University of Oregon to Faculty: You Belong to Me!

15 Sep

I always thought of the University of Oregon (UO) as one of great gems of our public university system. It’s got a terrific political science department (with Hobbes scholar Deborah Baumgold in theory and wonderful APD folks like Joe Lowndes and Gerald Berk in American Politics). It’s in Eugene, a lovely little city of hot tubs and hippies. And since last year, it’s had a faculty union. Who wouldn’t love it?

Apparently, the UO administration, that’s who.

The administration is currently locked into a battle with the faculty, who are trying to negotiate their first contract. Rather than seize the moment to establish good relations with the union and improve the university, the administration is intent on doing the reverse. Not simply with the usual patter of bottom-line administrators—no big raises, say (though even here the administration has gone the extra mile by refusing to guarantee the fulltime faculty a living wage)—but with proposals that would astonish even the most jaded observer of administrative ways and means.

I first caught wind of the UO’s aspirations this past week, when Inside Higher Ed reported that the administration was trying to undermine the speech rights of the faculty by inserting a so-called “civility” clause in the contract.

The university statement mentions civility twice in a section on faculty responsibilities, including that faculty are responsible for treating “students, staff, colleagues and the public fairly and civilly in discharging his or her duties and in accordance with this agreement.” Civility clauses have long been of concern to advocates for professors. While it’s hard to find people who are anti-civility, many academics note that requiring civility can become a tool for punishing those professors who speak out against their bosses or who push unpopular positions.

Bill Harbaugh, professor of economics and moderator of the “UO Matters” blog, which is frequently critical of university policy, said decoupling academic freedom from free speech left room for administrators to punish those faculty – like him – who say things administrators don’t like. He also objected to the idea that administrators would be the ones deciding what qualifies as “civil.”

Asked about the civility clause, [executive assistant to the UO president] said Oregon has a long history of promoting respectful discourse – one that’s covered by the university’s existing policy on academic freedom and free speech: “It is the responsibility of speakers, listeners and all members of our community to respect others and to promote a culture of mutual inquiry throughout the university community.”

Any determination of what’s civil would likely include faculty input, he said.

The minute I read that, I thought of my blogging. I’ve accused CUNY leaders of lying and cover-ups, of being Stalinists, of peddling nonsense and of being “as crude as the day is long.” I’ve no doubt they consider my posts uncivil and unfair. The notion that these same administrators would be in a position not only to define civility but also to enforce it as a contractual obligation, with all the attending disciplinary powers such obligations entail, well, you can see where this is all going.

Thankfully, so did the UO. They pulled the proposal.

When it comes to the freedom of the faculty, however, never underestimate the ambitions of an administrator scorned. The UO is back at the table, mooting even more draconian assaults on faculty autonomy and privacy.

Take their latest proposal (see section 7) on faculty email:

Bargaining unit faculty members have no expectation of privacy in emails, files, documents, or other information created or stored on university information assets. The university may monitor the use of, and review documents and other information stored on university information assets. Emails sent on a bargaining unit faculty member’s non-university email account and information created or stored on non-university computer systems belong to the bargaining unit member except to the extent that they address work-related subjects.

Read that last sentence carefully. Not only is the administration demanding the right to monitor and review the faculty’s UO email accounts, but it also arrogates to itself the right to monitor any emails on the faculty’s non-UO accounts (and computers) so long as those emails or documents “address work-related subjects.” So if I email my wife on my Gmail account, complaining about the action of a university administrator, or if I keep a diary on my home computer in which I talk about what that administrator did, that very same administrator can demand to read and review that email or document.

I’ve written quite a bit about the lengths to which employers will go to command and control the actions of their employees, and I’m certainly no naïf about the differences between universities and other employers. But this overreach from a university administrator seems like a first.

The administration has apparently tried to reassure the union that they would only monitor the faculty’s non-UO accounts in pursuit of what the university calls a “legitimate” “business need.” When the union asked for some examples of a “legitimate business need,” the UO’s hapless chief negotiator said the administration might want to check up on an individual professor’s work habits: Is she putting in her required 40 hours per week or is she shopping on-line during that time? (Apparently the negotiator really said this.) Or perhaps the administration, the negotiator added, would want to check up on a professor who was publicly critical of her chair. When the union countered with an offer that would guarantee the faculty a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” the administration said no.

Little side note: you’ve got to love this chief negotiator. When she isn’t telling the faculty at the table “you all need to get focused on your students,” she apparently moonlights as a defense attorney for Phillip Morris. Charming. Wonder how she squares that with her proposal to radically restrict the faculty’s freedom to consult with outside organizations. Which brings me to…

Like the faculty at CUNY, faculty at the UO are allowed to work one day a week as consultants for outside groups and organizations. At CUNY, professors consult for human rights groups, civic education groups, and other NGOs and non-profits. In Oregon, this activity is protected by state law. But the administration at the UO wants to eliminate that protection. (Yes, you heard that right: university administrators want to be even more intrusive and restrictive than the state.)

From now on, says the administration (see section 3), faculty wanting to do consulting work for outside groups or organizations “must get the prior written approval of the Provost or designee.” Among the criteria administration intends to apply when considering such proposals is whether the activity lies “within the scope of the bargaining unit member’s professional competence.”

How is that judgment to be determined? And how is a provost trained in, say, microbiology, in a position to judge whether a political scientist’s consulting work lies within her area of competence? And what if it doesn’t? Why is that any of the university’s business?

Oddly, in section 2 of the same proposal, the administration says that “activities unrelated to a bargaining unit faculty member’s…areas of professional competence do not require prior approval.” Given that section 3 requires the provost to determine what is or isn’t within the faculty member’s professional competence, it seems that anything and everything must come before the provost for approval.

Having to get permission from the provost, and under these terms, is creepy enough. You might wonder, though, why the administration would even want to involve itself in such byzantine determinations. After all, even the UO chief negotiator—there she goes again!—could not cite a single instance of the faculty abusing this right in the past.

The penultimate criterion in the administration’s proposal gives you a sense of why they might be interested in the faculty’s consulting work. The consulting, says the proposal, must not be “contrary to the University’s best interests.” The University’s best interests as determined by…the administration.

Now whose interests might the administration be most mindful of? Perhaps its Board of Trustees, which includes CEOs from the state’s timber and construction industries, the wife of the CEO of Microsoft, and a retired executive from Nike? Or big UO donors like Nike’s Phil Knight? It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which a professor is forbidden by the provost from consulting with an organization critical of Nike’s labor polices or Microsoft’s market practices. “Contrary to the University’s best interests” and all that.

There’s a lot more to be said about these negotiations; check out this blog for more info and updates (especially on the administration’s plans regarding intellectual property: they’re a doozy!)

But in the meantime, drop a note to the UO President Michael Gottfredson at pres@uoregon.edu— make sure to cc the union (info@uauoregon.org)—telling him what you think about all this.

21 Responses to “University of Oregon to Faculty: You Belong to Me!”

  1. Jon Johanning September 15, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    I really hate to fall into Godwin’s Law territory, but this kind of thing sounds more and more like you know which country’s universities at you know which time. It’s really frightening, and makes me glad I haven’t been on a university faculty for a long time. The powers that be are really getting terribly nervous about rebellious professors, it seems. Even Clark Kerr of storied University of California fame wasn’t as bad as this.

  2. Glenn September 15, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    Any Milton scholars in the bargaining unit? Might want to quote a bit of Milton’s Areopagitica.

    “Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parliament of England is a 1644 prose polemical tract by the English poet and polemical author John Milton against censorship. Areopagitica is among history’s most influential and impassioned philosophical defenses of the principle of a right to freedom of speech and expression, which was written in opposition to licensing and censorship. It is regarded as one of the most eloquent defenses of press freedom ever written because many of its expressed principles form the basis for modern justifications of that right. “

    • Glenn September 15, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

      Milton also had some difficulties with administration:

      Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.

  3. KCW September 16, 2013 at 12:24 am #

    This sort of contract is very common in IT so I don’t think it’s an overreach. It just happens to be happening to university professors now.

    Section 7 is referring to the previous section, 6, where you use the university’s system to access the Internet or Web and do so using a personal account such as Web mail. Or, I might have a personal account such as blogger@coreyrobin.com and I read it on an email client, POP’d in via use of the university’s network. In which case, even if you use your personal email, if you are discussing work-related information, the university has a right to it. What they are really talking about is Intellectual Property.

    In IT, it’s common for an employer to tell an employee that if she comes up with an idea for a product and even if she does it in her spare time, the employer has a right to that IP (intellectual property). The employee can patent her idea. She can make a fortune with her idea, but the employer can also use that same idea – even if it was completely generated on personal computers and on personal time — to do whatever the employer wants with it. The employee can’t expect to prevent the employer from using her ideas. The employee also can’t go after the company for any money. See IBM, Bell Labs, Kodak,

    It is so common, in fact, that you only have to look at boiler plate IP contracts that you can buy in books that company lawyers then copy and paste into a standard employment contract and have new employees sign first day on the job.

    • Corey Robin September 16, 2013 at 12:34 am #

      First, Section 7 makes zero reference to Section 6, so I have no idea why you think it is referring to it. Second, when Section 6 is talking about personal accounts, it is quite explicitly referring to a professor’s personal account that she has through the university. (For example, I have a Brooklyn College email address; that is what Section 6 is referring to). Section 7 is introducing something else: a faculty member’s non-university email account. It makes absolutely no mention as to whether or not the faculty member is using that email account — for example, my Gmail account — on the university’s server or network or anything like that all. So that really has nothing to do with anything. Third, and most important, there are many things, I’m sure, that are common in your IT world that are not common in an academic setting. For example, I have lifetime job security (it’s called tenure); you do not. The fact that the university might come along and say to me, well, let’s get rid of your lifetime job security b/c KCW over there doesn’t have it, is not exactly a compelling argument. Far more compelling I’d say is for your employer to grant you lifetime job security (and greater email privacy) than for my employer to try and make my job look like yours.

      • Gordon Lafer September 16, 2013 at 1:51 am #

        just to say briefly – the whole idea of a university is that there is a freer range of thought and expression than is generally permitted in the private sector. That, as long as your methods are rigorous, you’re free to pursue and trumpet your idea of the truth without fear of retribution. That’s why universities have long been a place where a broader range of ideas can be found even than, say, in media companies – where people are certainly smart, good writers, and in some cases even have the time to do real research, but are working for corporations without the protection of academic freedom or tenure. To say “well private business runs this way, so what’s the big deal” is exactly the miss the point of what’s supposed to be different about a university. For a private corporation to say – we have a contract with Nike so we don’t want any employee criticizing it, and we’re going to monitor even your personal email to see if you’re encouraging criticism of our strategic corporate relationships – that wouldn’t be surprising, tho it is depressing that the vast majority of people have to live under that kind of regime. But for a university to do it kills the whole point of having a place that’s supposed to be dedicated to unintimidated wide-ranging intellectual debate.

      • JTFaraday September 16, 2013 at 10:06 am #

        “For a private corporation to say – we have a contract with Nike so we don’t want any employee criticizing it, and we’re going to monitor even your personal email to see if you’re encouraging criticism of our strategic corporate relationships – that wouldn’t be surprising, tho it is depressing that the vast majority of people have to live under that kind of regime”

        No, the vast majority of people do not currently live under a regime in which their private e-mails are monitored by their private sector employers.

        The distinction between the prerogatives of tenure holding academic faculty and the private sector knowledge worker would be that the private sector employee couldn’t speak out publicly against the Nike campaign and couldn’t get caught making comments on the internet, whereas holders of tenure believe that they can say whatever they want whenever they want about whatever they want because they are protected by tenure.

        This assumption seems to be what the UO administration is putting into question, to include determination of expertise. In their eyes, no liberal arts faculty has expertise in running a large institution, let alone expertise in Everything. They hope to use this to disenable claims of shared governance within the institution.

        Which, to be fair, it seems to me the majority of academic faculty did abandon long ago with reference to anything having to do with anything other than themselves, but which they hope to retrieve now that administrative power is reaching their home office doors. And this is where a lot of them spend most of their time, like freelancers.

        With regard to seizing private e-mails in private accounts, UO seems to be ahead of the corporate curve, although given what we’re learning about the NSA, such depredation of the Constitutionally protected right to privacy may be coming.

        Instead of emphasizing the prerogatives of tenured faculty as they typically do, maybe tenured faculty should organize and make more of an effort to curb corporate and governmental infringements on the rights of everyone.

        The public, due to its dependence on at-will employment already has, in effect, zero freedom of speech. Everything they say potentially puts them at risk. In light of this, it is true that the public has a good track record at shrugging its shoulders at tenured faculty huffing and puffing about its special status.

        This may not be the wisest response, but it is also humanly understandable. No one is going to defend special prerogatives that never seem to get used in the service of the public. Faculty have become the people who mug them and take their wallets before they’re bound out in debt servitude.

        I’ve actually been very bothered by the fact that tenured faculty have not organized to speak out about what is happening in this country over the past 10-15 years or so. Now faculty are under an intensified attack, but I’m not sure defense of special rights is even appropriate anymore or likely to do much to turn the tide.

        I realize some of you are not going to like this comment.

      • Jon Johanning September 16, 2013 at 10:42 am #

        I don’t think that the difference between tenured and non-tenured faculty makes any difference with respect to freedom of speech. It isn’t any difference either between faculty members and any other human being. Freedom of speech is freedom of speech. Those in authority generally always want to squelch complaints from the people they are bossing around, and those who are being bossed around always have the right to speak up when they are being treated badly, whether they have “expertise in running a large institution or not.” If the bulldozer is running over them, they don’t have to be experts in driving a bulldozer to express themselves. They’re experts in what’s happening to them.

  4. Jon Butter (@JonButter2) September 16, 2013 at 7:09 am #

    This sort of contract is very common in IT so I don’t think it’s an overreach.

    That is just a bad argument anyway. Whether it’s common or not doesn’t justify whether it’s overreach or not. ‘Testicle crushing is very common in ______ , therefore…’.

  5. Jon Butter (@JonButter2) September 16, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

    The public, due to its dependence on at-will employment already has, in effect, zero freedom of speech.

    Therefore, what?

    I have some sympathy with some of the things JT Faraday says (e.g. profs should have organized long ago), but what’s the conclusion? Profs don’t deserve ‘special treatment’? Because they didn’t ‘speak out’ for civil freedoms for everyone (um, they didn’t?) they don’t deserve tenure. Or something?

    Freedom of thought, and therefore of speech, is crucial to a professor’s very function, which is why there is such a thing as tenure. The Bill of Rights ought to apply to everyone, but you don’t need freedom of political or intellectual speech in your capacity as a plumber. Are you saying that plumbers should get tenure if profs do?

    I’m confused

  6. C simmons September 16, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    The ownership of work-related communication made using non-university computers or cell phones is a tricky issue because it intersects open records laws. My memory is that privately owned hard drives and cell phones were seized as part of court actions in which people sought records on the University of Washington. The best bet is to make your employer buy you a home computer or cell phone if you are expected to be linked to work when not in the office. The downside of these seizures is that all one’s personal communication is visible to whoever is winnowing for the work-related e-mails or texts. So don’t sext with the same phone with which you answer your chair’s e-mails over the weekend.

    • Crip Dyke September 21, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

      You are missing the distinction between work e-mails (answering e-mail from your dean) and work-related e-mail (“I won’t be home til 7 o’clock since I still have papers to grade”). That 2nd e-mail is work-related, not work. If the 2nd e-mail goes on to say, “so could you throw the satin sheets before I get home, i want as much time in bed with you as I can get”, it wouldn’t be particularly surprising. Adults date. Adults drink. Adults have sex. Adults don’t expect that their administrations will be reading those e-mails “just in case”.

      Admins are blurring this line on purpose. If you don’t understand the distinction between work e-mails and work-related e-mails, you are not in a position to be providing any recommendations to anyone on best responses.

  7. eugenius September 17, 2013 at 2:09 am #

    Great post, CR! Just FYI, though, on artcl 49 sect 7 (“information assets”), the docs you are drawing on are dated (even from the date of your post).

    The latest UO proposal is here: http://uo-ua.uoregon.edu/files/2013/01/UO-Counterproposal_Acceptable-Use-of-University-Information-Assets-2d68cqa.pdf

    The latest UA response is here: http://uo-ua.uoregon.edu/files/2013/01/UA-Counterproposal_Acceptable-Use-of-University-Information-Assets-1ha9pcf.pdf

    All latest proposals are here (reverse-chrono sorted): http://uo-ua.uoregon.edu/proposals/

    Even with these updates, my thought would be that your basic point (re: sect 7) still stands (and, yes, the administration did at some point propose the outrageous items you cite!!). Thankfully, though, the administration has backpedaled some already. The UA seems to now be proposing a ‘notice’ policy as a counter to administrative usurpations of privacy: administrators may access “information” when they have a “demonstrably legitimate need… in order to fulfill their professional responsibilities.” Probably this is still (much!) too vague and UA should take a tighter stand. This is an indication that the UO is aggressively pursuing a bad information policy and that the UA has a sense that things are wrong but no real strategy for effectively countering it.

  8. Glenn September 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    My department received a notice that there is no expectation of privacy in any of our communications. I posted a notice that as a shareholder of a piddling few shares of stock, that as an owner, management has no expectation of privacy from its owners.

    I had the experience of working in an area under electronic audio surveillance. It was unnerving to have a vice-president, even though he supported my position, come into a technical discussion with members of staff including the department head, obviously having listened to the discussion and able to address the issues presented.

  9. Crip Dyke September 21, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    When administrators propose things like this civility thing, rather than declining outright, I’d simply propose that administrators civility be monitored by a faculty committee with the power to discipline administrators for being uncivil. And agree that faculty will “consult with” the administration before determining what qualifies as uncivil, etc.

    After all, if the admin is hurting morale among the university’s teachers, they are hurting the students and what could be worse for the UO than hurting students?

    It’s completely fair and justified – more so! – if one adopts the same logic of the administration in its own proposal. When they consider it unreasonable and object to it, go frickin’ public with the fact that they are obviously arguing in bad faith…or, if necessary, just threaten to do so. This stuff is ridiculous, and labor calling it ridiculous doesn’t get through to management’s head exactly how wrong it is the way that being subject to the same conditions does.

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