Late Friday afternoon, just before I headed off to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art to see the new “Under Pressure” show of prints from Jordan’s collection, I couldn’t stand it anymore. How could the UO be demanding the return of 22,000 pages of documents that were almost certainly in electronic form? How do you “return” an email?

I re-read all the stories in the Register-Guard and the Oregonian. They didn’t answer my question.

So I emailed Tobin Klinger, senior director of public affairs communications at the UO and the only UO employee apparently allowed to talk about the story, and asked:

Are we talking about physical, as in paper documents, or electronic documents?

To my surprise, his answer came back quickly on a Friday afternoon.  “We’re talking about electronic records,” he wrote.

I asked a few more questions.

How on earth does someone “return” electronic records?

“By returning the device they were supplied on,” he wrote back.

So there is a physical device involved. A hard drive?

“It appears so,” he wrote. “But our review is ongoing.”

They’re not sure what physical form the records are in? This story continues to strain my mind.

I asked Klinger another question, too.

Has the UO ever been sued for a violation of anyone’s privacy under FERPA?

“As to the lawsuit question, that would take some research and I’m not likely to have a definitive answer today” Klinger wrote back.

In other words, it’s not like the UO has suffered greatly from privacy lawsuits. One day I’ll inquire how much money the university has spent not answering public records requests.

At the Schnitzer reception, meanwhile, all anyone wanted to talk about was my story on the documents — all off the record, of course. People speculated on who the two librarians are who have been put on administrative leave for giving out information to a faculty member, as well as about the identity of the offending professor.

Almost everyone believes the faculty member in question is, without a doubt, economics professor Bill Harbaugh, though he himself hasn’t confirmed or denied anything. The consensus among the wine and cheese crowd last night was that the UO has at last found a way to get him back for his aggressive criticism of the UO through his blog, UO Matters.

Just to help Harbaugh out, I emailed him this official “Get Out of Jail, Free” card. If it turns out he doesn’t need it, I’ll demand its immediate return.