Thursday 22nd February 2018,
The Transcript

Trustee transparency is essential for OWU

Editor’s Note: The full editorial staff for The Transcript endorses Manskar’s stance on a need for transparency from the Board of Trustees and Administration.

Going to college is fraught with questions.

One sends many of us here—what do we want to do with our lives? Many others arise as we navigate being in a new place with new people. Some have answers. Some don’t. Some answers are kept from us.

Life’s ambiguity and each person’s unique circumstances grow our list of questions. But so does the apparent nature of private educational institutions.

Renovations start, end and start again. Tuition rises. Retention falls. Enrollment goals aren’t met. We the students, Ohio Wesleyan’s primary stakeholders, may get an explanatory email weeks or months later. Sometimes we aren’t told at all.

We’re left asking why, or why not, or how, or at whose expense, or at whose benefit, or all of the above. The institution charged with imparting knowledge to us leaves us with a dearth of knowledge about itself and its operations.

This time next week, the Board of Trustees will be here to address many questions, including what to do about this year’s low enrollment and how to move forward with the Student Housing Master Plan. But we students, Ohio Wesleyan’s primary stakeholders, won’t be privy to any of the answers. Every event on the agenda is closed except for the final full body meeting — Oct. 3 at 1:30 p.m. in the Bayley Room.

I think it’s time to ask why. If there is nothing to hide, why doesn’t the Board of Trustees give students access to their discussions and decisions when so many of them directly affect us?

At large public institutions like Ohio State University, with roughly 26 times as many students and 47 times as much revenue as OWU, trustee meetings are completely open by law. Anyone can go. Sometimes they’re streamed live online. The minutes are posted publicly afterward.

If these huge institutions’ trustees who have so many more people and resources to manage meet and talk publicly, why don’t Ohio Wesleyan’s?

Just as taxpayers fund Ohio State, students fund OWU. We certainly aren’t the only revenue source, but our tuition accounts for about 60 percent of it, according to the university’s most recent public tax documents. But when the Board of Trustees meets on campus, most students probably don’t even know they’re here, let alone that they’re going to talk about how to spend our tuition. To me, this is akin to the Delaware city council, or even the United States Congress, locking its chamber doors to govern out of citizens’ sight.

The Transcript will only have access to this year’s aforementioned full body meeting. We want more, and we think you deserve more.

We want to hear President Rock Jones’ address to the Board next Thursday afternoon. We want to be there when key committees take on the aforementioned issues Friday morning. And we want students who care about the university and their tuition dollars to be able to go, too—not just to these meetings, but to any the trustees hold on campus.

I know administrators and trustees aren’t keeping these meetings closed out of contempt. Perhaps they have good reasons; perhaps they just haven’t thought about it. But they have incentives to open them.

First, and probably most obvious, opening meetings would allow decision-makers to interact directly with students and gain a perspective they wouldn’t otherwise have. The three Board spots for recent alumni and the public monthly faculty meetings offer this to an extent; but most trustees don’t get to talk with students regularly, if at all. Doing so would give them knowledge about what it’s really like to be an Ohio Wesleyan student, and I think that would lead to better decisions.

Second, OWU would be the first in the Ohio Five to make such a commitment to transparency. Being the “opposite of ordinary” is foundational to the university’s ethos, and this gives administrators an opportunity to put theory into practice. The legal imperative may not be present, but the moral and mission-based imperative is.

Open meetings would answer many confusing and frustrating questions students have, or at least illuminate why they’re confusing and frustrating. It’s a mutually beneficial step our school’s leaders should take. It’s time to open the doors. It’s time to let us in.

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About The Author

Noah Manskar is a senior double-majoring in journalism and pre-law studies with minors in women's and gender studies and English. He's the moderator of the House of Peace and Justice, historian for Sisters United, a member of Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity and a member of the Owtsiders, OWU's co-ed a cappella group. He's also an avid skateboarder.

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