On Wednesday February 16th, 2011, University President Richard Lariviere did an interview with Professor Laufer’s J483: Journalistic Interview class. The Commentator‘s very own Melissa Haskin was in attendance and, like a good reporter, asked him why he has refused to do an interview with the Oregon Commentator.
Melissa Haskin: How come you turned down a face to face interview with the Oregon Commentator?
Richard Lariviere: I don’t see that that’s going to be of any use to the university in any way.
MH: How so?
RL: Well, I make my decisions about how to spend my time on the basis, almost all my time, on the basis of whether or not it’s going to be contributing in some manner to the fundamental mission of the university and that can take a whole range of activities with a whole range of groups, but I have to be able to take the group seriously.
MH: And why do you not take the group seriously?
Mr. Eddy (another student): Why not the Commentator, why this particular publication?
RL: Because when they asked me, I went and looked at their previous issue.
Mr. Eddy: And?
RL: And it was sophomoric and an embarrassment.
MH: How was it an embarrassment when the majority of the articles where academic? For instance, there was a several page article on why we need net neutrality. So, how is that sophomoric? Would you like to see it?
RL: You asked me why I didn’t do it, that’s why I didn’t do it.
The audio of the full interview can be downloaded here. The part above occurs around 27:20. (The conversation continues to some ridiculousness, as I will mention in a moment.)
The best part about Lariviere’s explanation of his interview refusal is that there was no warrant. He gave no specific reasons as to why the Commentator is not worth his time. The president of the University of Oregon told a group of students involved in an extracurricular activity that their time was not only worthless, but an embarrassment, and seemingly didn’t think it was important to explain why, or how, or to empower these students in any way.
One problem here is how the Unviersity president is treating student programs. Could you imagine if he were to call any other student group an embarrassment? The LGBTQA? The Women’s Center? I love Jennifer Busby, but she walks around in a giant vagina costume and sings a medley of pop songs on behalf of the ASUO Women’s Center. As compared to the Commentator, is that not sophomoric? (Editor’s note: For the record, in my opinion, neither the vagina costume nor the Commentator is an embarrassment. Just illustrating a point.) If Lariviere had made this sort of comment about almost any other student group, the whole campus would be up in arms.
There are ~24,000 students at the University of Oregon, and only around 1 percent of them are involved with student programs. What business does the University president have demonizing those who care about their collegiate experience enough to try at something, anything?
Additionally, Lariviere is refusing to communicate with a student publication, a very clear way to communicate with the greater student population. (Yes, believe it or not, people actually read the Oregon Commentator.) Later in the interview, when asked how he intended to communicate with students, Lariviere mentioned how he was impressed with the Oregon Daily Emerald, how Higher Education Reporter Stefan Verbano is doing a great job, and how he would be happy to speak with him.
When I talked to Stefan later that evening, he mentioned the fact that he had been trying to interview President Lariviere in person for about a month regarding the Riverfront Research Project, and had that day received this email from UO Media Relations Director Julie Brown:
I checked with the president about talking with you for the Riverfront Research Park story. He’s unavailable and recommended that Rich Linton can provide the administration’s point of view on the project. Rich is traveling quite a bit and would prefer if you contact him by email. You can reach him directly at email@example.com.
Let me know if you don’t hear back from him promptly and I will follow up on your behalf.
Just to point out, this is going from an in-person interview with the president of the university to an email Q & A with the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies — a significant step down. Stefan came back to Ms. Brown to clarify that he still wished to speak with Lariviere in person, and asked if there was another time he would have time to talk to the Emerald (he also scheduled an interview to talk to VP for Finance and Administration Frances Dyke, just to explain the top part of the email). Brown’s response [emphasis mine]:
I have you scheduled to interview Frances Dyke next Friday, Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. She has up to 30 minutes available in her office.
For the Riverfront Research Park story, the president isn’t available and doesn’t have additional information to provide. Because the RRP is within Rich Linton’s research portfolio, he is the most appropriate source for you from administration.
First of all, the administration should not be directing traffic for journalists. But the problem, here, is that if the president doesn’t talk to us, he is not accountable to us. President Lariviere’s constant reluctance to be accountable to the body that he was made representative of is nauseating and makes us consider what it is that he is hiding.
This is basically what I wrote to him in my interview request later that day, which I also sent to Senior Assistant to the President Dave Hubin and Vice President of Student Affairs Robin Holmes:
From: Lyzi Diamond
To: Richard Lariviere
CC: Dave Hubin , Robin Holmes
Date: Wed, Feb 16, 2011 at 5:10 PM
Subject: Oregon Commentator Interview Request
Dear President Lariviere,
I have just spoken with one of my staff writers, Melissa Haskin, about an interview you did with her journalism class this afternoon. She told me that when she asked about you declining an interview with the Oregon Commentator, you called our magazine a “sophomoric publication” that wasn’t worth your time.
As I wrote in my last letter to you, it is my opinion (and, I believe, your opinion) that every student in the University community benefits from being involved in extracurricular activities. I feel it was unprofessional of you to speak about a group of students who are involved in an extracurricular activity in such a flippant manner, especially when that activity has been continuously recognized and funded by the ASUO throughout its decades-long existence.
As I mentioned before, the Oregon Commentator exists to provide an alternative viewpoint to campus politics and discussion, and has done so for nigh on 28 years. Our blog has won multiple awards, and being involved in the magazine has provided amazing opportunities both for current students and OC alumni. To speak of an activity that is so important to so many students in such a negative manner is shocking, especially coming from a university president.
I would like to sit down with you and talk about the state of student affairs in the University of Oregon community. I am available at any time that is convenient for your schedule. We believe an interview with you is definitely worth our time, and that of our readers — and that talking with students should be worth your time, too.
Editor-in-Chief, Oregon Commentator
As of 3:00pm on Friday, February 18th, I have heard no response from Hubin, Holmes or Lariviere. As I said in my email, his conduct was incredibly unprofessional, and to speak of a student group in such a manner is abhorrent. It’s outrageous. It should outrage you. Any university administrator that does not even put up the veil of trying to communicate with students is probably not a student administrator you can trust.
Editor’s note: Melissa Haskin will be posting a longer piece on the full range of answers Lariviere gave during his interview in a few days.