Bill Harbaugh talks about why the university hasn’t fired him, and why he stays

Bill Harbaugh might be the most divisive figure at University of Oregon. He’s been hailed as the “open-records king of Eugene” and even accused of harassment. His blog, UOMatters, is a mixture of hard numbers and even harder opinions about the way UO is run and the people who run it.

Harbaugh runs this blog, and his economics courses from his office on the fifth floor of Prince Lucien Campbell overlooking the quad. It’s in this office that the Emerald got a chance to chat with Harbaugh about what keeps him blogging despite controversy.

Do you do most of your work here, in PLC?

I mostly work from home, because I’m afraid an earthquake’s going to come and kill everyone in PLC. I don’t mind if it’s during the day, but I’ll be damned if I want to be killed at 2 a.m. working late in the office.

What keeps you up until 2 a.m. pouring over old or horribly tedious documents? What causes you to pay out of your own pocket for things like public records? Why do you care so much?

It’s sort of the same drive that makes you research anything, you know? The more difficult the question is, the more energy you’re willing to put into finding the answer. If it’s an easy question, nobody really cares, but if it takes some digging, a little bit of detective work, that makes you think somebody’s hiding something. It just makes it more fun to put the pieces together.

What are they hiding?

A recent case would be the International Track and Field Championships. It’s a huge endeavor, it’s kind of like a mini-Olympics–thousands of people, thousands of athletes, thousands of officials. There’s a bidding process where cities that are interested in hosting this make bids. The University of Oregon, the UO Foundation, and the State of Oregon all combined to make a bid proposal. They kept everything secret: For example, Governor Kitzhaber and Kate Brown are on video promising to do everything they can to get $40 million in Oregon tax money to help subsidize this thing. The University of Oregon gets about $50 million a year in state tax money–this is a huge amount of money, for which there are many other potentially good things to spend it on. There’s no documentation, no public discussion, no public meetings about any of this–it was all done behind closed doors.

How do you decide what to request and what to leave alone?

A lot of times people give me tips. They say, “Hey, Bill, I can’t ask for this because I don’t have tenure, or I’m a staff member, or an officer of administration, but you really ought to ask them for this kind of document,” and I do. Sometimes that’s not interesting, sometimes that’s extremely interesting. I get a lot of tips from people.

You have tenure. So you’re fairly safe?

There are a few things the university could still fire me for. For example, the university archives stuff. But that didn’t work out too well for them.

Why do you stay here at UO when you fundamentally disagree with the people who run the school? Do you think you’d be happier at a university where nothing shady, in your opinion, was going on?

I think shady things go on at every university. That’s one answer. The other answer is I really love my colleagues in my department and I like the students, I like the job, I like Eugene. And I’m kind of a stubborn guy. I don’t think they’re going to chase me out of here. I think I’m going to change the way they do things.

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Scott Greenstone

Scott Greenstone

Rehabilitated ex-homeschooler, former Emerald Senior News Editor, editor-in-chief of The Broadside at Central Oregon Community College, and freelance blogger for Barnes and Noble.

Now I write campus politics. Easy conversation starters include Adventure Time, Terry Pratchett novels and Arcade Fire.