AVC Burke responds on August 25th

Though clearly circumstantial, mounting evidence indicates that UCSD Audit & Management Advisory Services attempted to obscure the release of “Use of Resources Investigation – Transborder Immigrant ToolAMAS Audit Project 2010-75″ from both the subjects of the investigation and by extension, the media. The report concluded “that neither University funds nor effort were used inappropriately during the development of the TBT or the Project.” (I am unable to upload the document to my server at this time. I will add a link here soon. In the mean time, please send me an email and I will forward the final report to you.)

Background notes: The TBT investigation began in January 2010 after conservative media outcry over our project designed to help lead dehydrated people to water safety sites placed in the desert by humanitarian activists. A matter-of-weeks investigation was promised, but it eventually exceeded 6 months. The TBT group fully cooperated, based on our commitment to public transparency. As the investigation obviously was yielding no wrongdoing (given the final report’s conclusions), other investigations were instantiated against one TBT member, Ricardo Dominguez. One immediately turned away from focus on Ricardo and toward Ken Ehrlich, a lecturer at UCR. (Dominguez had provided Ehrlich with technical assistance.) That case was dismissed on fairly obvious grounds, free speech and academic freedom. The other investigation directed at Ricardo relates to his Electronic Civil Disobedience research at UCSD. Essentially the UC and UCSD are attempting to de-tenure Professor Dominguez for the exact same work they previously hired and promoted him for! This case too will eventually be dismissed on fairly obvious grounds, free speech and academic freedom. (See here and here and here and here for context in depth.)

The question that remains today is, were the latter investigations instigated because the TBT investigation – again, once promised to be completed rapidly – was dragging on without yielding wrongdoing that would allow the UC and UCSD to respond to powerful critics (such as Congresspeople Duncan Hunter, Daryl Issa, and Brian Bilbray) by punishing Dominguez or anyone else? (Or, is AVCAA Paul Drake covering up that he was not aware of Dominguez’s renowned research and past activity at UCSD as he should have been, being the person signing off on his hires and promotions? And, how is this related to AVC Elazar Harel’s sudden and unexpected transfer to UCSF, potentially due to his role in the events of March 4th?) My opinion has become that the remaining investigation is in bad faith, which brings us to the question: was there a soft cover up related the release of the report exonerating the TBT project of any wrong doing?

I will leave readers to come to their own conclusions. I will only offer some naked facts.

In Burke’s response (printed in full below) to my complaint (Failure to distribute Transborder Immigrant Tool Audit report to the subjects of the investigation) about not being informed of the investigation’s conclusion she states the following:

[T]he final report, which concluded that neither University
funds nor effort were used inappropriately during the development of the
TBT,  was addressed to both the Chair of your department and the Vice
Chancellor Research.

And while it is true that the July 21st report is indeed addressed to departing Vice Chancellor of Research Arthur Ellis and Department of Visual Arts Chair Grant Kester, it was not delivered by email, which is the de facto method of important communication at UCSD. Instead, it was placed in the inter campus-mail system alone. (Nominally, important documents are sent via both methods, for example AVCAA Paul Drake’s letter to Dominguez informing him of one of the investigations – see page 97.) In addition to the addressed, there is a cc: to Y.Marsden, G. Matthews, D. Park, R. Rao, L. Smarr, S. Vacca. Not cc’ed were Ricardo Dominguez, Amy Sara Carroll, Micha Cárdenas or myself. The facts are that the subjects of the investigation did not have the final public report disclosed to them, that what meager public disclosure that did take place was delivered via the UCSD equivalent of standby shipping container stranded on the docs of Hong Kong, and at that only to eight administrators and staff during a common vacation month! All of this is certainly telling. Why is UCSD trying to inhibit the release of this report?

Another very interesting aspect of Burke’s response is her hedge in response to my August 19th  request “for a formal written response explaining why I was omitted from the list of those investigated who were informed of the report’s conclusions and provided a copy… [expecting] detail on a level explaining the systemic failure to meet basic professional standards.” Apparently, the answer is either that “Final distribution of investigation reports is based on AMAS professional judgment,” or that “The AMAS investigations manager retired on 6/30/10, and in the transition of his workload and issuance of the final report on 7/21/10, this was an oversight.” So we are left to take our pick, either judicious information management, or slack on the part of a retiring investigator. One thing I will add here is that I met with the recently retired Robert Mannie during the course of the TBT investigation, and nothing about the man exuded incompetence or slack. If anything, he seemed diligent and detail oriented, even if a little flummoxed by the relations between computer art, poetry, the US/Mexico border and transgender and queer theory. (In fairness, problems like these are natural to cutting edge arts research practice, so why wouldn’t Bob be as flummoxed in the B.A.N.G. Lab as he might very well be by any other example of frontier knowledge discovery at UCSD…)

In any case the circumstances of the final remaining investigation focusing on Professor Dominguez remain suspect. Justice Louis Brandeis once said “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and it is my feeling that it is time for an investigation of the investigation. The truth is eventually going to come out, because it wants to be free. I go further, making the claim that a little sunlight and transparency might make the University of California and UCSD’s growing problem go away. As I have said before, an apology (or even an explanation) done well could go a long way. And in the long run, coming clean would garner greater respect for the institution’s commitment to academic freedom, which is called into question by this attempt to obscure the TBT report.

Transparently yours,
Brett Stalbaum


——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Transborder Immigrant Tool Investigation Report
Date: Tue, 24 Aug 2010 16:17:46 -0700
From: Stephanie Burke <shburke@ucsd.edu>
To: Stalbaum, Brett <bstalbaum@ucsd.edu>
CC: President@ucop.edu <President@ucop.edu>, Lawrence.Pitts@ucop.edu    <Lawrence.Pitts@ucop.edu>, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox <chancellor@ucsd.edu>,    SVC Academic Affairs <SVCAA@ucsd.edu>, Drake, Paul <pdrake@ucsd.edu>,    Kester, Grant <gkester@ucsd.edu>, Greg W. Buchanan <gwbuchanan@ucsd.edu>,    Lerer, Seth <slerer@ucsd.edu>, rrdominguez@ucsd.ed <rrdominguez@ucsd.ed>,    Christa Perkins <cperkins@ucsd.edu>, Robert Mannie <rmannie@ucsd.edu>,    Matthews, Gary <gcmatthews@ucsd.edu>

Dear Mr. Stalbaum,

You are correct that the final report for UCSD Audit & Management
Advisory Services (AMAS) Audit Project 2010-75, Use of Resources
Investigation – Transborder Immigrant Tool was issued on July 21, 2010.

Although all final audit reports are public documents, the distribution
of final investigation reports is more limited than the distribution of
routine audit reports. Final distribution of investigation reports is
based on AMAS professional judgment, considering the participants who
are responsible for any corrective actions indicated in the report, and
the privacy of employees involved, particularly when the initial
allegations are found to be unsubstantiated.  During this review, Audit
& Management Advisory Services interviewed several persons involved with
the development of the Transborder Immigrant Tool (TBT).  As one of the
subjects of the review, you were provided with a copy of the draft
report to ensure our representation of technical information was
accurate.

In this case, the final report, which concluded that neither University
funds nor effort were used inappropriately during the development of the
TBT,  was addressed to both the Chair of your department and the Vice
Chancellor Research. I apologize that you were not aware that the review
was finalized.  I will send you a copy of the report for your files.
The AMAS investigations manager retired on 6/30/10, and in the
transition of his workload and issuance of the final report on 7/21/10,
this was an oversight.  Our office normally would have called you to let
you know the report was final.

Thank you for sharing this concern with me.

Stephanie Burke
Assistant Vice Chancellor
Audit & Management Advisory Services
shburke@ucsd.edu