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And I Thought University Administrators Were Supposed To Be PR Professionals

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.

The conversation:

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:

Hi Stefan,

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 rlinton@uoregon.edu.

Let me know if you don’t hear back from him promptly and I will follow up on your behalf.

Thanks,
Julie

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]:

Hi Stefan,

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.

Thanks,

Julie

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.

Sincerely,

Lyzi Diamond
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.

  1. Heh. says:

    Carina’s feeble insults might be more stinging had she managed to write it as a grammatically correct sentence. Better luck next time, buttercup.

  2. Carina says:

    You guys are such a joke, this is funny.

  3. Gsim says:

    I am super excited for Melissa’s full write up. This is good skuzz.

  4. atthecoast says:

    Thank you monalisasmiles. Well said. I actually made that very same statement last Friday to Commentator staff right there at well-known beverage establishment near U of O.

    It reminds me that I did refer to this Pres as not being and/or acting very “presidential” by his refusal(s) to do an interview with the OC in a previous blog post.

    Being in the public bulls-eye can really come back to bite is what I take away from all this. I look forward to the full disclosure of the interview with the journalism class. I wonder if there are other such gems, i.e. lack of PR savvy, that may be waiting for us. I am ashamed for the office of the President of the University of Oregon that such statements were actually made in public and in front of students no less. From my seasoned perspective, for this, there is no excuse and no forgiveness.

    How does such a president justify such condescending, disparaging, and priggish (smiley face) remarks? This is the same president who said: “If you come away from your experience at the University of Oregon with a firm understanding of who you are, a firm understanding of the history of your culture, and an understanding of the context in which you are living—social, economic, international—our education has been a great success.”

    I think Pres L needs to get a “firm understanding” of what the OC is, what it stands for, the history of its culture and the context in which it was born and is now present on the U of O campus before he engages in any more unchecked verbal assaults. He might take the time to educate himself by, at the very least, consulting Wikipedia for a brief history of the OC (which includes mentions of past awards) so that he knows of whom he speaks, before putting his proverbial foot in his proverbial mouth again. Hint hint.

    People from Iowa should know better.

  5. monalisasmiles says:

    The only one who is “sophomoric” and “an embarrassment” is President Richard Lariviere.

  6. Truth Time says:

    CURTIS HALEY, How dare you try and talk about journalism and public relations!!!!

    One of the biggest complaints about Emma Kallaway was that her relationship with the press was completely in-effective and she never let them know what she was doing. You were her Communications Director. You wrote a total of 3!! press releases the whole year. You flew around going to DECA meetings, and you took all sorts of facebook photos, and wrote all sorts of facebook updates such as, “Wow rocks to be me!” and “I have the best life ever!”. You are THE most narcassistic, self-absorbed person ever.

    Let’s Recap:

    1. You tried to run as a write in for Willamette Water District Director and had Kai Davis write a letter to the editor in the eugene weekly:

    http://www.eugeneweekly.com/2010/10/28/letters.html

    You ran against no one, and lost, meaning we all won.

    2. You have run potentially viable ASUO Exec campaigns INTO THE GROUND! three years in a row now.

    3. You write a novel on the OC blog which you consider a joke, for the sole reason on hearing yourself think as you write, which is why you have 20,000,000 facebook status updates.

    4. You cussed out someone who was walking to the memorial for the kids who got in a car crash, COULD YOU BE A BIGGER D-BAG???:

    http://www.facebook.com/curtishaley/posts/173718036005566

    5. You will not answer up to any of these claims because you are a coward.

    AND THAT IS A MUTHER*&%#ING FACT!!! (SEE ABOVE)

  7. nike urbanized duk says:

    Stefan just does not get it ! To get a interview there is a minimal donation required to the UO Foundation. No donation….no interview. It is called sustainability and it is what it means to be a Duck. The UO prez has his pet Greg Bolt and so the sky is the limit. Open the floodgates and sign the entire campus over to PHIT LLC. The end is coming in 2012 anyway.

  8. Cameron says:

    I <3 the OC (that's big balls, not heart)
    His interview is overdue. I'll write letters until he interviews here. Lots of them.

  9. Rousseau says:

    Here, here! Rock on OC.

  10. Andrew says:

    Getting Richard LaRiviere to do an interview with OC would be like getting Glenn Beck to do an interview with John Stewart on The Daily Show. Their fundamental ideologies are so at odds with one another, getting them in a room together would be like seeing Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston being chummy at a coffee shop on Sunset. I am a true believer in the positive force for good that journalism contributes to the world, especially campus journalism that gives ordinary students a chance to have their voices heard on a campus that is big and impersonal, but I could also understand LaRiviere’s reluctancy to do an interview with The Commentator, which has gained a (badass) reputation of tearing apart the opposition, good old-fashioned journalist-style (I mean this in the most reverent way). However, if its the case that he is reluctant to speak to ANY student publication, then he is not fulfilling his mission of transparency he promised us when he became president of the school (unfortunately, we’re all too familiar with this kind of politicking). I believe that Richard is committing PR suicide by refusing to do an interview with the OC and this dismissive attitude may have long-term repercussions on his administration and on academics as a whole (I think the athletics department is going to be just fine, though). This sends the wrong message to the student body, and at a time in our country of across-the-board budget cutting and overall shit-your-pants panic regarding student loans and employment stability, the last thing we need is a president who has such a lack of esteem for a legitimate campus publication that contributes so much to its staff and the community it represents. If the OC is actually “sophomoric and an embarrassment” as LaRiviere pointedly puts it, at least the OC possesses the insight to own it, employs both humor and serious journalism judiciously and when appropriate, and doesn’t pretend to be something that it’s not. That’s what makes the OC the most entertaining student publications on campus.

  11. JMB says:

    OSPIRG isn’t/wasn’t a student group Curtis, it’s a corporation that doesn’t pay most of its “employees”, and uses “corporations are evil!” rhetoric to convince those employees that they aren’t actually working for one.

  12. Miles Rost says:

    President Lovey-dovey is about to get a nice royal dose of STFU from the Alumni. We don’t contribute, he doesn’t succeed, he gets his royal butt booted out from office.

    The list has already gone out, the people have been contacted. No more donations from Lorry Lokey, no more donations from others.

  13. Heh. says:

    As if we needed any more proof that, as far as the University administration is concerned, the student body is little more than a cash cow that exists to provide jobs to classified staff. You come here, get a piece of paper that in no way guarantees you a job (or even indicates that you’ve learned a damned thing), and walk out the door with a heap of debt.

    Meanwhile, people like the esteemed President will be taking in a nice salary for finding new and innovative ways of convincing students and their parents part with loaned money.

    The reason Lariviere seems like he doesn’t care about students is that Lariviere doesn’t care about students. You’ll be gone in four years, replaced by another crop of naive freshmen, and their tuition dollars are as good as yours. The good President and the mob of unionized apparatchiks who live off the student body, meanwhile, will be here for a great deal longer.

    Lariviere just got cocky and let the mask slip a little.

    Your “education” is a scam.

  14. GoDucksIronCurtain says:

    You did a great job Lyzi, keep it up my love.

  15. Lyzi Diamond says:

    An addendum: I have just confirmed an Oregon Commentator interview with Oregon Republican Party Chairman Allen Alley.

    The chairman of the Oregon Republican Party will interview with the OC, but the president of the university that has a hand in funding our publication will not.

  16. Jack says:

    Curtis right on point again, the point of an ignoramus. Send me your address so I can mail you some fish oils so you could elevate your thinking to let’s say, a moron. You are such a weak person I feel sorry for you.

    Here is my best argument why Dick is making the wrong decision. Showing a comedic side, or even making yourself vulnerable is endearing. Dick is making a big mistake. Even though Curtis and Dick think the commentator is a joke, does he think it’s more respectable than playboy? Here is a list of only a few of the big, respectable people who have interviewed with playboy:
    John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Paul & Linda McCartney, Truman Capote, Jimmy Carter, Ian Fleming, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Kurt Vonnegut, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Frank Sinatra, Albert Schweitzer, Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood

  17. CJ says:

    What, the Commentator’s not a regular student program because it’s full of meany-heads? Aww, somebody call a whaaambulance!

    Curtis said: “I struggle to think of any student program that has a pronounced history of attacking another student program on its merits, let alone through some of the vitriol that’s been spilled on the pages of the OC in its history through the “SPEW” section and the like.”

    Apparently you missed all the times the MCC called us (and everyone else) racist. You also missed the times that the MCC, Women’s Center, et al. lobbied viciously to defund the Commentator because of its content. (They briefly succeeded once, and FIRE had to write a nasty letter to the University to get the OC’s funding restored.)

    You also missed all the times people (most likely connected to the above groups) dumped issues, defaced the OC’s distro boxes and vandalized its office.

    But even accepting your statement, I don’t understand why the Commentator’s ongoing fatwa against OSPIRG makes it somehow unacceptable to categorize it as a student program and extra-curricular activity (both of which it obviously is). Actually, you never explain this at all.

    (On an aside, if you actually did swap “OSPIRG” for “Commentator” in your example, it would actually be correct, since OSPIRG was a contract, not a PFC group, making it in fact necessary to treat it different than a student group. Lord, it makes me happy to write about OSPIRG in the past tense.)

    Since you’re not going to respond, I guess I get the last word: “moist.”

  18. Ohhhh and we haven’t even got to the fun part yet- my class’s reaction to my questions were the best part (still working on obtaining the audio for that)!

  19. CJ, unfortunately I am allergic to barley and thus beer which might create an ironic situation, bit I will take a cocktail or gluten free beer any day of the week 🙂

  20. Curtis says:

    Lyzi, I’ve been thinking about the Commentator’s battle to get Lariviere to agree to an interview for awhile, and I wanted to post some thoughts on it. I likely won’t debate them much more than that, at least in the comments section (that’s always a bit of an away game for people with differing opinions, as we both know), but I’d be happy to get together in person and talk about them more if you’re ever interested in continuing the debate.

    First of all, you have done a terrific job heading the Commentator this year, and the quality of news content being produced this year has been a really welcome addition to the UO community. The Commentator has always played some news-gathering role on campus, but you’ve done an excellent job of really guiding the improvement of the quality of the OC’s reporting this year, and in many instances have taken a step that I consider admirable, which is often putting a very clear separation between news stories and the entertainment/commentary content that the OC has always been famous for. Since I’ve been on campus, the OC has often been a great secondary news source – an outlet from which you could learn something valuable about campus so long as you either cut through the bias or flipped through the pages of alcoholism promotion. This year more than in any year previous, I think you’ve done a great job of helping to turn the OC into a primary news source whose reporting stands on its own and often covers events and issues that either aren’t covered well or aren’t covered at all by the “paper of record,” the ODE. I’ve talked with a lot of people in the ASUO who couldn’t disagree more with the political viewpoint
    of the OC who nonetheless have been really impressed with the OC’s content this year, and I think you have deserved that reputation. So first of all, congrats.

    I also think that the OC has done a great job of chronicling Lariviere’s continuing refusal to be transparent or upfront with students, and of the instances where he’s been dismissive to the point of nearly seeming disgusted or apathetic about student opinion. I think it’s really awful, and reflects negatively on the University as well as the relationship between students and administration. Lariviere’s refusal to talk to the OC is not a concern just because of his refusal to talk to one news outlet, but because he has done a poor job of communicating clearly and effectively with students and faculty overall over the last year.

    With all of those things being said:

    The crux of your argument seems to be that the Oregon Commentator is just another garden variety “student program” or “extracurricular activity”, or maybe more specifically, a new outlet. And we both know that nothing could be farther from the truth. The Commentator is different than any other student program (or news outlet) for several reasons that would merit being treated differently than other student programs (ironically, if you were to substitute “The Commentator” for “OSPIRG” in that sentence, you would produce a sentence that wouldn’t seem out of place in an issue of the OC).

    For example, since I’ve been on campus, the Commentator has been almost singlemindedly focused on attacking and defunding another student group – one that is supported and staffed by real, live UO students who care deeply about it as much as you care about your own student program. As part of that, the OC has spilled plenty of ink not just criticizing OSPIRG on its merits, but also mocking or even personally attacking many of OSPIRG’s leaders and supporters directly and indirectly for a long time. I struggle to think of any student program that has a pronounced history of attacking another student program on its merits, let alone through some of the vitriol that’s been spilled on the pages of the OC in its history through the “SPEW” section and the like.

    In addition, calling some of the featured content in the Commentator that has appeared through its recent history “sophomoric” would likely be a pretty accurate descriptor. Since I’ve been on campus, the Commentator has published jokes about date rape, encouraged drug and alcohol use implicitly and explicitly, published a sex column from a North Korean “refugee”, constantly published a picture of a guy violently puking, and a long list of other things that definitely could be described as sophomoric. And hey, I’m imagining that’s pretty much the intention of the OC – to push the limits of good taste and get some laughs along the way. It’s not the worst business model, and there are analogues for it in the real world. But with the choice to publish sophomoric material also comes the cost of a loss of credibility as a viable or desirable news source for some. When I’ve managed student government campaigns in the past, we have always been wary about what the Commentator would do with the words or images they received from our candidates – would they twist them around? Would they attack them personally? Those fears were almost always unfounded, as the OC has traditionally done a good job of letting interviews stand on their own (which you also promised to do with Lariviere’s interview), but they were concerns that are not isolated to just those involved in student government.

    Is someone running around singing pop songs in a giant vagina costume “sophomoric” or “embarrassing”? I think it’s fair to say some people would believe so. But the Women’s Center and LGBTQA and almost every other student program have built up a reputation for doing great work on and for campus. They provide services and environments that are often inarguably positive and that have a clear value on campus for all student and staff. Sometimes a group may do something wacky, zany, confrontational, or pushing the limits of good taste, but almost always it’s done against the backdrop of the larger mission and purpose of that organization and the goodwill they build by providing vital services to a community. In short, someone can thinking a singing vagina costume is sophomoric and ridiculous (not that I do) and still think the Women’s Center overall is a valuable and important program that deserves our respect.

    The thing is, the Commentator isn’t like any other student program BECAUSE of the balance between of the historical relationship between its sophomoric content and its legitimate news-gathering function. Since I’ve been on campus, the OC’s business model has been to shock and offend people and to push the limits of good taste both to entertain, to push papers, and in the interest of fully exercising the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press. Within that business model, it’s also provided some really great news and commentary. And by all accounts, it’s been successful doing so – the Commentator is one of the most visible and important programs on campus because of this.

    This year, the balance has shifted a little more in favor of news-gathering, but the sophomoric content is still front and center in almost any given issue of the Commentator. And given that fact, I don’t think it’s completely out of line for someone that’s trying to craft an aura of professionalism or dignity to refuse to sit for an interview with the OC. Because as I’ve written above, the Commentator IS NOT just another student program and IS NOT just another news outlet. The OC has gained a reputation that’s been successful, but that can also be a double-edged sword when people justifiable avoid treating it like another news outlet.

    The Commentator has gleefully shocked a lot of people, attacked a lot of people, and made a lot of people angry all while knowing that it’s protected both by the laws governing viewpoint neutrality as a student program, and by the laws governing free speech as a news outlet. The OC’s taken full liberties with those protections, and has suffered very few consequences as a result. But I don’t think it should be surprising that one of those consequences is that people like Richard Lariviere don’t treat the OC like just another “news outlet” or “student program”. It’s not. It’s never been. And for the most part, that’s worked out to the OC’s advantage, and often to campus’s advantage. But it’s also a sword that can cut both ways, and in this instance, claiming that Lariviere is erring by not agreeing to an interview with the OC like he might with any other student program just rings false.

    Like I said, I’m not going to respond to any comments on here – I’ve said my piece, and am sure I’ll get any number of people calling me an idiot, or worse. But if you’re ever interested in continuing the debate in person, let me know.

  21. CJ says:

    Someone buy Melissa a beer for being a champ.

  22. Paul C. says:

    As an academic and a scholar, one would think that President Lariviere would take it upon himself to learn something he doesn’t know about – especially if it is directly related to his campus and his students.

    The President has been confronted with questions about the riverfront research park many times in the past, and he has claimed ignorance of the topic.

    tinyurl.com/playdumb

    The fact that he still won’t answer anyone’s questions about the riverfront issue, and continues to deflect questions towards his Vice President (Linton, who is soon to be replaced) should raise some serious red flags.

    Is this project legal? How does it benefit the students or the core mission of the university? Why is Linton leaving anyway?

    Despite being an opinion publication, the OC is a pretty good source of campus news for those that care. The President should be wary of further alienating the students, including the OC.

  23. Kenny Ocker says:

    Fight on, you crazy Diamond.

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