Professor sues Cal Poly over flu preparedness secrecy

November 16, 2014
Bill Loving

Bill Loving


A California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo journalism professor has filed an open records suit against the university. Bill Loving, professor and editor of CalCoastNews, is suing to get records about the university’s preparation in the event of an outbreak of an infectious disease on campus.

Loving named Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong and the university as defendants. He is asking for an order of the court to force the release of the records.

“We’re entering the first part of the flu season. That makes information about how the Cal Poly health center is prepared a matter of public interest,” Loving said. “Students have come to me to complain about long waits to be seen by a doctor for minor problems. How then, is the health center going to cope with dozens or hundreds of students who might get sick?”

The library of medicine at the National Institutes of Health has a number of stories about the impact of infectious diseases on campus, Loving wrote in his complaint. Some of the articles referred to the H1N1 influenza of 2009 which swept across many college campuses. Health officials note that meningitis, colds, strep and mononucleosis crop up on college campuses.

The lawsuit began after reporters in one of Loving’s classes began to work on a project about illness, hygiene and preparedness. Reporters sought information from health centers, nursing schools, hospitals and experts on infection. They also requested records citing the California Public Records Act. Each request includes Loving’s name. That lets him take action as soon as a government agencies refuses to release records, he said.

The head of the Health & Counseling Center on campus refused to provide the records of its infection plans even though state law requires that they be open, Loving’s lawsuit says.

The center Medical Director Karen Hord-Sandquist said in an email that the center was not able to provide the materials.

“We are understaffed and have multiple requests for information and interviews from many students and departments. We are unable to provide this service as it impairs our ability to do our work caring for the students we see in this clinic,” Hord-Sandquist wrote.

The fact that the clinic already is understaffed strongly suggests that it would not be able to deal with an infection on campus, Loving said.

“The complaints from students about wait times and the clinic’s admission that it is understaffed raises reasonable questions about how prepared Cal Poly is,” Loving said. “Students, their parents and the public ought to know how the health center will react.”

People ought to be able to see what the plans are, Loving said. The clinic should not be concerned about people seeing what it has planned, they might agree or make suggestions. The alternative is to blindly trust what government says.

“Bureaucrats have long counseled people to ‘be patient’ and ‘trust us’ and in too many instances, that trust has been misplaced as contingency plans have failed,” Loving said. “When those failures take place, it is the people who suffer.”

The attempt to control information is troubling, Loving said, noting in his suit that the health center recently imposed a new policy that places controls on interviews. The health center will consider interviews after reporters send them the list of questions to be asked.

Most troubling is an agreement that the health center asks reporters to sign, Loving said in his lawsuit.

The interview request form would give “an agent” of the health center the power to “review and edit the final product prior to publishing.”

“Not even the president of the United States has the power or the audacity to do something like that,” Loving said. “The center won’t give up records under state law and they want to control what reporters write. It is troubling”

Although Loving named Armstrong as the first defendant, he says he does not believe Armstrong is opposed to transparency.

“What I know of President Armstrong tells me that he wants Cal Poly to be accountable and open,” Loving said. “But he is president of a university and people below him may not share his attitude.”

Loving acknowledged that some people would wonder about a professor suing his university and president. He is not willing to let government agencies and bureaucrats dictate what people can know, he said.

“If I’m willing to sue my boss, my employer, then the bureaucrats ought to ask themselves how much slack I’m going to cut them when they don’t obey the law,” Loving said. “Open records applies to everyone or it applies to no one. Government is the people’s business and, generally, people have the right to see what government does.”

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  1. MaryMalone says:

    QUOTING FRANCESCA: “From the amount of “dislikes” this post has garnered, I would surmise that close to half the population has drunk enough of the kool aid to feel (notice I do not use the word THINK) that they are better off NOT knowing what is going on until it is too late.


    Recently I started working for a well-respected infectious disease news email service. I focus on the Ebola virus. I scour the internet daily, and daily receive hundreds of news items from infectious disease by various services. In addition, I visit message boards of news sites to see what participants on news websites are thinking to get a feel for the public’s concerns.

    I can tell you, that at least with the Ebola virus, many, many of the posters believe they are not getting enough of information that will help them make decisions about how they prepare or deal with the Ebola situation. And they are plenty angry about it.

    They blame the government, especially because the information about Ebola, which–on broadcast media sources–was suffocating in the beginning, but (I kid you not) within one day completely disappeared, at least from major media broadcast stations…which is where the majority of Americans get their news.

    Granted, the Ebola virus might raise more red flags with the public than the flu, but there are some types of flu that are pretty wicked to deal with.

    So I believe many, many people want to be informed about infectious disease threats, and are just not getting it.

    (-2) 8 Total Votes - 3 up - 5 down
    • Citizen says:

      In California, our own state and county Departments of Health downplay infectious disease information that “might endanger fragile communities” in our state. This has been obvious in the Santa Barbara County department of health as one good example. The information going to their doctors in the county raises alarms, while the information to the public is downplayed to the extent of “this is just normal”.

      –Remember that Paula Lopez (TV news reporter) exposed the Enterovirus 68 outbreak in Santa Barbara. Then the Health Department said they had 7 cases (but had not informed the public).

      –Santa Barbara has the escaped drug resistant TB patient who is now believed to be in Mexico, but is also expected to return illegally to Santa Maria where he has relatives.

      –Little is said about TB to the public, but to doctors the message is clear. This is an undated document from the web. Perhaps, the problem has been resolved, perhaps not. The public is not being informed.

      (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  2. indigo1955 says:

    Amazing debate. We have not only seen the thinning out of the middle-class within our society, but also the average level of intelligence. We watch those who seem unaware of how intensely dangerous the flu is, as well as the willingness to go along with concealing records, and then on the other side: intelligent people who are aware of how viruses spread and the history of how dangerous they have been (and the propensity for history to repeat itself).

    Of course we have a right to know about what their plan is! Pandemics occur so much faster than humans have the ability to plan for them, and that is a highly populated campus with college students that typically are at the age where they will push through an illness and continue to party, attend school, etc. (Mainly because they are young and their bodies allow them to do this).

    We live in the richest country on the planet, and yet only ~ 25% have even a basic bachelors degree, ~ 6.9% a masters degree and ~ 2-4% a doctorate or medical degree. The average IQ is only 100 in our country and the Flynn Effect appears to have ceased. People seemed unconcerned about anything these days. Pandemic of ignorance.

    (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
  3. Niles Q says:

    Go get ’em Bill! Good luck with this.

    It should be noted that suing the University and the president in this case isn’t like suing for personal injuries.

    There’s no money going to change hands. It what’s called a writ of mandate, or compelling the defendants to “Obey the law.” and produce the documents.

    You know what though, there may not even be a plan like what he’s looking to get.

    I would guess that Poly’s unofficial plan is to call the state and county health departments and if necessary the CDC too, if they find themselves in a position they can’t handle.

    They don’t have hospital beds to treat people at the health center.

    That would rightly have to be done at area hospitals where they certainly DO have such preparedness plans, backed up by the County Health Dept., and EOC.

    So in reality, Cal Poly’s plan is most likely to defer to the local health authorities, that would be the smart thing to do anyway.

    But shame on that woman in charge for being stubborn and refusing to obey the law.

    (4) 12 Total Votes - 8 up - 4 down
  4. Spacetrekker says:

    “Open records applies to everyone or it applies to no one. Government is the people’s business and, generally, people have the right to see what government does.”

    Agreed, but so out of touch with reality. It’s the other way around now. People are the government’s business.

    Our government has F’ed up enough they have good reason to fear us citizens. Unfortunately, with billions of “defense” and “security” dollars available, they certainly have the upper hand. Big brother has arrived and is functioning well. R.I.P. the America we knew.

    Above link is just one (good) exposure of the latest Big Bro action. Many other website have picked up this newest one.

    Evil is the most difficult entity to confront. Not confronting and dealing with it allows it to live. You have (at least) the power of decision. What will it be? Doing the right thing with all its discomforts, or living in ignorance and temporary comfort until evil eventually wins?

    (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
  5. Jorge Estrada says:

    What about the microbes that Cal Poly imports via, vector, foreign students? Our community should have access to that data which is exempt from CEQA review.

    (-6) 18 Total Votes - 6 up - 12 down
  6. bigdrive says:

    wouldn’t basic journalistic standards require disclosure of Loving’s relationship with this site? Just sayin…..

    (2) 34 Total Votes - 18 up - 16 down
  7. LOVESLO says:

    Oh for pity sake, we are talking about influenza here, not Ebola! Preparedness plan??? The campus offers flu shots for everyone. That’s about as prepared as anyone can be. If you happen to get the flu you go to the health center where you are tested and treated by professionals. So what if you have to wait? I have to wait at my doctors. I’m all about transparency in government, but we are talking about Cal Poly Heath Center…not the Affordable Care Act. Leave the professional alone to do their jobs.

    (10) 68 Total Votes - 39 up - 29 down
    • agag1 says:

      Influenza is nothing to be taken lightly.
      According to the CDC: “It is estimated that in the United States, each year on average 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications”.

      (6) 32 Total Votes - 19 up - 13 down
      • Black_Copter_Pilot says:

        It’s natures way of culling the weak and aged. Sad, but true.

        (5) 11 Total Votes - 8 up - 3 down
    • MaryMalone says:

      Especially for an infectious disease which has yearly outbreaks, schools need to have a plan on how to address it. I would not send my child to a university that didn’t have a plan for addressing a flu outbreak. If they are so lax as to be unprepared for a known like flu, how lax are they on other safety concerns.

      At any rate, the issue is the college not producing the requested documents.

      (-3) 33 Total Votes - 15 up - 18 down
    • Citizen says:

      What a cavalier attitude, Loveslo. It’s only the Cal Poly Health Center, so it doesn’t matter if they are prepared for a flu epidemic? You obviously have never had a son or daughter depending on a university health center for their care or you didn’t think their health care was important. I can guarantee that Cal Poly parents don’t share your viewpoint, and neither do Cal Poly students. I can even guarantee that President Armstrong wants good health care for the students. Who are you to say their health care doesn’t really matter?

      (-1) 23 Total Votes - 11 up - 12 down
      • LOVESLO says:

        Actually, I AM a parent of a Cal Poly student. I am also a health professional. I can guarantee you the professionals at the Health Center do their utmost to treat every student who presents, to the best of their abilities. I am not discounting influenza in the least. The majority of victims of influenza are usually the old and immunocompromised, not the young and healthy. If you want to protect your student, get the shot. I don’t recall saying “students health care does’t really matter”.

        (10) 14 Total Votes - 12 up - 2 down
        • MaryMalone says:

          So if you aren’t “discounting influenza in the least,” what are you “discounting”?

          The rights of college clinics to NOT be prepared for a flu epidemic? Or the right for college clinics to refuse to provide information about their preparations?

          For most CalPoly students, the college health clinic is their source of medical treatment. We have a right to know how prepared the clinic is for outbreaks of infectious diseases because, in case you hadn’t realized it, these students are out amongst us as workers, fellow shoppers, fellow movie attendees, etc.

          If the college clinic does not have a plan, or if the plan is insufficient to protect the students and the community, it puts us all at risk for a major flu outbreak.

          (-4) 8 Total Votes - 2 up - 6 down
  8. MaryMalone says:

    BRAVO, Bill!

    What this article doesn’t state is the following (taken from Bill Loving’s CalPoly profile):

    Bill is the co-author of one of the most recognized texts on mass media law: ‘Law of Mass Communications: Freedom and Control of Print and Broadcast Media.’ The 12th edition of this book has just been released.

    Specialties: Media Law, Beginning Reporting and Writing


    (-6) 50 Total Votes - 22 up - 28 down
    • Francesca Bolognini says:

      From the amount of “dislikes” this post has garnered, I would surmise that close to half the population has drunk enough of the kool aid to feel (notice I do not use the word THINK) that they are better off NOT knowing what is going on until it is too late.

      Various outbreaks, some far more serious than flu, could occur amoung such a closely associated group of people at ANY time. Even flu shots only work part of the time , for only one strain of the virus, which can mutate on a dime and become resistant and/or more easily spred and virulent.

      Not having even adequate, let alone excellent health care of many other first world countries, would almost assure a tragic outcome. Which, I must add, would affect all of SLO county and possibly beyond.

      Why would anyone not want to know the truth ? Just who is so threatened by actual investigative journlism that they disapprove of it??? And if they so dislike investigation, why are they reading this publication? Sad. Very, very sad.

      Thank you CalCoast News for being here for us.

      (-6) 18 Total Votes - 6 up - 12 down

Comments are closed.