The way reporter Bennett Hall of the Corvallis Gazette-Times told the story in Sunday’s paper, the administration of Oregon State University is proving difficult when it comes to letting go of public information. That’s not exactly in the spirit of Oregon’s claim on government transparency.
The university is giving a hard time to Kate Willson, the 33-year-old adviser of the Barometer and other student publications. Preparing to teach a course on computer-based reporting and wanting her students to have something real to work with, she asked the university for data related to two subjects, campus crime and the university payroll.
A public university committed to Oregon’s principles on public access to records would have tried to meet the adviser’s request. “Anything else you’d like, just ask,” it might have added, in the spirit of being forthcoming and eager to help a young instructor do her job.
Instead, the university’s lawyer told Willson that as an employee she had no right to ask for the records, which is bizarre. She made an even more questionable point: She claimed that Willson was not to disclose the lawyer’s conversation with her on the grounds it was covered by the lawyer-client privilege. That privilege protects clients from lawyers disclosing what clients say in confidence, but not the other way around.
At last report, Willson had not received the records. She’s on an annual contract and expects OSU will not renew it. If that’s what OSU ends up doing, in effect firing her, everyone will know that for employees it does not pay to be too aggressive in pursuit of campus information at Oregon State. (hh)