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, Duane King, Derrick Gragg, Susan Neal, Janet Levit, Richard Kearns, Scott Holmstrom, Winona Tanaka and any of the thousands 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 day in and day out. As students we may not necessarily care to have complete oversight on 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. And 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 can seem potentially pernicious. In fact, for primary public school systems in a similar circumstance in New York, the New York 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 in some ways 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.
There are a few understandable reasons why the university might not be inclined to open meetings to the public. A primary concern is that their might be classified information about a particular student or faculty member to discuss. A secondary concern is that it might stifle open communication between the board and executive staff if they feel they must be cautious about what they say.
The first concern can be easily addressed by reserving those conversations for private meetings. The second concern, while valid, does not inherently outweigh students’ rights to transparency of university administration.
As students we have a critical role to play in the function of a university. While you, as 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.