The University of Rhode Island has received flak over the past few weeks in relation to a video of Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and White House consultant Jonathan Gruber speaking during the 2012 Honors Colloquium, after it was removed from the Honors Program website due to contractual issues.
The video depicted Gruber explaining the inner-workings of the passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act, calling its passage an “exploitation of the lack of understanding of the American voter” and outlining what he sees as the law’s deliberate complexity intended to fool voters. It was the third in a series of similar videos at other institutions of Gruber that have only just recently garnered national attention.
The University of Pennsylvania removed a similar video last month, but reposted it when they received backlash from the public for its removal. URI felt similar repercussions after removing their video on Nov. 17. “I think some of the online-based blogs sort of leapt to a conclusion without any information to back it up, so that’s been a little frustrating,” said URI Honors Program Director Lynne Derbyshire.
According to Derbyshire, she received a request from the Associated Press to use the video that Monday. Having not been the director during the 2012 colloquium, she was not aware that a video existed, but she immediately found the contract signed with Gruber’s agency. “Based on my reading of the contract, I was certain we didn’t have the right to give permission for its use, and I was not sure that we still had the right to have it posted,” she said. “I decided without any sensible legal right to have it posted, that I should take it down.”
Derbyshire said contracts from speakers are often very basic, and the Honors Program regularly negotiates live streaming and recording of the presentation. In Gruber’s case, the contract allowed live streaming but limited the amount of time the video could be posted afterward to approximately one year.
As program directors and colloquium coordinators change, contractual obligations like this often fall through the cracks, Derbyshire said, and it was simply because of the controversy that the error was discovered. “It was not a fault of censorship, it was a fault of not attending to the legal contract,” she said. “As director of the Honors Program, I feel a great deal of responsibility to ensure we are doing the right thing.” Derbyshire said she is now reviewing the contracts of previous colloquiums to ensure the issue does not happen again.
“This is, I think, the 52nd or 53rd year of Honors Colloquium and we bring in speakers every single year. If I don’t honor my contractual obligations with those speakers, we’ll ever have a colloquium again,” Derbyshire argued.
After the video was removed, Gruber’s agency was contacted for permission to repost the video, but it was denied.