As I blogged yesterday, a small victory for full public disclosure of key information about our presidential candidates has been achieved by the pressure of the blogosphere (disappointingly mostly the conservative wing thereof) with a small hand from the MSM.
After oddly blocking access to a fully processed and publicly listed archive of records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), a $160 million school reform effort led by, among others, Barack Obama and Bill Ayers, from 1995 until the end of 2001, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has now agreed to once again allow public access to the records of the CAC.
But a careful review of the press release issued by UIC announcing the reversal of the shutdown leaves several important questions unanswered:
1) Were any of the materials tampered with or changed in any way after the University was contacted by Dr. Stanley Kurtz, a writer for the National Review, who was the individual whose request to review the CAC documents triggered the UIC shutdown?
The press release issued by UIC says the CAC records were in a “secure location” pending resolution of the questions surrounding the University’s rights to possess the documents. But the University only concludes that its rights to the material have been established, it does not say that there have been no alterations to the document collection.
Earlier there were public statements that the University did not have valid ownership of the documents and thus was in touch with the donor of the materials. Since that would lead to a renegotiation of the gift it would conceivably allow the donor to revise the contents of the collection. I do not believe that the University should have contacted the donor at all as I explain below.
2) Who “called into question” the right of the University to “grant public access” to the records?
The CAC records were processed and available for review at the UIC Special Collections Library, as Dr. Kurtz notes in his review of the CAC shutdown on NRO.
The Library even provided him with a “finding aid,” a type of outline of the documents that helps researchers identify which documents they need to review. Given that there are 70 linear feet of CAC material at UIC this is clearly essential.
However, finding aids are NOT prepared for material for which the University (actually this is true for almost all Universities) feels it may not have ownership rights.
An earlier statement by a UIC spokesperson stated that UIC contacted the donor of the CAC records and that it was then discovered that an “ownership agreement” had not been prepared for the CAC records. This is most likely not accurate. No such agreement is likely in this situation. A gift of corporate records, such as those of the CAC, is valid without a written instrument.
Universities, including the University of Illinois do typically negotiate a “deed of gift” to accompany a gift so that the University is protected against future claims to the gifted material.
A “deed of gift” is not the same as a valid gift of documents to a University. It is an additional agreement by the donor of the documents to grant the University certain rights to use the material.
Universities want deeds of gift in order to protect their intellectual property rights to the archive. In other words, the University would have very likely validly possessed the documents even without a deed of gift and should not have denied Dr. Kurtz access to them.
But if there was no deed of gift it is unheard of for a university to:
1. invest the time and effort to process an archive and
2. prepare a finding aid and then place the documents in one of their libraries and then
3. place a description of the archive online and then
4. tell a researcher who inquires that the archive is ready for review!
But more fundamentally there would be no reason for anyone in the Special Collections Library to even question the validity of the gift of the CAC documents!
And a donor would never be allowed to know who or when someone is asking to review a validly granted gift of documents. That violates the confidentiality of library users. It reminds me of the concerns that civil libertarians have properly raised about the Patriot Act.
That leaves only one possible conclusion: Someone inside the UIC Library clearly was concerned that a critic of Barack Obama might be attempting to examine these public records. That led to an unprecedented and, in my view, highly inappropriate notice to the donor of the CAC documents that a potential political critic of Obama was interested in the documents.
Thus, the University should explain clearly who “called into question” its ownership of the CAC records.
3) The possible involvement of Bill Ayers remains unclear.
Bill Ayers, the former terrorist leader of the Weather Underground, is now a prominent member of the UIC faculty in their College of Education. He was the founder of the CAC and helped pick Barack Obama as the CAC Board Chair in 1995.
Bill Ayers co-chaired the key operational arm of the CAC, the Chicago School Reform Collaborative, which he had helped organize in 1994 when preparing the original application for the $49.2 mn Annenberg Challenge grant. The CAC’s offices were actually originally set up, rent free, in the same building as the College of Education of the UIC, where Ayers has long taught.
Legally, the CAC records were the possession of the CAC until it dissolved in January 2002. The press release of UIC says the records came to UIC then. That means it is most likely the case that the CAC itself was the donor. While earlier reports indicated that UIC had contacted the donor, that would appear to be impossible since the CAC no longer exists! And the latest press release makes no mention of a donor.
That obviously raises the question – who has the UIC Library been talking to about the gift outside of the UIC Library?
If someone inside UIC raised an alarm about an Obama critic on its turf, who did they alert?
It is at least reasonable to fear they spoke to Bill Ayers, a prominent and likely powerful member of the UIC faculty. It is reasonable to assume, for example, that the decision to house the CAC documents at UIC in the first place was made upon the recommendation of Ayers.
After all, the CAC also had a research arm that contracted with the University of Chicago to examine the impact of the CAC on student achievement. It is conceivable that the records could have been housed at the University of Chicago’s internationally respected libraries. (Perhaps the fact that the assessment of the CAC revealed the CAC to have been a failure had something to do with that decision.)
Of course, Ayers is a close political ally of Barack Obama and it would have been highly inappropriate of the UIC Library to warn him of the entry of an Obama critic onto UIC turf only to allow him and the Library to invent an excuse – the allegedly missing but legally unnecessary “deed of gift” – to prevent access to the validly possessed CAC records.
Without a full explanation of the role of Ayers in this series of events, it is unlikely that the public will feel reassured that the CAC documents have not been tampered with.
4) The role of the Chicago Public Education Fund led by Susan Crown and Penny Pritzker, among others, should be explained.
A final possible explanation of the mystery donor is that the legal successor to the CAC, the Chicago Public Education Fund, was contacted, again inappropriately, as the donor. If that was the case then it raises a concern about the potential role of Penny Pritzker, who serves on the board of the CPEF. Pritzker is the Finance Chair of the Obama campaign. Susan Crown is also on the board of the CPEF, was a board member of the CAC, and is a donor to the Obama campaign.
In sum, the CAC records at UIC were more than likely in the valid possession of UIC when Dr. Kurtz asked to review them. No alarm bell should have been set off and he should have been allowed to review them freely and without hindrance. The University has now increased public uncertainty by refusing to disclose all of the relevant facts that surround this controversy. Until they do so, doubts will remain over whether the CAC collection is complete.
Dr. Kurtz has now announced that he will be in Chicago on Tuesday when he has an appointment to begin a review of the CAC records. It will certainly be interesting to hear what he finds. My earlier review and analysis of a limited subset of CAC records provided me by Brown University (my request for additional records went unanswered after I posted blogs reviewing the documents they did provide), including board minutes, annual reports and financial records indicate several important conclusions:
1) Bill Ayers and Barack Obama played key leadership roles in the CAC. This calls into question the contention by Obama that Ayers was just “a guy who lives in [my] neighborhood.”
2) The CAC handed out hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Small Schools Workshop founded by Bill Ayers and then run by Mike Klonsky, former SDS comrade of Bill Ayers who founded a Maoist sect in the 1970s.
3) The CAC gave the Developing Communities Project (DCP), once headed by Barack Obama grants to pursue its educational reform agenda.
4) The CAC invested millions of dollars in supporting a controversial and troubled “community control” school governance system known as Local School Councils set up in 1988 in Chicago when both Ayers and Obama’s DCP were part of a coalition that backed the reform.
A recent research report to the Ford Foundation on the CAC notes that the CAC was often in conflict with Mayor Daley as he tried to both wrest control of the CAC grant and as he attempted, successfully, to recentralize power in the schools away from the Local School Councils backed by Obama and Ayers. Today, Mayor Daley praises Ayers but in the heat of battle I am sure he had other views of the former Weather Underground leader who once brought havoc to the city’s streets.