Update on admin fact check site

9/12/2013: The University of Oregon administration has been bargaining a union contract with the UO faculty’s AAUP/AFT affiliate local since November. I regularly blog about the bargaining sessions. In February the University of Oregon’s administrative bargaining team wrote an unsigned “Open Letter” to the UO community, saying
“We write this letter to our University community because we believe it is both necessary and appropriate to inform you of circumstances that are significantly impeding the on-going bargaining between the University and United Academics—the continued reporting of biased, erroneous and inflammatory reports from the bargaining table by Professor Bill Harbaugh on his blog, UO Matters, and Mr. Harbaugh’s insertion of himself into the bargaining process by filing repeated public records requests for information directly related to bargaining. We have raised this concern privately with the UA bargaining team several times, and the response each time is the same: what Mr. Harbaugh reports regarding bargaining is not our responsibility and there’s nothing we will do about it. Given the Union’s unwillingness or inability to address this matter, we have decided to bring it directly to the University community’s attention. …”

The administration’s bargaining team is led by the University’s General Counsel Randy Geller, and includes Senior VP for Academic Affairs Doug Blandy, Journalism Dean Tim Gleason, VPAA Barbara Altmann, and hired attorneys Sharon Rudnick and Kate Grado, from the HLGR law firm.

I thought this letter was more embarrassing to its authors than to me – although a few colleagues thought it was defamatory and professionally damaging. I mostly ignored it except for a letter to university President Mike Gottfredson asking him to disown it, which he did not respond to.

Then the administration rejected the union’s free speech and academic freedom proposals, countering them with restrictions that would give university administrators the ability to discipline faculty for criticism of the administration, which I frequently engage in.

At that point I made a public records request to get information about the authors of the letter and how it came about that Mr. Geller, an attorney, would approve putting such a thing on university letterhead and posting it on an official university website.

To add to the absurdity, President Gottfredson’s Public Records Office, which is supervised by his Special Assistant Dave Hubin, replied by saying that I would have to pay $225 to see those documents:

The University of Oregon has received your public records request for “any emails, letters, or memos sent to, cced on, or received by UO General Counsel Randy Geller, regarding the 2/28/2013 open letter from the UO administration’s faculty union bargaining team to UO Economics Professor William T. Harbaugh…”, on 08/20/2013, attached. The office has at least some documents responsive to your request.  By this email, the office is providing you with an estimate to respond to your requests.
The office estimates the actual cost of responding to your request to be $225.56. 

The letter, and my unanswered reply to President Gottfredson are below.

The “child porn” bit involves a hypothetical first brought up at the bargaining table by Journalism Dean Gleason, in an effort to provide reasons for limits on academic freedom. I asked to see emails about this in an effort to show that this was a deliberate strategy on their part to use this argument as a red-herring. The UO administration admitted it had such emails, but wanted to be paid $879.75 before it would produce them:

The University of Oregon has received your public records request for “a copy of any emails containing all of the words ‘child’, ‘pornography’ (or porn) and ‘union’, sent or received by Michael Gottfredson, Randy Geller, Doug Park, Tim Gleason, Doug Blandy, Barbara Altmann, or Jim Bean, from 1/1/2013 to the present [2/08/2013]“, on 02/08/2013, attached. The office has at least some documents responsive to your request.  By this email, the office is providing you with an estimate to respond to your requests. The office estimates the actual cost of responding to your request to be $879.75. 

My Response:

From: Bill Harbaugh
Subject: your Feb 28 open letter about Professor Bill Harbaugh
Date: April 12, 2013 6:22:40 PM PDT
To: Sharon Rudnick , Randy Geller
Cc: James Bean , doug park , Barbara Altmann , Timothy Gleason , Doug Blandy , kate.grado@harrang.com, William F GARY , jens.schmidt@harrang.com, jeffery.j.matthews@harrang.com, ben.miller@harrang.com, dave.frohnmayer@harrang.com, arden.j.olson@harrang.com, joshua.stump@harrang.com, aaron.landau@harrang.com, Bruce Blonigen , “coltrane@uoregon.edu Coltrane” , President Gottfredson
, “Melody_Rose@ous.edu” , Ryan Hagemann , Robert Kyr , Margaret Paris

Dear Ms Rudnick and Mr. Geller: 

I’m writing you in regard to the Feb 28 “Open letter from the UO Bargaining Team” which is attached, and which is posted on the official University of Oregon website for faculty contract negotiations, at http://uo-ua.uoregon.edu/fact-check/ 

A colleague came across this website a week or so after the letter had apparently been posted, and alerted me to it. I thought it was pretty hilarious, particularly in its discussion of the UO Matters blog at http://www.uomatters.com, which I edit, and in regard to the claims that I am “indelibly associated” with the faculty union. 

In truth I fought long and hard against faculty unionization. I signed the membership card only at the end, because I wanted to be on the winning side, where I could make a difference. I have made it very clear on my blog and in conversations with many UO administrators that I am still quite skeptical of faculty unions and that my ultimate loyalty is to the University of Oregon and to the principle of public education for which it stands. I regularly tell the union organizers I will turn on the union the moment it starts doing more harm than good to this principle, and I’m pretty sure they believe me. 

But I digress. 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. 

So, I am writing to ask Ms Rudnick, who is apparently the leader of this team, or perhaps more appropriately Mr. Geller, her immediate supervisor at UO, to send me the names of the people on the “UO Bargaining Team”. 

I’m ccing all the people I’ve been able to identify as potential members of the UO Bargaining Team, from the website, the HLGR invoices, and a few other sources. I’ve also cced my department chair, CAS Dean Coltrane, President Gottfredson, OUS Chancellor Rose, OUS General Counsel Ryan Hagemann, current UO Senate President Kyr and incoming Senate President Paris. 

I’d appreciate a prompt response, listing the names of the people on the UO Bargaining Team. If any of the team members want to disavow the letter, I’d appreciate it this would be posted on the website where the letter appears. Feel free to also post this letter if you’d like, and let me know if you’d like a signed copy on UO economics department letterhead. 

Thanks, 

Bill Harbaugh
Professor of Economics
1285 University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403

9/17/2013 update: President Gottfredson’s public records office has a policy waiving the first hour of time for public records requests. But when it comes to GC Randy Geller’s emails about the open letter accusing me of being “anti-university”, they are doing everything they can to delay and frustrate:

09/17/2013
Dear Mr. Harbaugh:  

The University of Oregon has received your public records request for “the most recent document” responsive to your request made on 08/20/2013, attached. The office has at least some documents responsive to your request.  By this email, the office is providing you with an estimate to respond to your requests.

The office estimates the actual cost of responding to your request to be $62.83. 

For one page?

10/20/13 update: The administration’s fact-check website about the faculty union negotiations cost the academic budget about $250,000. It was unceremoniously taken down a week or two ago, and has now been quietly replaced by a new, partially sanitized site at http://uo-cba.uoregon.edu/. The new site keeps some of the old fact-check stuff, such as

Claim: UO Matters blogger Bill Harbaugh is also acting as an economic consultant for United Academics. Tuesday, when the UA bargaining team left the table to caucus, he went with the team. But that doesn’t mean he can get his numbers right.

but it removes the “open letter” from the administration’s bargaining team that accused me of being “consistently anti-university” and “indelibly associated with United Academics”. It also removes all links to that letter. It’s as if Rudnick and Geller never wrote it – except there’s a copy below, with my response to President Gottfredson. (I’ve got an archive of the entire old site, let me know if you want the files.)

Under the resources tab, the administration’s site provides a helpful (if it weren’t broken) link to an Inside Higher Ed story that vaguely supports VPFA Jamie Moffitt’s arguments for increasing UO’s reserves, but I can’t find any mention of the more critical Inside Higher Ed story reporting on President Gottfredson’s efforts to limit academic freedom and freedom of speech. I’m happy to provide both: Budget story here, academic freedom story here, more on that issue and links to other stories here.

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20 Responses to Update on admin fact check site

  1. Anonymous says:

    Man, our administrators are dumb.

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  2. The Truth says:

    I don’t see how this could cost 29 dollars let alone almost 290. How hard is it to copy/paste some names into an email?

    The UO public records office needs to be independently audited and forced to justify their costing process.

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    • Anonymous says:

      You are about to be given a Hubin-esque line about just how many person hours are involved in taking out all of the useful information before providing the documents. It’s quite a process, and, as you know, we must pay top dollar to all those involved to assure that we attract and retain the most talented administrative support staff. Well, that’s not quite true… the admins do an awful lot of rent seeking int the process, and increase the fees to try and disuade information exchange, but, you get the point.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    You’re really getting under their skin. They’re just digging themselves a deeper
    hole. What a change from the 1980′s when Paul Olum was UO president.

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    • UO Matters says:

      It’s not the defamation that bothers me, it’s that they didn’t give me a hyperlink. Unforgivable.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    “consistently anti-university”

    If you disagree, you are anti-university?

    You started the fact check & they don’t like the truth!

    I appreciate the fine art of sarcasm.

    You tell it like it is & have fun doing so.

    Keep it up. Last time I checked Free Speech is still legal.

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    • Anonymous says:

      The Gottredson crew is doing their best to raise the cost, though.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Hey, free speech isn’t free.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    How can that price be anything other than an attempt to dissuade you from asking? It’s beyond my imagination to come up with a legitimate reason? It couldn’t even be legal review. No attorney reads that slowly.

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    • UO Matters says:

      UO’s public records office prices documents according to how embarrassing they are. So this one must be pretty good. Presumably some public relations consultants are writing the posts on the admin site for Geller and Altmann, and they realize the fact-check stuff will be bad for future business.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Ahhh… the Robin Holmes strategy of paying big bucks to consultants, only to learn what labels to attach to the opposition to cast them in negative light. Brilliant.

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  6. If the price is that high, the documents must be pretty steamy!

    I’ll chip in $50, if you want (that’s serious; I can paypal you). Maybe you could then sue in small-claims court and get 90% of it back, or in regular court and get it back plus some punitive damages or court costs.

    Or, here’s a deal: tell them you’ll waive your right to sue for defamation for precisely $225.00. I think that’s a pretty good deal for both sides; your lawsuit is worth more in dollars, but you don’t want the hassle of a lawsuit.

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  7. Hank Stamper says:

    That’s the spirit! Never given an inch. Not sure what you’re doing working for a union though. That never ends well.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Fishwrapper sez: Hank, you own me a keyboard. Don’t post when I’m drinking my tea.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Hilarious that you are feeling defamed when you do that so often yourself!

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    • Anonymous says:

      For the um-teenth time. A prerequisite for defamation is that the statement be intentionally false.

      Regardless, the lack of suit implies that everything on UOM is true.

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    • Anonymous says:

      “The lack of a suit implies that everything on UOM is true”? Did it occur to you that the lawyers don’t have the time to bother with him? If I were UOM, I would hope that they never make time for him. Logic must not be your strong suit.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Humor relies on a certain level of intellect, “strong suit.” Please step it up.

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    • Anonymous says:

      ” You know how people are. They only recognize greatness when some authority confirms it.”
      ~ Calvin and Hobbes

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  9. UO Matters says:

    More amused than defamed!

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