Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Belcastro Letter to the Editor

A letter to the editor by Dr. Frank Belcastro, a former professor of psychology at UD, has been published in the Telegraph Herald.

Prof. Belcastro suggests that the University subpoenaed Jason Price as a means of putting preasure on Dr. Jeffries to withdraw the lawsuit. Belcastro notes, "If the university thought Jeffries' lawsuit was weak, it would not resort to victimizing an innocent person."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Telegraph Herald Editorial

Today, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald Editorial Board issued an opinion regarding the University's subpoenaing of Jason Price. "It is one thing for the university to stifle public criticism among its employees," they write in reference the Jeffries ordeal, "That will be an interesting court decision. However, it is another matter when the university drags a student's private communications into the fray. When a citizen has information or questions about public entities or private organizations of public interest or concern, he or she should be free to communicate that. Otherwise, the threat of invasive subpoenas would have a chilling effect on public accountability."

Kudos to the TH Editorial Board for taking a stand on this important issue. We certainly agree that such actions on the part of UD serve to undermine everyone's willingness to speak up and speak out on University policies.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Judge Quashes Price Subpoena

Today, the Telegraph Herald reported that Judge Monica Ackley has quashed Jason Price's subpoena. The article goes on to say that the University's attorney plans to file a motion regarding that ruling next week.

We were overjoyed to hear that Price is in the clear--at least for the time being.

One element of the article, however, has caught our interest: Kari Koch, president of the UD student government, was quoted as saying, "We don't feel that it's appropriate for a student government association to take a stand one way or another in regard to the case." Koch supports the SGA position by stating, "We have an incoming class of 470 students this year, and they are 470 students who don't know there is a lawsuit (pending) right now and don't know who Professor Jeffries is."

We vehemently disagree with the SGA's position on this matter. Many of the students who are or have been involved with this blog entered UD only years after the infamous "Transformation." During our time at UD we became increasingly aware of the fact that the administration's actions during those difficult years had a profound and ongoing effect on the campus. Witness, for example, the high turn-over rate of faculty members, the heavy reliance on contingent employees, the sudden "retirement" of such professors as Robert Miller, and, of course, the Jeffries ordeal. It might be objected that these cases or trends are all unrelated, but we are not convinced. Professor Miller, for example, was a staunch critic of the administration during certain stages of the Transformation; when the appropriate time came (only a few years ago), he was forced out of the University. In that case, there was a clear impact on students such as ourselves who came to UD well after the Transformation had become "old news".

The fact of the matter is that UD administrators seem to be creating a very odd work environment for faculty. And that surely has a profound impact on current and future students. These students should feel not only entitled, but obligated to take a stance on issues of such importance.

At most institutions of higher learning, the student government fulfills the role of advocate and voice of the students, and that typically entails government representatives passing opinions on university policies and becoming involved in university business. For example, the Indiana University Student Association's mission reads: "IUSA is a congregation of Indiana University students that work to protect student rights, enrich student life, and improve Indiana University. Students join together to voice common concerns, hopes, grievances, and most importantly, to take action to realize an even stronger University" (emphasis added).

In regards to UD, the important question isn't whether or not the students (new or returning) do, in fact, know or care about the Jeffries affair. The real question is, "ought they know?" We, of course, think the answer is a clear and resounding, "Yes." And to that end, the student government can serve an important role.

NOTE: We wanted to clarify one point that may be lurking in the back of our reader's minds: our criticisms of the University's administrators are not directed at the faculty at large. We have nothing but respect for many of the faculty members, and we think that one of the University's redeeming qualities is the fact that it has some very dedicated professors who go out of their way to meet student's needs.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Register Article Presses Important Issues

On September 1, the Des Moines Register published an article which addressed former UD student Jason Price's subpoena and various other issues surrounding the Jeffries controversy.

Today's article is somewhat unique among those previously published to the extent that it explores some possible consequences of the University's actions. In particular, the article reports that Brian Cooper, the executive editor of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, has expressed concern that the University's actions against Price and Jeffries, "might have a chilling effect on other people who might want to come forward and express concerns about how our public institutions or governmental bodies conduct their business."

Randy Brubaker, an editor at the Register is reported to have added, "“Certainly this has the potential to have a chilling effect, but not only for the media. It seems to me that a college or university, private as well as public, ought to be society’s most open marketplace of ideas - a place where students and faculty can ask questions and debate issues. This action would raise the question of whether freedom of speech is valued at the University of Dubuque.”

The article further reports that Peter Smith, one of the many vice presidents at UD, "doesn’t think the subpoena will have much effect on the willingness of students and faculty to speak out on issues since it’s directed at just one individual."

Mr. Smith's thoughts on this matter seem to illustrate just how out of touch UD administrators are with the issues at hand. In an almost laughable quote, Smith attempts to calm worries that the University is creating a hostile work environment by explaining, "People criticize the university in bars, gas stations, in private homes and public places and restaurants across the city, and there’s no prohibition against that.” Smith's obliviousness to the real concerns and fundamental issues at stake (viz., those raised by Cooper and Brubaker) is frustrating to say the least.

This frustration is compounded when one considers how utterly ironic it is that the upcoming Wendt Center keynote speaker will be Lynn Brewer, the famed Enron whistleblower. Brewer, who will speak on October 25, will presumably talk of her experiences as an executive who blew the lid on the injustices and illegal activities that occurred in that infamous corporation. We can all imagine Brewer's superiors saying, "You know Lynn, it's okay to criticize Enron when you're at the gas station or a restaurant, but let's not air our grievances in the media."

Given the University's own policies regarding such matters, one has to wonder why such a guest speaker was even invited. What could Brewer possibly say that doesn't expressly contradict the University's policies on some level?

As a final note, we strongly encourage everyone to call UD and register to attend Brewer's keynote address. With any luck Brewer may be available to field questions. And that has the potential to be very interesting.

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