Thursday 14th December 2017,
The Transcript

Faculty shuts students out of their November meeting

In an unprecedented move, student representatives from the Wesleyan Council on Student Affairs (WCSA) and The Transcript were denied access to the Nov. 16 faculty meeting.

For the short period of time that students were outside Merrick Hall’s third floor meeting space, the monthly gathering of OWU faculty and staff simmered with controversy. Following the usual invocation, Provost Chuck Stinemetz moved to allow the student guests to enter the room.

After the motion was seconded, professor Bart Martin of the geology department raised his hand with a comment.

Citing the recent publication of Transcript articles in the Delaware Gazette reporting on faculty business, Martin asked that his colleagues consider barring student entry to the Monday meeting in the interest of confidentiality.

Martin’s speech was immediately condemned by an impassioned Paul Kostyu, an associate professor in the journalism department. He reminded the faculty that “we are members of the Delaware community,” and that “they have a right to know what goes on here.”

Kostyu also added that the faculty serves the students and that everything discussed at the faculty meeting “becomes public eventually.”

Professor Chris Wolverton of the botany department stood up to rebut this claim. “It is not unreasonable for faculty members to be allowed to make comments without fear of it being published in the newspaper the next day,” he argued.

As the tension grew between colleagues, one non-faculty member weighed in on the controversial motion. Deborah Peoples, head of collection services for Beeghly Library, said she supported Wolverton’s sentiment.

“I am thinking we deserve a place to air our feelings in relative safety where we are not feeling that it is going to be on the front page the next day,” Peoples said.

Peoples continued, suggesting that, “there are ways to make The Transcript widely accessible to every student and faculty member on this campus in its online form without having to make it accessible to the whole community.”

Sensing the emotion driving both sides of the argument, professor Thomas Wolber of the department of modern foreign languages noted that the issue at hand was indeed contentious.

“We have to find the right balance between transparency and valid argument,” Wolber reasoned, “but we also need to protect the integrity of the institution and the privacy of faculty.”

“I would recommend we not make a quick motion on this issue,” Wolber concluded. “I think somebody should study the issue carefully, weigh the pros and cons and come up with a decision that is rational and logical and that we can defend to the public.”

But professor Carol Neuman De Vegvar of the fine arts department objected to the idea that the faculty’s already precious time be further diminished. And if the faculty open the meeting to students, she argued, the entire Delaware community should be invited to sit in.

“Why don’t we just open the meeting to the entire township,” De Vegvar said. “Why don’t we put it on video and immediately broadcast it as it is happening. The answer is plain: we have business to do as a faculty, we admit people on vote. It is not a matter for the entire community.”

During the brief pause in debate that followed De Vegvar’s suggestion, Stinemetz interjected with a call for remaining comments. When no faculty members raised their hand, he requested a vote.

The faculty were at first asked to speak “yea” or “nay” on the motion to allow student representatives into the meeting, but with the sides being so close, a vote-by-hand was required.

After a silent minute, the motion to allow students into the faculty meeting failed.

With that announcement, Kostyu collected his coat and hat and walked out of the meeting.

As he left the building, Kostyu said his “principles prevent me from being a part of this.”

For the members of WCSA in attendance, the decision to bar their entry was a disappointment.

Junior Jessica Choate, president-elect of WCSA, hoped that her future “communication with the faculty can be open.”

Seniors Emma Drongowski, vice president of WCSA, and Jerry Lherisson, president of WCSA, reported similar feelings.

Speaking on both of their behalf, Drongowski said, “I am very disappointed that students were not granted access to the faculty meeting today. We believe that it is important for students to fully understand decisions that faculty members make, as it directly impacts us as students and as members of the OWU community. We sincerely hope that we, as students, will be included in these meetings and conversations in the future.”

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17 Comments

  1. Lee Fratantuono November 16, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    Dear Editor:

    As Secretary of the Faculty, with a responsibility for taking minutes at all faculty meetings, I would note that my colleague in Geology-Geography did not in any way “ask that his colleagues consider barring student entry” from tonight’s meeting. Such a characterization of what transpired with respect to this question is both false and misleading as to the letter and spirit of his remarks.

    Professor Martin raised legitimate questions and concerns that were indeed greeted with “immediate condemnation,” indeed with profanity. In future, one hopes that a more civil response can be offered to important questions of accessibility, confidentiality, and the right of faculty to debate and discuss timely issues in a safe environment that respects the difficult and challenging nature of their deliberations.

    Sincerely,

    Dr. Lee Fratantuono
    Professor of Classics
    Secretary of the Faculty

  2. Campbell Scribner November 16, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    While the decision to bar Transcript reporters from the meeting was regrettable (at least in my mind), I agree with Professor Fratantuono about the tenor of this article. To single out faculty members’ comments and/or to impugn their motives seems needlessly uncharitable.

    The faculty raised legitimate questions about the relationship between the Transcript and the Delaware Gazette. The same issues came up at the last faculty meeting, and both times Professor Kostyu seemed to rely on invocations of principle than offer pragmatic compromises. I cannot speak for other faculty members, but I suspect that editorial changes (i.e., sharing of university news with the Delaware community) have been too abrupt and not subject to the sort of deliberation that our community demands.

    I hope that the matter is resolved soon, because (as Professor Kostyu noted) students have every right to know about the governance of their university.

    Campbell F. Scribner
    Assistant Professor of Education

  3. Paul Kostyu November 16, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    Dear Editor:

    Dr. Fratantuono is correct. I uttered a profanity in my initial response to Dr. Martin. I probably shouldn’t have done that. “Bull” would have been sufficient. But I seriously doubt that my faculty colleagues haven’t heard the word I used before or felt that they were suddenly in an “unsafe environment.”

    Regarding the rest of my learned colleague’s comment about the characterization of what transpired, he’s arguing semantics. In fact, the letter and spirit of Dr. Martin’s comment as well as those of others was in effect to bar students entry to the meeting. That’s the bottom line.

    Of course, Dr. Frantantuono voted to bar students as well.

    Dr. Paul E. Kostyu
    Associate Professor of Journalism

  4. Michelle Dyer November 16, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    As a parent who pays the taxes and tuition that support OWU, I am curious what issue the faculty needs to discuss that doesn’t warrant transparency?

  5. The Transcript Editorial Staff November 16, 2015 at 10:43 pm

    At The Transcript, ‎we highly value accuracy and impartiality in our reporting. If a student, professor, or member of the Delaware community was misquoted or misrepresented in one of our articles, we would immediately correct the mistake. However, the concern raised by professor Bart Martin, that faculty might be swayed if their actions are being reported on by media outlets, was certainly intended to question student presence at the meeting.

    Secondly, no professor is being singled out or targeted for their comments. In the spirit of charity, you would have us not report on the controversy at all. The Transcript agrees that a conversation needs to be had between the student body and the faculty concerning the confidentiality of university meetings. But we also insist on our right to take part in that discussion.‎

    • Campbell Scribner November 17, 2015 at 9:32 am

      Dear Transcript Editors:

      You and I seem to have an awfully contentious way of agreeing with each other.

      To reiterate my original comment: the Transcript should have a place at all faculty meetings, and (as you say) the student body should participate in discussions about university policy.

      However, you seem to misconstrue my remark about “charity.” Let me reframe it. News stories follow narrative arcs: where a story begins and ends usually determines its moral. In this case, your story began with an “unprecedented move…barring student entry,” painting the Transcript as a victim and Professor Martin as the villain.

      From the perspective of many faculty members, however, the story needs to start earlier, with the abrupt and unannounced editorial change that now shares Transcript stories with the Delaware Gazette. That change was never discussed with faculty or the community at large; Professor Kotsyu essentially shrugged it off as the new face of online reporting. That claim is obviously up for debate. Elaborating on Professor Martin’s criticism complicates the Transcript’s position in all this. The issue at hand is not the (overly) simple case of press freedom that the article implies, and the “charity” that your reporters owe Professor Martin and others is really another word for responsible reporting.

      I am sure that is difficult in the heat of the moment, especially when your reporters feel slighted. Take a deep breath and try to do justice to both sides. By all means, cover the controversy, but don’t let your indignation single out or misrepresent faculty positions.

      Campbell F. Scribner
      Assistant Professor of Education

  6. Bethann November 17, 2015 at 6:20 am

    I hope these professors understand where their salaries come from. The students and even parents have every right to know what the faculty are discussing when it pertains to the education they are purchasing.

    It is concerning when people of authority don’t want to be transparent. What could possibly be said that one would not want public when it pertains to the education of our future generations? The faculty need to seriously reconsider it’s position on this matter. Also, if you’re saying things that you don’t want public, maybe your opinion is wrong?

    • Nancy Comorau November 17, 2015 at 3:23 pm

      First, education is not purchased. Education is earned. Students learn; they do not purchase.

      Second, the faculty was split on this matter, so much so that a hand count of votes was needed. I have no doubt that we will have robust discussion, and I believe, find a pragmatic solution that allows the Transcript back to meetings. I hope we do so by the next one.

      Third, the concern that many faculty have is that they will not be free to speak about problems that need solutions if everything they say could be broadcast in the local paper (as opposed to the student paper, to which they have not objected). Would you like every conversation you have with your colleagues published in your local paper? Could you imagine any times that you would like to hash out problems in your company without fearing damaging its reputation? This is the concern that some–but not all–faculty have.

      • Caitlin Burton-Dooley November 17, 2015 at 10:05 pm

        Dr. Comorau I would like to definitely disagree with you on the idea that education is not purchased. I am sure you know that we each pay tuition and though yes of course we were vetted before we got here has nothing to do with how much we pay here year by year. I am definitely purchasing my education, and I am glad to, but I am definitely purchasing it.

      • Caitlin Burton-Dooley November 17, 2015 at 10:14 pm

        Dr. Comorau, I have a lot of problem with the idea that I do not purchase my education. I have been and will continue to purchase my education. I have to do a lot of things to purchase my education but it’s a very big part of this.

        • Nancy Comorau November 17, 2015 at 11:33 pm

          No, Caitlin, you purchase the opportunity to get the education. Tuition is like a gym membership. You can’t purchase a stronger, leaner, faster body–only the tools and trainers to get you there. You pay for classes, the library resources, faculty support, lectures, etc. those things are all opportunities for you to become educated. But you have to do the work. If you purchased your education, you couldn’t fail classes or be dismissed. Education isn’t something you can buy; it’s something you have to actively learn. If you pay tuition and never attend a single class or read a single book, have you purchased an education?

          I think you might be reacting to the idea that college is expensive and you’re making sacrifices to pay for it. I hear that. I wish it were less expensive, and I have the student loan payments to prove it. But you can only pay for opportunities in higher Ed.

          • Caitlin November 18, 2015 at 10:16 am

            I’d have to disagree with you again, and I had this conversation a lot yesterday when I first wrote this comment (sorry about there being two one didn’t appear and then it did – the internet can be confusing).

            I do purchase my education, because you’re right this is like a membership but just like that membership – without it there would be no gym. Without our tuition there would be no school there would be no education to be had. To take away the economic parts of higher education is to be both classist and deeply flawed in your logic. I know that I can fail and I know that I can be kicked out, but I still purchase this education. There are thousands upon thousands of people who can’t pay for that opportunity so they don’t get it. I’m not any better than them, I simply have a few more opportunities be it because of my parents having gone to college or being white and given lots of opportunity. I purchase this education.

  7. Stew Hirsch '87 November 17, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Things have obviously changed since I attended OWU and majored in journalism. After 30 years in the business, this is not what I want to hear. Just plain sad. As noted, everything will come out anyway. And there is no way to keep information “on campus only”. Once it’s out, it’s out. So in the interest of making sure of accuracy in reporting, let the students in the meeting. What’s next? City Council tosses the Gazette?

    • Mark Aaron Miller November 17, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      The City Council is a public governing body. This is clearly not analogous.

  8. Gretchen Hirsch November 17, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    Verne Edwards worked long and hard to allow students to cover faculty meetings. Of course, personnel issues need not (and should not) be discussed openly, but in Verne’s own words, “The function of The Transcript was to cover everything of interest to OWU–the students, faculty, staff, and administration. Without access to faculty meetings, there was a huge hole in the coverage of the University.” The problem with closing meetings is that secrecy spawns rumors that may be much worse than the facts. As a former employee of Ohio Wesleyan, I have the greatest regard for the wonderful faculty who give so generously to their students. Now, perhaps, is a teachable moment for both students and faculty in working together to address the needs of both constituencies.

  9. Paul E. Kostyu November 17, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    I thank Prof. Scribner for agreeing that students and the Transcript should have a place when university policies are discussed, particularly at faculty meetings.

    However, I believe he and others misunderstand the role and history of the Transcript. It is not a public relations arm of the University nor of the faculty, the students or any department, including the Department of Journalism. It has been independent of University policy since its founding in 1867 as The Western Collegian.

    As such, The Transcript makes it’s own policy. It’s an independent voice. It has never required approval for anything it does from the faculty. It didn’t check with faculty when it decided to move from weekly to every other week. We change editors every year and we don’t check with the faculty. We fire people from their jobs and we don’t check with faculty. I don’t think I can be clearer: IT IS INDEPENDENT.

    What Prof. Scribner and others seem to be caught on is that the faculty were not notified about the relationship between the student newspaper and the Delaware Gazette as well as the fact that the paper publishes online. As a courtesy, the paper could have notified the faculty of the tie to the Gazette, but it was not required to do so. And do faculty really need to be told the paper is online? I wonder which century my colleagues live in.

    If The Transcript wants to have an exchange of stories relationship with another news organizations, that’s the Transcript’s business and not the University’s. I initiated this exchange on behalf of the students more than a year ago, at least in part to give their work more exposure. It has been a good relationship. It includes, by the way, student coverage for the Gazette and Transcript of the Great Decisions series each year.

    Now all of a sudden the faculty have a problem with the relationship? The Transcript has been publishing online for several years and now the faculty are just figuring that out?

    I am baffled by my colleagues lack of education about how the journalism business works. But let me go back years, even decades ago, to when the paper published every week just in print, before the online product. Do faculty really think that only people on campus read it? It was sent to parents, trustees and alumni across the country. It was placed in shops around the Delaware community. What the paper is doing now is not new.

    And as I have stated before, the University’s administration was fully aware of the relationship with the Gazette and raised no objections.

    Finally, as to the use of the word “unprecedented.” This is the first time in 25 years that I am aware students have not been allowed to attend an entire faculty meeting from the get go. That is unprecedented. And that’s news.

    Paul E. Kostyu
    Associate Professor of Journalism

    • Mark Aaron Miller November 17, 2015 at 8:03 pm

      “I am baffled by my colleagues lack of education about how the journalism business works.”

      I am baffled that you’re baffled. Your colleagues would be more comfortable in sharing the inner workings of the university with it’s students rather than the public at large. Doesn’t that make sense for a university?

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