Students and the university would benefit from open administration meetings.
For the average student at the University of Tulsa, administration is often unseen. We know the president, Gerard Clancy, and there is an off chance you may have met Vice President for Enrollment Earl Johnson, but unless you have spent a significant amount of time researching university employees, you rarely come across the names Kevan Buck, Roger Blais, Jacqueline Caldwell, Kayla Hale, Derrick Gragg, Susan Neal, Janet Levit, Richard Kearns, Scott Holmstrom, Winona Tanaka or any of the hundreds of other employees who work for the university in administrative positions.
Not only do we not know their names, we don’t know what their jobs are and what important decisions they are making for the university. As students, we may not necessarily care to have complete oversight of the day-to-day functions of the university. We have classes to attend, papers to write, exams to take, but the tuition we pay requires us to take an interest in university operations. Our bank accounts and the quality of our education are dependent on how this private organization chooses to handle its finances.
The University of Tulsa has executive meetings once a month that include the board of trustees, the president and the executive staff. They also have committee meetings like finance and athletics that each meet four times a year. All of these meetings are closed, and only include high-level people in each department. It is also highly unusual for the meetings to result in so much as a press release about important issues that were discussed.
Even if you are not inclined to care what the university does with your tuition money, the secrecy itself is pernicious.
In New York, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that Department of Education school leadership team meetings should be open to the public. The decision was hailed by the plaintiff, Public Advocate Letitia James, as “a victory for parents, students, educators and all of us who believe in transparency and accountability.”
James also said, “Important decisions about our schools must be made in sunlight with input from parents and teachers.”
While this instance is about elementary-aged children, transparency, accountability and the ability to provide input are just as important to college students whose future careers are reliant on the continued prestige of the university.
TU should follow in the footsteps of Oregon State University, whose Board of Trustees and committee meetings are open to the public. In Oregon’s meetings, the board deliberates on important issues and then opens the floor for a brief comment period before casting votes.
Several state schools across the United States are already subject to open meetings laws.
There are a few understandable reasons why the university might not be inclined to open meetings to the public. The university has a responsibility to protect the personal information of students and faculty members. The university might also be concerned that open meetings might stifle free communication between the board and executive staff if they feel the need to be cautious with their words.
However, TU could reserve confidential topics for private meetings organized specifically for the intent of addressing such topics.
Freedom of speech is an important right for TU’s administration and trustees, but it does not inherently outweigh students’ rights to transparency of university administration. Especially when you consider that being listened to is not a serious infringement on the right to speak one’s mind.
As students, we have a critical role to play in the function of a university. While the administration and faculty provide an important service for us (a prestigious private education for which we are grateful), we also provide a hefty tuition and the potential to increase the prestige of the university as alumni. We have a real interest in seeing that this university is the best institution it can possibly be, and therefore deserve a seat at the table to see that progress take place.
Young people have always been a force for change. As anyone who remembers the sit-ins and other protests of the 1960s and 1970s can attest, it’s hardly unprecedented for students to come forward with demands for their colleges. College students were once responsible for nationwide protests against segregation, single-sex education, the Vietnam War and apartheid.
Three years ago, during the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests, a graduate student at the University of Missouri at Columbia began a hunger strike to demand the resignation of the university system’s president, Timothy M. Wolfe, who the student said had done nothing to “shift the culture of Mizzou in a positive direction.” Six days in, his protest attracted the support of the football team, who said they would neither practice nor play until the student’s demands had been met. The following day both Wolfe and the campus chancellor resigned.
According to “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” demographic changes have given students tremendous financial and political power on campus. As a small school, TU is ever more reliant on our tuition dollars to pay the bills. We are in a position, now more than ever, to force the university to be real with us.
We aren’t asking for giant recreational centers and expensive campus-wide reforms. We are asking for transparency and respect.