Portland, Oregon, continues to suffer from some very public crises. Every day, residents are faced with homeless camps, folks suffering from mental health disorders, and rampant drug addiction. In fact, drug addiction has been a crisis in Portland for decades. Instead of facing these problems head-on, a prominent community leadership organization has rejected a report offering solutions to the addiction crisis — because the committee that created the report was all white.
The City Club of Portland commissioned a report on solutions to addiction via its Research Committee. Eric Fruits, Ph.D., is an economist living in Portland. In a post on Facebook, Dr. Fruits announced his resignation this week from that committee [edited for brevity]:
Until yesterday, I served on City Club’s Research Board, where I was one of two advisers to the “Addictions Research Committee.”
Yesterday, I resigned from the Research Board, in a large part because of City Club’s handling of this research and its disrespect for the committee’s work.
As always, there’s a story behind the story.
About a year ago, City Club launched two research committees: One on Addictions and the other on “City Government & Equity.”
Keep in mind, City Club research is citizen research. It is research done by City Club members who volunteer to research important issues facing our community. It’s a unique approach that embodies the motto, “Good citizens are the riches of a city.”
The Addictions committee launched around January of this year. For about six months, the committee met twice a week and interviewed more than 30 witnesses and reviewed more than 100 studies. Our witness list was a Who’s Who of substance use researchers and policy wonks: medical researchers, treatment providers, public health officials, the Multnomah County District Attorney.
This kind of research is why I joined the Research Board in the first place. I learned so much about a topic that, otherwise, I wouldn’t have the time or energy to research. More importantly, I changed my way of thinking about substance use disorder (especially that “substance use disorder” is more appropriate than “addiction.”)
Toward the end of July, the committee submitted a draft report.
In October, Sam Metz, one of the committee members met with Lisa Watson, City Club’s president. At the meeting Ms. Watson announced that the Board of Governors would not release the Addictions report.
The decision was not based on sloppy research, bad writing, or controversial conclusions. The decision was based entirely on the make-up of the committee itself.
Remember, the committee was formed in December and met for six months. At any point in those six months, the Board of Governors could have stepped in. But they didn’t. Instead, they waited until after hundreds of hours of volunteer time was expended – time spent away from work and families. Then, unceremoniously dumped the report.
I along with some of the committee members met with a subset of the Board of Governors two weeks ago. The BOG members were dismissive of the committee members outrage at having their report killed simply because of the makeup of the committee – a makeup the committee itself had no control over.
In his post, Fruits notes that the City Club took dozens of applications from community members who wanted to serve on this committee, and not one person of color applied.
Addiction in Portland is rampant, and solutions to the crisis are in short supply. City leaders have been slow to act, focusing their attention instead on bike lanes and pet projects. Heroin, meth, and opioid abuse are all through the roof. It’s not just Portland. While Oregon ranks fourth in the nation for illegal drug use among teens and adults, the Beaver State ranks last in the nation for access to treatment.
According to their website, the City Club of Portland exists to bring community leaders together to find solutions:
City Club of Portland brings together civic-minded people to make Portland and Oregon better places to live, work and play, for everyone.
City Club of Portland is a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and research based civic organization dedicated to community service, public affairs and leadership development. Through weekly Friday Forums, community-based research and advocacy, and after-hours civic programs, City Club examines issues of importance to the Portland metropolitan region, the state and society as a whole.
Our 1,850 members represent a cross section of people in business, government, academia, social services and other professions, who are committed to making a positive difference in our community. Our members come from a wide range of ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. Membership is open to everyone of high school age and older.
Mission Statement: To inform its members and the community in public matters and to arouse in them a realization of the obligations of citizenship.
City Club seems to have violated its mission statement with the letter that was issued to the Addictions Committee. The letter states, in part,
While we have no doubt that the committee members entered into this research project in good faith and with all best intentions, it’s clear that an all-white committee makes our research vulnerable to significant and substantive racial bias.
Here is the full letter:
This is not the first time a Portland organization has suffered from brain drain over its dedication to political correctness over quality academic work. Earlier this year, for instance, Gene Pitts resigned as chairman of the Board of Directors at Portland Community College after its decision to flaunt federal law and possibly jeopardize its federal funding to declare itself a sanctuary campus for illegal aliens. Pitts is an electrical engineering manager with extensive private sector experience — key skills for someone who wants to help guide the academic direction of a community college.
In the case of the Addictions Committee, despite the City Club’s refusal to publish the report, several members of the committee released it anyway, at their own expense. The members paid a copy editor to proofread it prior to release. It can be viewed in full at this link.