Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What is UK scared of?

I was quoted today in the Lexington Herald-Leader in a story about an e-mail survey of faculty and staff views on domestic partner benefits sent to University of Kentucky employees by The Family Trust Foundation, in which The Family Trust Foundation of Kentucky, the parent organization of The Family Foundation, is labeled "an offshoot of the national Family Foundation."

First of all, The Family Trust Foundation is not an offshoot of anything. Second, there is no such thing as a national Family Foundation. Third, all this was pointed out to the Herald before the story went to print, but they ran it anyway. I guess it's hard for the media to pass up chances to talk about some vast right-wing national conspiracy, even if it has to invent facts to establish its existence.

The University of Kentucky responded to the e-mail survey with an e-mail of their own trying to scare respondents into not answering the survey. Ironically, one of the questions on the survey was whether UK employees felt pressured or in any way intimidated about expressing their views on the issue of domestic partner benefits. So here's the University trying to intimidate their employees with dire warnings about what might happen if they respond.

The irony is profound.

Apparently there were some recipients who claimed they were duped into thinking that the survey was a University-sponsored survey. Of course the e-mail said in the very first paragraph that it was a third party survey, and even said who it was who was conducting the survey.

Now, we know we have a problem with illiteracy in this state, but at our state universities?

Several criticisms were interesting. First was that the question that asked recipients to rank domestic partner benefits as a priority in relation to other university goals, to which UK research specialist Zina Merkin responded that this set up a "false dichotomy. "

No. Sorry. Respondents were asked to prioritize several university goals, but they are also given the chance to rate several of these items on a scale of 1 through 5. You could give all the options a 5 if you wanted, including domestic partner benefits.

Then there was the charge that the survey was a "push poll" (a survey that prompts you to answer a question in a predetermined way by the phrasing of the question or by placing it next to another question that would prompt you to answer in one particular way). This is interesting because the University itself did a survey of their own on this issue which it has yet to release to the public.

We wonder if there are any leading questions on that survey?

"It's meant to manipulate people's thinking and put ideas in their head [sic]," charged Merkin. Has she read the two reports on domestic partner benefits from UK's Work-Life committee? Can she seriously say these are not meant to do the same thing on the other side of the issue?

I wonder where Merkin stands on the domestic partner benefit issue, and how it affects her comments to newspapers about groups that disagree with the policy? Surely, being a "research specialist," she is completely impartial.


What is surprising is the almost fanatical reaction the survey has caused. It's just a little ten question poll for crying out loud. Why are so many people upset that someone is asking questions of UK staff?

Does the administration think it is the only entity entitled to talk to their employees? And aren't these the same people who are always talking about academic freedom?

A reporter from the Kentucky Kernel called me today and asked if we felt we had overstepped out bounds by communicating with staff given the fact that we were not an official part of the University. I asked her whether the Kernel was an official part of the University (they aren't) and whether she felt, as a Kernel reporter, she had the right to talk to faculty and staff (she does).

Oops. Wrong question.

Is the administration upset because its staff received what some have charged (incorrectly) is spam? If the e-mail was spam, then how did it make it through what you would presume to be pretty good University spam filter? Surely UK, the home of the best and brightest, an aspiring top 20 school, has the ability to stop what it thinks is spam?

Or maybe the University is just scared of what we might find.

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