23, 2015—Today, more than eight years after his unjust expulsion, student Hayden Barnes’ federal civil rights lawsuit against Georgia’s Valdosta State University (VSU) and former VSU president Ronald Zaccari concluded with the announcement of a $900,000 settlement. 

In the spring of 2007, Barnes was expelled from VSU by Zaccari for a satirical environmentalist collage he posted on his personal Facebook page. With the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Barnes fought back by filing a civil rights lawsuit in 2008 against the university, Zaccari, other VSU administrators, and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. 

“After eight years, and one of the worst abuses of student rights FIRE has ever seen, Hayden Barnes has finally received justice,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “Thanks to Hayden’s courageous stand, would-be censors at public universities nationwide have 900,000 new reasons to respect the free speech and due process rights of their students.”

“I am pleased to have finally reached a resolution. It has been an epic journey,” said Barnes. “However, it was a worthwhile endeavor because I know as a result of this case other students will have their constitutional rights respected. I sincerely appreciate the work of my counsel and of FIRE, both of whom were instrumental in achieving justice.”Barnes’ years-long ordeal began on May 7, 2007, when Zaccari—angry with Barnes’ peaceful protest against the planned construction of two parking garages on campus—expelled him without a hearing. Absurdly, Zaccari tried to justify Barnes’ expulsion by claiming that a cut-and-paste collage Barnes had posted to Facebook was a “threatening document” and that Barnes presented a “clear and present danger” to VSU. …

Meanwhile UO is still on FIRE’s redlight list for free speech. We’ve got a great policy, but as you can see above some administrators are a little confused about what free speech means:

Ojai Music Festival calls on Eugene Mayor to help OBF secede from UO

9/22/2017: Bob Keefer has the latest in the EW here:

Thomas W. Morris, artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival in California, has urged Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis to help the beleaguered Oregon Bach Festival secede from the University of Oregon and become an independent non-profit organization.

In a letter emailed today (Sept. 22), Morris wrote that the sudden and unexplained firing of OBF artistic director Matthew Halls on Aug. 24 harms not only the Oregon Bach Festival but hurts the image of Eugene itself. …

Uh, thanks for trying to help Mr. Morris, but the City of Eugene couldn’t even manage to keep the Jacobs Art Gallery open, or run the Mayor’s Art Show.

Also see this RG letter from longtime UO supporter Tom Bowerman:

I agree with the bulk of written commentary about the University of Oregon’s dismal explanation of Matthew Halls’ dismissal. My position began to solidify on reading UO’s written explanation, which seemingly explained nothing.

There is a pattern here and it has consequences, especially regarding some of the fiscal and reputational costs to the university. My thought in reading the UO’s explanation was: How much does the public relations team get paid for type of work? And the settlement costs?

Couldn’t these costs, across the broader pattern, in the millions, be better spent on education quality? …

And the UO PRO has now updated the PR log with some recent requests from journalists for more Bach docs.

9/18/2017: Did OBF’s Janelle McCoy run a harassment investigation on Matthew Halls?

If so it would probably be a violation of UO policy (see below), which requires that those receiving “credible information” of racial harassment report it to AAEO, which then decides on the investigation, etc. And yet the most likely interpretation of this new NYT report regarding the grits joke and the implications for the Bach Festival of the subsequent firing of Halls is that Ms McCoy decided to investigate Mr. Halls herself:

Mr. Mobley said he had thought no more of it until several days later, when he got an email from Ms. McCoy asking about the conversation, which had apparently been overheard and reported. “These insensitivities should not be tolerated,” she wrote in the email, which was obtained by The New York Times.

Mr. Mobley replied to her that while the broad outlines of the story were true — Mr. Halls had indeed spoken in a drawl — it was “not quite put together correctly.” He noted that he and Mr. Halls often teased one another.

“Trust me,” he added, “it’s been a couple patrons and audience members who’ve unknowingly said pretty insensitive things. Not Matt.”

The story was picked up by British media outlets. But Tobin Klinger, a spokesman for the university, said that the conversation with Mr. Mobley had not been a factor in Mr. Halls’s firing. And a lawyer for Mr. Halls, Charese Rohny, said that Mr. Halls “was never presented with anything that required a response” regarding any inquiry before he was fired.

Given Klinger’s truthiness record, his statements get a weight of 0.00, and reporters are making public records requests to try and find out what really happened. UO has not been listing these requests on the official log – a new low in official UO transparency, and one which perpetuates the selective leaks, official innuendo, and unofficial rumors which have characterized this mess.

The last OBF request was Bob Keefer’s, for the Halls contract and termination letter:

The relevant policy is here. Some excerpts (emphasis added):

III. Responsible Employees Reporting Obligations

Except as provided for in the Student Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Violence Complaint Response (Student Complaint Response Policy), Responsible Employees who receive Credible Evidence of Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment or Sexual Harassment involving an Employee, Student or Campus Community Member are required to promptly report that information as follows:

1. If the Credible Evidence relates to Sex Discrimination of a Student, Responsible Employees should report any information received to the Title IX Coordinator or to the Office of Crisis Intervention and Sexual Violence Support Services. (Note: The Student Complaint Response Policy applies to information disclosed by a student reporting sex discrimination and sexual harassment, including sexual violence. That policy may provide for different reporting obligations depending on the status of the employee receiving the report. Employees who receive reports of sex discrimination (including sexual harassment and sexual violence) against a student should reference the Student Complaint and Response Policy in order to determine their reporting obligations.)

2. In all other instances, Responsible Employees should report any information received to the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity (AAEO).

Employees should be aware that AAEO is tasked with ensuring compliance with this policy and state and federal law.  Therefore, while AAEO will work with employees, students and campus community members to ensure that they understand their complaint options, are protected from retaliation and are provided with interim measures as appropriate, AAEO employees are not advocates for individuals participating in the process.

The relevant definitions in the policy are:

A. Prohibited Discrimination is defined as any act that either in form or operation, and whether intended or unintended, unreasonably discriminates among individuals on the basis of age, race, color, ancestry, national or ethnic origin, religion, service in the uniformed services (as defined in state and federal law), veteran status, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, pregnancy, pregnancy-related conditions, disability, gender, perceived gender, gender identity, genetic information or the use of leave protected by state or federal law. “Unintentional discrimination” is a concept applicable only to situations where a policy, requirement, or regularized practice, although neutral on its face, can be shown to have disparately impacted members of a protected class. The concept is inapplicable to sexual or other forms of harassment which, by definition, result from volitional actions.

B. Discriminatory Harassment is defined as any conduct that either in form or operation unreasonably discriminates among individuals on the basis of age, race, color, ancestry, national or ethnic origin, religion, service in the uniformed services (as defined in state and federal law), veteran status, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, pregnancy, pregnancy-related conditions, physical or mental disability, gender, perceived gender, gender identity, genetic information or the use of leave protected by state or federal law and that is sufficiently severe or pervasive that it interferes with work or participation in any university program or activity, including academic activities because it creates an intimidating, hostile, or degrading working or university environment for the individual who is the subject of such conduct, and where the conduct would have such an effect on a reasonable person who is similarly situated.

H. Credible Evidence: Credible Evidence is evidence of the kind that prudent people would rely on in making personal or business decisions, which is not obtained: (1) during public awareness events (For example, “Take Back the Night,” and “survivor speak outs”);  (2) as part of an Institutional Review Board-approved human subjects research protocol focused on Prohibited Discrimination; or (3) in the context of a required classroom assignment. (Note: If a faculty member believes that a classroom assignment may illicit a disclosure that would trigger obligations under this policy, the faculty member should make clear to students that an account provided in response to a classroom assignment, without more information, will not result in the university taking any action in response to the disclosure. This means that the university will not investigate the incident, offer interim measures or otherwise take step to remediate the behavior.)

K. Campus Community Member: Campus Community Member means a person participating in a university-sponsored program or activity, attending or wanting to attend an event on university owned or leased property, an independent contractor or vendor, a volunteer, a person applying for admissions, a person applying for employment, or a campus visitor or a person living on university-owned property. The term Campus Community Member excludes Employees and Students.

9/15/2017: RG calls for UO Trustee Ann Curry to investigate Matthew Halls firing

“Bach Debacle”, here:

…  UO President Michael Schill could appease both groups of stakeholders by appointing a handful of university regents — perhaps headed by television journalist Ann Curry — to investigate. That, after all, is their job — to “supervise, coordinate, manage and regulate the UO,” a public university that, at least in this matter, is operating in a very private mode.

If, as the UO asserts, Halls’ firing had nothing to with the remark that he made to Mobley, the investigation can confirm as much. That would go a long way in restoring people’s lost faith in the UO.

Conversely, if it turns out Halls was fired because of the remark, the investigation would give the university the opportunity to come clean, hold accountable those who spun a different story and take the appropriate action to start anew with OBF.

Finally, if Halls — a private contractor, not a UO employee — was fired for crossing some ethical line, the investigation would bring that to light, too. …

And if the latter should be true, they could explain why whatever it is that Halls did was so bad he had to be fired immediately, but not so bad that UO could agree to keep it secret from his other current and potential employers.

9/13/2017: UO to pay Matthew Halls $90K for non-disparagement & gag-rule

The agreement is here. The RG’s Saul Hubbard has much more on this deal here.

It includes a promise by UO to give Halls 24 hours notice of public records requests. I’ve heard rumors of a request to UO for emails etc that might shed light on why whatever it was that Halls did was so bad he had to be fired immediately, but not so bad that UO had an obligation to warn his other employers and potential employers.

But so far there’s nothing in the Public Records Office log except the RG’s request for the contract and termination letter, which Hubbard posted earlier. So until new light has been shed on this, we’re stuck with the hypothesis that he was fired for disparaging comments about southern cuisine.

9/13/2017: UO to pay Matthew Halls $90K for non-disparagement agreement and 24-hour gag rule:

That’s from tweets from NY Times classical music and dance reporter Michael Cooper:

9/12/2017: Bach Festival’s fate passes from Blandy and the PR flacks to the lawyers

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Youtube: Chicago Prof Geoffrey Stone lectures UO Law School on free speech

Is free speech on campus dying?

If so, it’s still kicking. Friday’s engaging talk by Geoffrey Stone from Chicago Law laid out and put to rest the arguments against free speech and academic freedom one by one, then finished them off with his responses to audience questions about the increasing use of hate speech by conservatives, and safe spaces for our increasingly diverse students.

Free Speech on Campus: A Challenge for Our Times

Friday, February 17 at 4:00pm Continue reading

Nick Kristof on “The Dangers of Echo Chambers on the UO Campus*”

Nicholas Kristof is the son of two PSU professors and grew up on a farm in Oregon. A few years ago we got him to come to campus and talk to our SAIL students. He is arguably the most liberal of the NY Times’s columnists, although it’s tough to top Krugman. Here’s his latest column:

After Donald Trump’s election, some universities echoed with primal howls. Faculty members canceled classes for weeping, terrified students who asked: How could this possibly be happening?

I share apprehensions about President-elect Trump, but I also fear the reaction was evidence of how insular universities have become. When students inhabit liberal bubbles, they’re not learning much about their own country. To be fully educated, students should encounter not only Plato, but also Republicans.

We liberals are adept at pointing out the hypocrisies of Trump, but we should also address our own hypocrisy in terrain we govern, such as most universities: Too often, we embrace diversity of all kinds except for ideological. Repeated studies have found that about 10 percent of professors in the social sciences or the humanities are Republicans.

We champion tolerance, except for conservatives and evangelical Christians. We want to be inclusive of people who don’t look like us — so long as they think like us. …

UO’s first Diversity Plan, adopted by the Senate in 2006 after a long debate, explicitly noted the importance of those people who don’t think like us:

For purposes of this Diversity Plan, the term diversity is given a broad meaning and includes, but is not limited to, differences based on race, ethnicity, national origin or citizenship, gender, religious affiliation or background, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic class or status, political affiliation or belief, and ability or disability.

Here’s the data on political affiliation for the University of Oregon faculty in 2006:


But the 2016 diversity evaluation posted on the VPEI website is all about race and ethnicity:

Over the last three years, the University of Oregon (UO) Office of the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion (VPEI) has worked diligently to institutionalize the process of collecting and analyzing data on the ethnic, racial, and gender diversity of our faculty, staff, and students. This report on racial, ethnic and gender diversity among faculty and academic leadership ranks is the product of collaborative work with the Office of Institutional Research, the Center for Assessment, Statistics and Evaluation (CASE), Affirmative Action, the Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs.

And that is where UO has been spending its diversity money – currently about $5M a year, if you count the VPEI budget and the UMRP money which is now running about $1M a year.


President Schill has now called for UO’s colleges to develop new diversity plans within 90 days. I wonder where they will focus our efforts and our spending?

*OK, so it’s not just about the UO campus.

Sign me up for the Professor Watchlist!

Some group of far-right-wing cranks has started a website where students can report their professors for being too liberal. I assume they got the idea from UO’s Bias Response Team, which encouraged students to report faculty for not being liberal enough. (The UO shut down that part of the BRT website, in response to the ongoing UO Senate investigation of the BRT). Or maybe they got it from former UO Journalism Dean Tim Gleason, who used the official UO anti-union blog to anonymously accuse me of “being indelibly associated with” the UO faculty union?

Regardless, I figure I could use another line on my vitae for the upcoming merit evaluations, so I self-nominated:


Their webform:


The rest of my self-nomination said

“He also often uses class time to lecture his students about “behavioral economics” and has been known to disparage the neoclassical economics of men like Milton Friedman, and the Austrian economics of Friedrich von Hayek.”

That might be a slight exaggeration, of the sort that many professors engage in when competing for an honor like being on the Professors Watchlist. The truth is that I also have a lecture praising Friedman for supporting the EITC and helping convince Nixon to end the draft, and I don’t think I ever mention von Hayek.


Unfortunately their server is overwhelmed with tips. Damn. Oh well, maybe I at least made the BRT list. The truth is that the BRT was not funny, and neither is a Watchlist like this. These are crazy times, and we don’t need more witch hunts from anyone. So what’s a professor to do? I think we should all nominate ourselves for this, and take some of the heat off the one UO professor who is currently on this list.


How to respond to biased and offensive speech

Some useful information for students, and everyone, in the NYT here:

Lessons in the Delicate Art of Confronting Offensive Speech

… A body of psychological research shows that even mild pushback against offensive remarks can have an instant effect — as difficult as that can be, especially with a boss, a friend or a celebrity.

It is research worth considering in a political season when ethnic, racist and sexual slurs, not to mention general insults, seem to have become part of everyday chatter. Polls show that people are increasingly unhappy with the tenor of the national debate but unsure what to do about the decline in civility.

Researchers have detailed the difficulty of confronting prejudice, but they have also found that even the politest of objections — or subtle corrections to loaded words — can almost instantly curb a speaker’s behavior. With a clearer understanding of the dynamics of such confrontation, psychologists say, people can develop tactics that can shut down the unsavory talk without ruining relationships, even when the offender has more status or power: a fraternity president, say, or a team captain or employer.

The alternative is passive complicity, psychologists say. “When we hear this egregious, uncomfortable talk and we don’t speak up, what’s actually happening is that the person speaking is getting a green light,” said Sharyn J. Potter, co-director of the Prevention Innovations Research Center, at the University of New Hampshire. “It encourages them.” …

And don’t forget that voting can also be an effective response for dealing with some particularly egregious perpetrators.

President supports free speech, fires Bias Response Team

Or will this just make their work less transparent? I don’t think it’s bad for universities to teach about how free speech can offend, but it’s not the sort of thing that the faculty should leave up to the administration to police.

From InsideHigherEd:

The University of Northern Colorado has announced that it is abandoning its separate bias response team and plans to deal with bias concerns through other university divisions. Many colleges have created bias response teams, but Northern Colorado’s has been criticized for raising questions about the actions and statements of faculty members and students in class — and many have expressed fears that the work of the team compromised academic freedom.

Kay Norton, president of the university, addressed the topic in her annual fall address to the campus. “Our new approach will uphold the principles of free speech and academic freedom as well as our commitment to create a safe and supportive environment for students. It will address all student concerns not covered by the Discrimination Complaint Procedures, and we will no longer have a separate process for bias-related concerns,” she said. “Free speech and academic freedom fuel the ferment of ideas, insights and discoveries that emerge from university communities, and we must do all we can to encourage this ferment. We have an ongoing obligation to talk openly about the inherent tension between upholding academic freedom and building community. These are hard conversations, but this tension is what allows us to be a university community.”

University of Chicago warns students there is no safe space from new ideas

Scott Jaschik in InsideHigherEd:

Looking for safe spaces on campus or trigger warnings on a syllabus?

Incoming students at the University of Chicago have been warned they won’t find either in Hyde Park.

They all received a letter recently from John Ellison, dean of students, which went beyond the usual platitudes of such letters and made several points about what he called one of Chicago’s “defining characteristics,” which he said was “our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression.” Ellison said civility and respect are “vital to all of us,” and people should never be harassed. But he added, “You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”

To that end, he wrote, “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

The letter referred to a website where Chicago maintains a report on academic freedom and its centrality to the university. …

Chicago has been getting a lot of free publicity for their defense of free speech lately, while UO has been hyping the Olympics.

The truth is that UO actually has better policies than Chicago – but our administration’s history of implementing them is weak, and as a result the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education gives our prospective students a “Red Light” warning. More here and here:

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The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has a press release here on Chicago’s free speech efforts:

University of Chicago Reforms All Speech Codes, Earns FIRE’s Highest Free Speech Rating

CHICAGO, April 26, 2016—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is excited to announce the latest university to earn its highest, “green light” rating for free speech: the University of Chicago (UC). In cooperation with FIRE, UC revised all of its speech codes to join an elite group of colleges and universities that maintain policies respecting student and faculty free expression rights and meeting First Amendment standards. …

Here’s my take – sorry, long story:

In January 2015 Chicago announced the Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression, chaired by Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law. The full text of his windy and self-congratulatory report is here. The gist:

From its very founding, the University of Chicago has dedicated itself to the preservation and celebration of the freedom of expression as an essential element of the University’s culture. In 1902, in his address marking the University’s decennial, President William Rainey Harper declared that “the principle of complete freedom of speech on all subjects has from the beginning been regarded as fundamental in the University of Chicago” and that “this principle can neither now nor at any future time be called in question.” Thirty years later, a student organization invited William Z. Foster, the Communist Party’s candidate for President, to lecture on campus. This triggered a storm of protest from critics both on and off campus. …, …, …

In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission. …, …, …

Actually, that’s a lot of words.  The University of Oregon Senate and President Richard Lariviere said it less pompously, more forcefully, and five years earlier in UO’s 2010 Freedom of Speech and Inquiry Policy. The full text:

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Emerald reports on the administration’s Bias Response Team

Reporter Will Campbell has dug into the history and found a few brave (i.e. tenured) souls willing to speak on the record. Read it all here. The start:

The History of BERT

BERT was created in May 1999, when a comment made by a student sparked a protest that resulted in the arrest of 31 students, according to an Emerald article from 1999. The ignition point was a presentation on Hispanic communities in which a UO student said Hispanic individuals have poor work ethic and blamed their culture.

In the heated discussion that followed, students took to email to criticize or defend the statement. Eventually, a student threatened three women in the class, saying to one that she deserved to be sexually assaulted.

Former president Dave Frohnmayer didn’t expel the student. A rally at the Erb Memorial Union followed, and 75 protesters went to Johnson Hall to stage a sit-in. When they stayed after-hours on the floor of Johnson Hall, 31 were arrested for trespassing.

Students demanded action after the arrests. One demand included the formation of a “discrimination response team” that would “notify authorities, provide victim support and ensure due process for the accused discriminator.” …

Dietz story reveals more about the renamed Bias Education & Response Team

The RG has a long article on the Bias Response Team here, explaining the history of its formation under Dave Frohnmayer along with some details of the current controversy over campus BRT’s and academic freedom. Frohnmayer was especially sensitive on racial issues, having recently lost a case over discriminatory hiring of JH administrators. The RG story on the BRT:

For 15 years, the University of Oregon has fielded a “bias response team,” whose members approach students, faculty or staff who had been reported for making off-color or offensive remarks.

Some in the UO community see the Bias Education and Response Team as an essential aid to understanding on matters of race, sex, oppression or other hot-button issues that arise.

Others see the team as a squad of “thought police” that freezes out the potential for an exchange of ideas.

Some UO professors, in fact, worry that the team has made the university a national laughingstock.

In recent weeks, The Washington Post, The New Republic and The National Review [Sorry, report me for bias but you’ll have to google that one yourself] have variously described the UO program as “humorless, illiberal and dangerous” and “an Orwellian bureau that investigates students and faculty members for saying the wrong thing.”

A recent discussion of the team on a UO School of Journalism and Communication internet forum grew heated as free-speech advocates squared off with faculty who defended the need for people to be culturally sensitive in their discourse.

Although Dietz had trouble finding faculty willing to speak on the record about their interactions with the BRT, the entire story is well worth reading (as is The New Republic piece). This quote is from last month’s J-School town-hall:

The prospect of getting a call from the Bias Response Team about something said in a classroom is no doubt chilling, [Former Journalism School Dean Tim Gleason] said.

“That invitation (from the Bias Response Team) to have a conversation is going to be viewed, if not punitively, at least as a threat of some kind,” he said. Faculty may pull their intellectual punches. They’ll ask: “If I use this in class, will somebody report me? That’s not a healthy environment,” Gleason said.

And if there’s anyone who knows about the chilling effect that administrators can have on faculty and free speech it would be Tim Gleason. For for more about the VPSA’s paranoia over student speech try here.

Interestingly, it seems that the mere news that Diane Dietz is going to write a story on something is now enough to stir the UO administration to immediate action: they’ve renamed the BRT the BERT:

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Journalism prof Kyu Ho Youm in the Oregonian on UO’s Bias Response Team

More on Professor Youm, who came to the US as a student from Korea when it was still a military dictatorship, here. He’s been a longtime advocate for free speech and government transparency. His full Op-Ed is here. (Now in the RG too here.) The ending:

… It gets worse.

As a media law teacher-scholar and a former campus newspaper adviser, I was stunned by another case that has made UO a laughingstock in the national press: “An anonymous student reported that a newspaper gave less press coverage to trans students and students of color,” the BRT report stated. “Response: A BRT Case Manager held an educational conversation with the newspaper reporter and editor.”

The BRT’s ham-handed way of dealing with a student’s complaint about the Daily Emerald’s coverage was embarrassingly misguided. And it was a lost teachable moment for the BRT.

First Amendment attorney Charles Glasser adjures the BRT to take a more enlightening approach: “Students need to learn that living in a vibrant democracy requires being able to hear upsetting ideas without losing your mind. The same democracy allows — even encourages — responsible counter-speech. You could even teach them to write a coherent letter to the editor.”

The University of Chicago’s widely praised report of 2015 on freedom of expression offers good guidance about encouraging, not discouraging, free speech in academia: “Debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrongheaded.”

UO ought to join other schools, including Princeton University, in adapting and adopting the University of Chicago’s free-speech statement as its framework for campus expression. As a Supreme Court justice once opined, the best corrective for bad speech is good speech, not censorship or punishment.

I have engaged with my journalism and law colleagues on the BRT in recent weeks. Few have been eager to step forward and express their thoughts on the BRT. And I have been advised to be more “politically astute” in taking issue with the BRT and its impact on the UO faculty, staff and students.

A discerning UO colleague, who has endured a real-life chilling experience with the BRT, has told me: “Now that we have become a laughingstock to the entire nation due to our relationship with the BRT, nothing could be more important than discussing this issue with the entire faculty and staff.”

I agree.

Those of us who understand that free speech versus cultural sensitivity is not a zero-sum game should scrutinize the BRT in an uninhibited, robust and wide-open way. As Professors Jeffrey Aaron Snyder and Amna Khalid at Carleton College cogently noted in their New Republic article: “BRTs are fatally flawed” and that “BRTs will turn the genuine, transformative educational power of diverse voices into a farce.”

I’d like to applaud my journalism and communication colleagues for leading the UO conversations on the BRT. The BRT has been entrenched in the UO community as part of its institutional machinery for the past 17 years, but it has been subject to little scrutiny throughout its entire history.

The Bias Response Team has received little scrutiny because university professors are in general terrified of being accused of bias. Fortunately Prof Youm is not.

For the record, UO’s Academic Freedom and Free Speech and Inquiry policies are stronger than the University of Chicago’s policy. See here for the UO language and some history on how hard we had to fight former UO GC Randy Geller, former President Mike Gottfredson, and Sharon Rudnick, Tim Gleason, and Doug Blandy to get the Academic Freedom Policy passed and signed.

That fight’s not over – GC Kevin Reed is probably going to bring “time and place” restrictions to the UO Senate this year. Here’s hoping they’re not as ridiculous as Randy Geller’s anti-chalk efforts. And of course having a policy is the easy part. The hard part is following it. Has the BRT broken UO’s policy?

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.

UO Public Records Office doesn’t think the public has an interest in Bias Response docs?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has the story here:

University of Oregon on ‘Bias Response Team’: Nothing to See Here

By May 27, 2016

This month, a number of commentators have criticized the University of Oregon’s (UO’s) bias incident reporting system—an online tool to report perceived incidents of “bias” to campus administrators—and some of the university’s “Bias Response Team’s” (BRT’s) responses to those reports. In March, FIRE filed a public records request with UO, seeking documents about students’ complaints and whether the BRT’s handling of those complaints has the potential to chill or infringe on First Amendment rights.

UO, however, is resisting public scrutiny.

In its response on April 1, 2016, the university told FIRE that it would not benefit the public to produce records relating to how they respond to what students perceive to be offensive speech. FIRE has asked UO to reverse its position and produce the records in a letter sent to the university this week. …

In a nutshell, while the UO administration is happy spending our student’s tuition money on the administrators who run the Bias Response Team, they want to charge FIRE $1,483.30 for documents that might help the public learn what it is those administrators are doing.

Under Oregon’s public records law UO must justify its decision to refuse FIRE’s request for a public interest fee-waver. UO General Counsel Kevin Reed thinks this boiler-plate satisfies the law:

You requested a waiver based on an assertion that release of these documents is in the public interest. The office has performed the three­ part analysis of your request, has determined that your request does not meet the public interest test, and has exercised its discretion to deny your request for a fee waiver.

FIRE disagrees. So do I. Here’s hoping FIRE takes it to court and the judge disagrees too.