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Kansas

Should we cheer or boo when outspoken professors at state universities become the target of public records demands filed by antagonists seeking their emails and correspondence? As we had occasion to note during the Douglas Laycock controversy in May and June, there’s plenty of inconsistency on this question on both left and right. Some who cheer FOIA requests when aimed at scholars supportive of the environmental and labor movements, for example, later deplore them as harassment when the tables are turned, and vice versa.

If there’s any group you might expect to take a consistent position on these questions, it’s the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), its members being prospective targets of such requests and thus at the very center of the issue. So what’s their opinion?

In 2011, when politically liberal University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon was the target of a FOIA request by state Republicans, AAUP sent a strongly worded letter on its letterhead denouncing the move as a threat to academic freedom. The group likewise came to the defense of environmentalists targeted by conservatives.

This spring, an AAUP document on “Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications” (see pp. 12-14) was moderately critical of FOIA requests targeting University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus and his journal editor over a much-criticized study providing social conservatives with ammunition against changes in family law favorable toward gays. Since no one suspects the AAUP’s leadership of sympathy with the content of Regnerus’s work, this suggested that the skepticism toward FOIA might be founded on principle.

Not long afterward, however, when prominent (and politically unclassifiable) University of Virginia law professor Doug Laycock came under FOIA attack from gay rights activists who disapproved of his courtroom work on religious liberties, the AAUP was quoted in the press talking in a more vague and reticent way of “balance” and saying it weighs in on particular controversies rather than taking general stands.

Now turn to the University of Kansas, where Art Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at Kansas University’s business school is under FOIA attack, accused of being too close to the free-market economics favored by donors from the Koch family of Wichita (who have also given much support over the years to the Cato Institute, which publishes this site). So what do you know? The state AAUP chapter is actually leading the charge against Hall, its members have raised funds to support the public records demand, and its state president vocally insists that there’s no danger whatsoever to academic freedom in allowing, as a group once put it, “fleeting, often casual e-mail exchanges among scholars to be opened to inspection by groups bent on political attack.”

You might start to wonder whether the AAUP is going to hold to any consistent position at all beyond the convenience of the moment. (& George Leef, Phi Beta Cons; reprinted at Minding the Campus) Update: Judge halts process to review proposed email release [Will Creeley, FIRE]

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Kansas: “A federal jury Tuesday awarded a former McPherson police officer who was found sleeping on duty almost $1 million in wages and damages. Matthew B. Michaels alleged the city violated his civil rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act and the Kansas Wage Payment Act. He was fired from the McPherson Police Department in July 2012. Michaels said he was discriminated against because of a sleep apnea disability.” [McPherson Sentinel]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on June 6, 2014

  • “Tenured Wisconsin Prof Sues Former Student Over Online Comments on Her Teaching” [Caron/TaxProf]
  • Recent Paul Alan Levy profile: “The web bully’s worst enemy” [Washingtonian] HHS signals it won’t pursue case against blogger [Levy, earlier] Arizona Yelp case angle [Scott Greenfield]
  • Get your ideas out of town: threats against hotel “have escalated to include death threats, physical violence against our staff and other guests” [Deadline Detroit; "men's rights movement" conference]
  • UK police investigate Baptist church after “burn in Hell” sign reported as “hate incident” [Secular Right]
  • Please don’t give him ideas: “Should it be against the law to criticize Harry Reid?” [Trevor Burrus, Boston Herald]
  • “MAP: The places where blasphemy could get you punished” [Washington Post]
  • Only three states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Kansas — have laws inviting vengeful secret John Doe probes [Ilya Shapiro, earlier]

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ReportSpeechPoster The Kansas Board of Regents has adopted a broad new policy barring employees, including faculty, from “improper use of social media,” which include content that “impairs … harmony among co-workers” or is “contrary to the best interests of the university,” with some narrow exceptions such as “academic instruction within the instructor’s area of expertise (emphasis added)” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, among other groups, have argued that the new policy “authorizes punishment for constitutionally protected speech, and … leaves professors unsure of what speech a university might sanction them for,” the result being a chilling effect on both free speech and academic freedom [FIRE, NPR]. The policy was adopted at the behest of critics of one professor’s controversial anti-gun tweet, and Charles C.W. Cooke at NRO says conservative regents should have been among the first to realize that professor-muzzling is not the way to respond.

KSU’s Dan Warner did a series of posters (Creative Commons permissions) skewering the new policy, including the one above; more on that here.

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May 5 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 5, 2014

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Liability roundup

by Walter Olson on April 25, 2014

  • By convention the business/defense side isn’t fond of jury trial while plaintiff’s side sings its praises, but Louisiana fight might turn that image on its head [Hayride, sequel at TortsProf (measure fails)]
  • Generous tort law, modern industrial economy, doing away with principle of limited liability: pick (at most) two of three [Megan McArdle]
  • Fallacies about Stella Liebeck McDonald’s hot coffee case go on and on, which means correctives need to keep coming too [Jim Dedman, DRI]
  • Interaction of products liability with workplace injury often provides multiple bites at compensation apple, overdue for reform [Michael Krauss]
  • Ford Motor is among most recent seeking to pull back the curtain on asbestos bankruptcy shenanigans [Daniel Fisher; related, Washington Examiner] “Page after page he sits on the straw man’s chest, punching him in the face” [David Oliver on expert affidavit in asbestos case]
  • Kansas moves to raise med-mal caps as directed by state supreme court, rebuffs business requests for collateral source rule reform [Kansas Medical Society]
  • Let’s hope so: “More stringent pleading for class actions?” [Matthew J.B. Lawrence via Andrew Trask, Class Strategist]

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Environmental roundup

by Walter Olson on March 26, 2014

  • Oklahoma attorney general goes to court claiming private litigant manipulation of endangered/threatened species petition process [Lowell Rothschild & Kevin Ewing; NPR "State Impact"; Oklahoman, auto-plays ad video; press release, Oklahoma AG E. Scott Pruitt; ESA Watch site from oil riggers; more on the topic]
  • New Yorker mag backs tale of frogs/atrazine researcher who claims conspiracy. Someone’s gonna wind up embarrassed [Jon Entine]
  • Does gas company lease of subsurface rights entitle it to seek injunction excluding protesters from ground level? [Paul Alan Levy]
  • California: “Abusive Coastal Agency Demands Even More Power” [Steven Greenhut]
  • Mr. Harris, you embarrass: “recreational burning of wood is unethical and should be illegal” [Sam Harris from 2012]
  • Harrisburg Patriot-News series on flood insurance [TortsProf, R Street Institute on recent bill]
  • Kansas, Louisiana, and Indiana named top states on property rights freedoms [Mercatus]

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Andrew Ujifusa at Education Week (“Kansas Ruling Fuels Debate on Adequacy of Funding”) quotes me:

But the union’s solution of significantly higher funding for schools isn’t the obvious or correct one to Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Cato Institute. In a March 10 blog post on the website of the libertarian think tank, Mr. Olson said that Kansas’ finance fight is just one piece of a larger strategy that seeks to “seize control of school funding” through the courts.

In the process, he argued in a subsequent interview, that movement is subverting representative democracy by ignoring what state legislators decide on K-12 funding.

“I see it as a way in which the educational establishment uses litigation to entrench itself against supervision by other branches of government and voters interested in cutting budgets,” Mr. Olson said.

I go on to discuss California’s Serrano v. Priest and its unexpected consequence, voters’ limitation of property taxes through Proposition 13. And this from Ben Wilterdink at American Legislator on the latest ruling:

Kansas has faced this problem before. In 2005 the State Supreme Court ordered Kansas to spend more on education. Kansas lawmakers complied, but now the Court is again ordering more spending. Kansas already spends more than 50 percent of its budget on K-12 education, and if this ruling stands, it will be forced to spend 62 percent of its budget on education. All of this is despite the fact that when measured against regional per-pupil spending, Kansas is funding education quite well.

Earlier here, etc.

Related: Steve Malanga on school finance lawsuits and other “positive-rights” litigation at state supreme courts [City Journal]

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  • Nomination of David Weil as Labor Department wage/hour chief could be flashpoint in overtime furor [Terence Smith, Hill] Another reaction to President’s scheme [Don Boudreaux, Cafe Hayek, earlier here and here]
  • Oregon: longshoreman’s union says NLRB charges of blinding, threatened rape meant “to distract” [Oregonian]
  • Who thinks hiking the minimum wage would kill jobs? Company chief financial officers, to name one group [Steve Hanke, Cato]
  • Tourists’ casual naivete about union politics at NYC hotel made for tension, hilarity [How May We Hate You via @tedfrank]
  • Just for fun: Wichita business’s creative responses to union’s “Shame On…” signs reach Round 2 [Volokh on first round, Subaru of Wichita on second round]
  • Workers’ comp claims at government agencies in Maryland can be odd [Baltimore Sun via Jeff Quinton]
  • Are unions losing their grip on the California Democratic Party? [Dan Walters]

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on February 14, 2014

  • “Attorney parents of ‘mathlete’ lose again in legal battle over right to select son’s algebra teacher” [Martha Neil, ABA Journal, earlier]
  • One reason NYC doesn’t close schools amid brutal winter storms? They’ve got a food program to run [Business Insider; James Panero, NYDN]
  • Should Gov. Deval Patrick, CNN host Piers Morgan apologize to townspeople of Lunenburg, Mass.? [Chuck Ross, The Federalist]
  • Kansas school-finance suit tests whether litigators can end-run elected officials on taxes and spending [WSJ, compare Colorado]
  • Lenore Skenazy (who’ll speak at Cato Mar. 6) on the Wellesley “Sleepwalker” sculpture flap: “Once we equate making people feel bad with actually attacking them, free expression is basically obsolete” [WSJ]
  • “School Found Liable After Child Sneaks Onto Roof And Falls” [Erik Magraken; British Columbia, Canada]
  • National Research Council issues report on Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) [Zachary Schrag first, second, third, fourth posts]
  • Vergara v. California: notwithstanding the hoopla, bringing more lawsuits might actually not be the best way to save American education [Andrew Coulson]

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And now he must pay child support, a judge has ruled, reasoning that William Marotta had not succeeded in waiving his parental responsibilities because a physician had not overseen the artificial insemination as required by Kansas law. [ABA Journal, earlier]

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on December 27, 2013

  • Following outcry, Ohio lawmaker drops proposal to license homeschool parents [Jason Bedrick/Cato, sequel]
  • In Colorado U. crackdown on professor’s deviance course, university retracts claim that professor needed to clear controversial teaching with institutional review board [Inside Higher Ed, Zachary Schrag and sequel, background on IRBs]
  • The purely fictional, entirely bloodless “assassin” game — which I remember was played in my own high school years ago without anyone worrying — now seems to be controversial in suburban D.C. because School Violence and Think of the Children. [Washington Post; Bedrick, Cato on pretend "arrow" zero-tolerance case]
  • After son’s death, Ontario mom urges schools to let asthmatic kids carry inhalers [CBC, Bedrick]
  • Cathy Young on how the forces of unanimity police discussions of “rape culture” [Minding the Campus]
  • Kansas regents forbid faculty/staff to post social media content contrary to best interest of university [WaPo]
  • Don’t forget to stop home some time: more public schools serving dinner as well as breakfast and lunch [Future of Capitalism]

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“A Kansas district court heard arguments [last] Friday in the case of a man who is being sued for thousands of dollars in child support by the state after donating his sperm to a same-sex couple he found through a Craigslist ad.” By law artificial insemination in Kansas requires a doctor’s supervision, but mechanic William Marotta instead relied on a private contract with the women who wanted his services, which the state argues cannot excuse him from parental responsibility. [NBC News]

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Ethics roundup

by Walter Olson on October 23, 2013

  • Eliciting false testimony among sins: “Ninth Circuit finds ‘textbook prosecutorial misconduct'” [Legal Ethics Forum]
  • Syracuse: jurors say insurance company lawyer observing trial got uncomfortably close [Above the Law]
  • South Carolina: “Prosecuting attorney is accused of dismissing charges in exchange for sexual favors” [ABA Journal]
  • Judge, handing down six-year sentence, calls defense lawyer’s briefing of witness a “playbook on how to lie without getting caught” [Providence Journal]
  • Kentucky high court reinstates $42 M verdict against lawyers for fleecing fen-phen clients [Point of Law] Accused of bilking clients, prominent S.C. lawyer surrenders license, pleads to mail fraud [ABA Journal]
  • Former Kansas attorney general accused of multiple professional violations: “Phill Kline is indefinitely suspended from practicing law” [Kansas City Star]
  • “Nonrefundable ‘Minimum Fee’ Is Unethical When Fired Lawyer Will Not Refund Any of It” [BNA]

The Colorado Supreme Court, wisely resisting a national campaign of school funding litigation, has turned down a lawsuit arguing that the state is obliged under its constitution to step up school spending. [Denver Post, KDVR, opinion in State v. Lobato]

I’ve got a post up at Cato at Liberty about the Colorado decision, noting that although school finance litigators make a lot of noise about educational quality, they are actually on a mission of “control —specifically, transferring control over spending from voters and their representatives to litigators whose loyalty is to a mix of ideologues and interest groups sharing a wish for higher spending.” I quote from a section on school finance litigation that I wound up cutting from my book Schools for Misrule about the enormous impact such suits have had in other states:

Vast sums have been redistributed as a result. Lawmakers in Kentucky enacted more than a billion dollars in tax hikes. New Jersey adopted its first income tax. Kansas lawmakers levied an additional $755 million in taxes after the state’s high court in peremptory fashion ordered them to double their spending on schools.

The results have been at best mixed: while some states to come under court order have improved their educational performance, many others have stagnated or fallen into new crisis. Colorado is fortunate not to join their ranks. (& reprint: Complete Colorado)

P.S. From a Colorado Springs Gazette report, Jul. 31, 2011:

“Putting more money into a broken system won’t get a better results. There are improvements that could be made without money,” says Deputy Attorney General Geoffrey Blue. …

He points to a Cato Institute study that showed spending on education across the country has skyrocketed but test scores didn’t improve.

“That would mean that potentially every cent of the state budget would be shifted over to K-12 education,” says Blue, who heads the office’s legal policy and government affairs.

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The couple say they believe they were raided because of their use of an indoor gardening setup to raise six tomato, melon and squash plants in their basement. “A drug-sniffing dog was brought in to help, but deputies ultimately left after providing a receipt stating, ‘No items taken.'” [Heather Hollingsworth, AP]

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