Surveillance of Students Integrated Across Dozens of Administration offices and UOPD
The UO Demonstration Team is a quiet circle of administration employees and University of Oregon Police who work together to surveil social media and spy on community protests. Student organizers have known for some time that the administration was monitoring their activities, but until an email conversation disclosed through a Public Records Request mentioned the Demo Team’s existence, students weren’t aware of how they were being watched. State public records requests have revealed that the administration has been monitoring student protest and political activity through social media posts and in person surveillance since at least 2017. An official charter for the Demo Team is available which includes a laundry list of high-level administration employees and UOPD officers. A core and secondary team of UO employees are included in the charter and compose a sprawling network of informants that cover roughly every non-academic department of the university.
Official mention of the UO Demonstration Team is limited to one public posting from the University Risk Management and Insurance Association’s (URMIA) Western Regional Risk Management Event Conference, where Krista Dillon Co-Chair of the Demo Team spoke in 2019. Record requests for information on the UO Demonstration Team have revealed over 500 pages of documents concerning their activities since 2017. The team’s activities may precede 2017, but their most recent charter was updated July 1st 2021. What these documents reveal is that any publicly posted information concerning political or protest events is distributed to the widest possible network of campus authority.
The team appears to focus on distributing intelligence before demonstrations, protests, controversial events, or any suspected disturbance. Surveillance is compiled by the Demo Team and in the event of a “civil unrest incident” the team defers to what is called the Incident Management Team (IMT). The clear continuity between information gathering and evidence gathering is overtly expressed in the team’s charter and reinforced by many of the procedural documents disclosed in the recent records requests. This wide net of tattle-tales is the eyes and ears for both the previously mentioned Incident Management Team and a larger umbrella department of Safety & Risk Services. Comparing both the Demo Team charter and the IMT organizational chart reveal that the two share significant crossover. Though the IMT has a wide portfolio that includes pandemic response and various disasters, it is in close proximity to both UO’s General Counsel and UOPD. It appears that when the IMT is activated, the correspondences of the UO Demonstration Team stop being publicly accessible records and are designated as “privileged logs.” All such privileged logs listed in recent records requests include correspondences with Kevin Reed (the UO General Counsel) or UOPD staff.
Though recent public records requests about the UO Demonstration team are extensive in scope, there are conspicuous holes that appear in the records. The most glaring lapse is a void of all Demo Team activity during 2020. Even citations of “privileged logs” are absent from this period and one must remember that this was an era of almost constant demonstrations and protest in Eugene during the BLM/George Floyd uprising. Several protests took place on campus in that time frame, but any activity of the Demo Team is simply absent from the public records request. Whether this means the Demo Team was simply not functioning during this period or the Incident Management Team was in a constant state of activation is unclear. Other inconsistencies in the records requests reveal that the more successful or disruptive a demonstration might be, the more likely it will be passed along to the UO General Counsel or the UOPD. Such circumstances often put the details of the Demo Team’s surveillance activities beyond the retrieval of public records requests.
The picture that can still be painted of the UO Demonstration Team is one of an extended network of administration employees constantly raising the alarm about student political activity and protest. The Demo Team even has informants in event services, which are obliged to report suspicious or controversial events booked by student groups or community organizations. Additionally, sprawling pages of procedural documents detail pre-planned responses for a few categorized campus direct actions. Though the exact details of the procedures have been redacted behind big black boxes in the records requests, three categories listed are protests/demonstrations, marches, and tree sits.
One of the most recent demonstrations detailed in the Demo Team records was the Nov 17th 2021 protest against timber executive Tyler Freres of Freres Lumber, who gave a presentation on post fire logging at the UO Law School. In this case the Demo Team seems to have obtained information through a string of student informants that passed along a screenshot from a Discord chat. The Demo Team prepared for any disruption with a planned script but when the protest erupted over 50 demonstrators shouted down the timber executive en masse. Tyler Freres appeared to have been completely dejected by the demonstration and the event went from having a packed amphitheater to a couple of demoralized business law students lingering behind.
Demo Team chat logs reveal that the team did not feel there were grounds for code of conduct violations and Kevin Reed the UO General Counsel called the protesters “wimps” for only disrupting the presentation for five minutes. The Demo Team was more concerned about press documenting the protest and were keen to know if the media was on hand to witness the disruption. It was later noted in a chat log that Freres Lumber President Rob Freres, cousin of Tyler Freres was, “clearly still pretty annoyed/frustrated,” when he was encountered the next day at an OSU event. Freres Lumber has made a significant financial contribution to the UO Law School, most likely in the hopes of influencing one of the leading environmental law programs in the country.
None of the protest participants were cited for code of conduct violations and this is likely the reason for the transparency regarding this incident. What media did emerge about the protest, Demo Team members commented as having, “not much traction.” Event attendees were asked to sign-in before entering the amphitheater room and this list was circulated to the whole Demo Team.
On a comical note, is the Demo Team’s ongoing feud with the Cascadia Forest Defenders, a local radical environmentalist organization. It appears that the organization’s social media feeds are monitored by the Demo Team. In 2019 a campus tree-sit protesting local timber sales appears to have gone all the way up the chain to Safety & Risk Services. A formal letter was delivered to the Forest Defenders citing safety and policy violation for occupying the tree from April 15-17th 2019. The Forest Defenders were known to have taken exception to any safety concerns, and even resolved to draft a response letter countering the accusations. A heated exchange also took place with the campus arborist on this matter, but all safety inquiries were thoroughly answered by climbing experts that participated in the action. Demo Team correspondences revealed that initially the administration wanted to use city codes regulating camping on public property to justify eviction of the tree sitters. This was decided against because, “we do not want the City to regulate how we use our property for UO events.”
In 2017 Charlie Landeros was one of the most active organizers and critics of the University of Oregon while they were a UO student. Because of this, they drew the ire of multiple university administrators. Particularly, the demonstration team singled them out in their investigation of the State of the University protest. Remember: Landeros’ life was tragically cut short on January 11, 2019 when they were murdered by the Eugene Police Department as they were picking up their daughter from Cascade Middle School.
Landeros was mentioned by the Demonstration Team on October 5, 2017 due to their involvement in the State of the University disruption. UO Students interrupted the annual State of the University address, where President Schill was slated to speak on October 6. Students organized a counter-action named the State of Reality to demonstrate how the university failed to protect them from white supremacists whilst pricing out the most marginalized.
UO administrators included a screenshot of Landeros’ Facebook post, sharing the event in their action plan write up and with the UOPD. Landeros also shared an intimate personal story of being a person of color living under white supremacist institutions. They went into how President Schill hasn’t taken action against blatant fascism, causing students like them to feel unsafe at the university.
Admin felt threatened by this letter, which showed no violent intent. Then UOPD Chief Matt Carmichael admitted in response that while the post was noteworthy, it did not “suggest violence.” Messages from administrators showed that they had issues with Landeros personally and not just the letter they wrote.
”[Their] postings have become more intense and [they do] seem more fixated on Mike. Additionally, I understand [their] G.I. Bill runs out after this term,” Kris Winter, co-lead of the demonstration team said in an email.
It is unclear whether Landeros said publicly that their GI Bill was set to run out or if admin accessed that info using other means.
An overall trend in the Demo Team’s behavior is the monitoring of GTFF union events, an ongoing concern of the Demonstration Team. An issue that came up again and again was the use of amplified sound, especially from GTFF. Krista Dillon said that it is University protocol to get a photo of individuals that use amplified sound after they are asked to stop. These emails also show their interest in accessing the media to ensure they report on the administration’s view on these labor struggles.The Demo Team appears to do a check-in whenever GTFF or SEIU are entering contract negotiations, but as of now recent records requests do not reveal their reaction to strike conditions.
Dillon, in addition to surveilling protests with the Demo Team, helps lead the University’s COVID-19 response team. This puts her in a special position where she meets with unions to set COVID policy, and later surveil these unions’ protests about the administration’s inaction surrounding COVID safety protocols.
Chat logs provided in our public records show administrators providing minute by minute updates of health and safety speakouts by staff and students. Dillon sends texts saying there are 10 people here, then 20, then 50.
One text from Dillon reads, “Still going. Calls for student employees to unionize. Chanting.”
It appears that the UO Demonstration Team has largely integrated the university administration into a network of police collaboration and surveillance. This default network of informants plays a noted role in outsourcing evidence collection and preparing defense against legal liability. Most importantly the Demo Team seems to fall in line with the profile of UO’s massive public relations apparatus that Joshua Hunt chronicled in his book Nike University. Given the teams bent towards media management, this would align with repeated attempts to safeguard donor associated brand names and commercial legacies that now overwhelm UO’s campus and cultural landscape.
The point at which it became the university's job to monitor political activity on campus is unclear. With a reputation that puts billions of dollars of donor contributions on the line, it is safe to say that the agency of students to set their own agenda within the university has encountered organized resistance from administration and police.
The Insurgent and Solidarity News hope to bring more public records to light concerning university surveillance of students. Every new records request raises more questions, and we thank all those comrades who contributed financially to help pay for the exorbitant fees these public records requests incur. Moving forward we hope to challenge many of the redactions we have encountered, and we hope we can delve further into the Incident Management Team (IMT), which appears to be the main punitive apparatus of the UO Demonstration team.
This story was produced in collaboration with Solidarity News and can also be viewed at solidaritynews.org
Thank you to the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF), Eugene Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Neighborhood Anarchist Collective (NAC), and South Willamette Valley Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) for donating money for public records requests. Without their donations this project would not be possible.