When Merle H. Weiner was hired as a law professor at the University of Oregon, she was told that one of her duties was to write articles and books — and she did just that, publishing extensively on her areas of expertise, one of which is domestic violence.
But Weiner found out this year that even if the university expects her to publish, she was on her own when she faced a threatened suit over one of her articles, even though the university never contested the quality of the article and even though she had obtained legal opinions that she would prevail in court — if only someone had agreed to pay the bills necessary to fight.
When no one would commit to paying the anticipated legal bills, the journal that published Weiner — also unable to pay for a defense — removed from its electronic archive the reference that led to the threatened lawsuit. While the University of Oregon’s lawyer had urged her to have the journal do just that as a way of avoiding a suit, Weiner opposed this action as giving in to a threat and denying her the right to publish her work in full....
The article in question, published last year in the University of San Francisco Law Review, concerns the handling of child custody suits under international law in cases where one possible home for a child may not be safe. The article made two brief references to a court dispute in one such case and one of the parties to that dispute threatened to sue....
The University of Oregon, however, viewed the matter in a different way. In a statement released by the university, it said that — as was “customary” — Weiner had agreed to indemnify the University of San Francisco against actions arising from the article. While the university was happy to advise Weiner on the case, it did not feel any obligation to defend her, the statement said.
“The Board of Higher Education does not view an academic staff person’s general obligation to produce scholarly works as a specific assignment. As a result, the board and university do not participate in the specific relationship between a faculty member and the faculty member’s publisher of scholarly materials,” the statement said. “Also as a result, the State of Oregon has not historically provided legal representation or advice regarding matters related to faculty members’ scholarly publications.”
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