Higher Education

Mike Brake | May 29, 2019

OCPA still waiting for OU open records

Mike Brake

UPDATE: May 29, 2019

As of May 29, 2019, at 12:36 p.m., the OU Open Records Office still has not complied with our open records request.

March 19, 2019

Is the University of Oklahoma a campus rife with racism, hostility to other minority groups, and rampant threats, intimidation, and discrimination? Hopefully not, but there’s no way to tell for certain because the university has failed to respond to requests for details about complaints filed with the school’s bias hotline.

OCPA has tried since last summer to learn what kind of calls the hotline has received and the outcome of those reports. That information is especially crucial given two high-profile incidents dating to 2015.

In that year, an apparently drunken fraternity student was recorded on a party bus trip singing a racist song. As a result, the student left school and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity was decertified and booted from campus.

More recently, a viral video of a female student, again apparently intoxicated, donning blackface also ended her OU career and elicited further calls for an examination of the racial climate on campus. It is not yet known if this recent incident was reported to the bias hotline.

OCPA’s initial request for information sought details on complaints filed with the hotline and any dispositions resulting from those calls. An initial response by Jane Irungu, then interim vice president of the Office of University Community, noted that “the bias hotline is still operational, but with new leadership in the Office of University Community, the process is currently being reviewed to ensure that it is being used most effectively.”

Irungu admitted that the hotline received few calls but added that calls are referred to appropriate departments or offices, with potentially actionable complaints being referred to the Title IX office. Title IX refers to federal legislation banning discrimination based on sex.

Asked for additional details, the OU open records office forwarded data last November 6 showing that to that date the hotline had received 158 calls in slightly more than two years, an average of about six per month. The brief summary said 156 of those calls were resolved or closed. Twenty were referred to the Title IX office. Fifteen went to the Equal Opportunity Office. Eighteen were referred to the individual college or department administrators. A handful of others went to human resources, the student conduct office, a “behavior intervention team, or legal counsel.

Eleven were deemed “not actionable” while the largest number, 75, were “processed by University Community.”

The summary said 50 of the complaints dealt with behavior or actions deemed to display bias or prejudice. Seven were equal employment issues, 17 were reports of physical or mental harassment of misconduct, and 22 were claims of sexual misconduct of gender discrimination or harassment. Eighteen complaints were of unwelcome verbal or physical conduct. There were four complaints of “offensive or inappropriate communication” by faculty or staff, one of unspecified staff misconduct, and 39 complaints generally listed as “other.”

Upon receipt of that summary, OCPA responded with an email request for a further open records examination that would give details on each case, with identifying information excised. Under Oklahoma law, these documents are public records and must be disclosed when requested. To date, no such information has been forthcoming.

So, there is no way to know how serious or even how legitimate those complaints were. However, The College Fix website has succeeded in making open records requests to several university bias hotline departments, and the responses suggest that today’s university campuses are far from the sink of hate some would have us believe.

At the University of Oregon, a student complained that a professor had compared the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings to a text under discussion in class that involved a falsified rape claim.

Other bias claims involved a student complaining that a newspaper did not give enough coverage to trans students and those of color, a staff member complaining that a coworker called two other associates by the wrong names, and a complaint that the sign for a gender-inclusive restroom was unclear and not easily seen.

At the University of Wisconsin, a male student said he was “scared and bullied” when a female student using gymnasium equipment cursed at him when he complained that he wanted to use it too.

Where requests like OCPA’s have revealed details of complaints, many cases appear to be matters of bad manners or adolescent stupidity rather than overt or organized acts of hate or bias.

So, what’s the real story at OU? Hopefully, we’ll find out soon; OCPA has made an updated open records request, asking for the case files for all of the reports received via OU’s bias-response hotline from September 9, 2016, to the present. Stay tuned.

Mike Brake

Independent Journalist

Mike Brake is a journalist and writer who recently authored a centennial history of Putnam City Schools. A former reporter at The Oklahoman (his coverage of the moon landing earned a front-page byline on July 21, 1969), he served as chief writer for Gov. Frank Keating and for Lt. Gov. and Congresswoman Mary Fallin. He has also served as an adjunct instructor at OSU-OKC, and currently serves as public information officer for Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan.

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