Butler University Faculty Senate members voted Oct.18 to give themselves the option of holding closed-door sessions in the future, a blow to transparency that possibly could remove important faculty and student interaction with the assembly.
We at The Butler Collegian believe anything that denigrates the transparency of a voting body is concerning, especially a body that has been open to the entire Butler community on all occasions.
Faculty Senate discusses key issues with many stakeholders. From being lobbied by Butler’s librarians when they desired faculty status to leading the debate regarding the fate of CCOM’s creation, this group has discussions that the entire university community should be privy to.
The Collegian is especially concerned with comments vice chair Doug Spaniol made at the last meeting regarding one of the reasons the language was added—to keep Collegian writers out.
The Collegian covers the meetings to inform the university community, which is similar to how other papers cover governmental meetings. We don’t need to talk or interact at these meetings at all; we simply want to listen and gain story ideas and insight from an important part of our university—its faculty.
The senators claim this change was prompted by concerns from non-tenured senators who felt uncomfortable speaking about sensitive issues in front of top administrators, as well as a suggestion from President Jim Danko and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jamie Comstock that top administrators should not be usual attendees at Faculty Senate.
If having the option of closed meetings was aimed at removing top administrators from the discussion, the senate should have made its measure specific instead of going on to include other faculty, students and The Collegian in those that could be barred from attending.
Even then, blocking top administrators is trying to fix a problem that doesn’t actually exist this year in the senate. Comstock and Danko haven’t regularly shown up to meetings and have said they would respectfully stay away unless invited or giving reports.
Senators asserted minutes would still be available to faculty if a meeting went into closed-door debate, but minutes do not show everything.
Faculty Senate meeting minutes, as they are written now, are a pitiful representation of the discussion that actually occurs at these meetings.
We’re concerned a meeting’s closure would come out of a lack of willingness from some senators to stand behind their comments.
Regardless of a faculty member’s tenure status, these individuals should take their role on the senate seriously enough to represent their constituents openly in all situations, and not be afraid of the university community knowing about it.
Would U.S. citizens stand for a senator who felt uncomfortable voicing their opinions on important issues? Certainly not. Before stepping into a governing role, senators should know that they are going to be covered by the press and responsible for their comments.
The senate is made up of adults who choose to represent their colleagues in public. Members choose to voice their opinions on behalf of their peers, and they should not feel intimidated to present an unpopular position.
In an academic environment, openness and dialogue should be the norm. It’s during the discussion on sensitive and important matters when the most people should be included, not just a select few.
The vote is done, but Faculty Senate members should think hard about the importance of transparency before deciding to hold closed-door meetings, and the rest of the university community should demand transparency from such an influential group in all cases.