Senate to vote Wed. on opening up committee meetings

This motion was introduced in November and has been presented to Dave Hubin and the Committee on Committees. It was discussed at the February Senate meeting and was scheduled for a vote in March, but delayed because of the important Academic Freedom policy legislation. So there’s been plenty of debate, now it’s time to wrap it up and vote.

If approved, this will mean a change in how committees such as the FAC, SBC, and IAC function. The FAC, for example, requires that elected faculty members agree to secrecy. In theory, this promotes a full and frank discussion between the UO President and the faculty. In practice, it’s just filibustering and ass-kissing.

The AAUP has strongly endorsed open meetings, in its Confidentiality and Faculty Representation in Academic Governance, June 2013. It’s well worth reading the entire AAUP piece, which links transparency to the basic principle of academic freedom – and concludes with this:

Recommendations:

1. Because requiring a pledge of confidentiality as a precondition for participation in any governance activities, other than serving on committees that deal with personnel matters, is incompatible with widely accepted standards of shared governance, faculty members should not agree to preemptive confidentiality mandates or agreements.

2. Confidentiality expectations appropriate to various modes of participation in governance
should be specified, and faculty representatives should be mindful of their responsibility to
keep their constituents informed and to seek their opinions.

3. Searches for presidents and other chief academic officers should have an open phase that
allows individual faculty members as well as faculty bodies to review the credentials of finalists, ask questions, and share opinions before a final decision is made.

The links below include many substantive comments for and against this change, from UO faculty and committee chairs. The motion is from Jennifer Freyd-Johnson (Psychology), Frank Stahl (Biology) and Nathan Tublitz (Biology). They have revised it in response to these comments, and I expect this will be an interesting and important debate and vote.

FWIW, I support the motion. I think the onus is on those faculty that want to keep their Senate committee meetings closed to make a convincing case for how closed meetings have promoted strong shared governance at UO. I don’t think they can do it.

Open Committee Meetings

Number: US13/14-19

Date of Notice: Fri, 11/22/2013

Legislation, Resolution, or Policy Adoption: Legislation

Current Status: Notice Given

Motion:

SECTION I

1.1 Whereas the importance of transparency for good governance is recognized by public meeting laws nationwide and by the State of Oregon, and

1.2 Whereas the ability of the University of Oregon Senate to discharge its duties in a responsible manner depends on its unfettered access to relevant materials and perspectives,

SECTION II

2.1 BE IT HEREBY MOVED THAT all meetings of the University Standing Committees, Senate Internal Committees, and Senate ad hoc committees shall be open.

2.2 BE IT FURTHER MOVED THAT exceptions to this policy shall be limited to the following:

a) Meetings to discuss confidential records of students or employees;

b) Meetings to deliberate on on honors, awards, or grants to individuals;

c) Meetings at which a person called to give testimony requests that the testimony be confidential, in which case the meeting shall be closed for the period necessary to protect the identity of the person;

d) and meetings whose topics fall under the exceptions to the Open Public Meetings Law (as listed in ORS 192.660);

2.3 BE IT FURTHER MOVED THAT the Committee shall notify the public of the time, place and intended agenda for each meeting. Said notification shall be submitted for posting on the Senate Web Page not less than two days in advance of the meeting;

2.4 BE IT FURTHER MOVED THAT the Senate Executive Committee shall implement procedures for such reporting; and

2.5 BE IT FURTHER MOVED THAT this legislation becomes effective at the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year.

BACKGROUND

OPML: This motion is compliant with the spirit of the Oregon Public Meetings law (ORS 192.630, 640, 650 and 660).

AAUP: This motion is compliant with the recommendations of the AAUP: “Because requiring a pledge of confidentiality as a precondition for participation in any governance activities, other than serving oncommittees that deal with personnel matters, is incompatible with widely accepted standards of shared governance, faculty members should not agree to preemptive confidentiality mandates or agreements.” (Confidentiality and Faculty Representation in Academic Governance, June 2013)

AFFECTED COMMITTEES as of the date of this Motion:

         University Standing Committees: Academic Council, Academic Requirements, Campus Planning, Committee on Courses, Distinguished Service Awards and Honorary Degrees, Distinguished Teaching Awards, Environmental Issues, Faculty Advisory Council, Faculty Personnel Committee, Faculty Research Awards, Graduate Council, Intercollegiate Athletics, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns, Library, Nontenure-track Instructional Faculty, ROTC Advisory, Scholarships, Scholastic Review, Student Conduct and Community Standards, Student-Faculty Committee on Grievances, Study Abroad Programs, (Tenure Reduction, Retirement, and Emeriti), Undergraduate Council, University Appeals Board, University Hearings Board.

         Senate Internal Committees: Senate Budget Committee, Committee on Committees, Senate Rules Committee, Senate Executive Committee, Senate Nominating Committee

         Ad hoc committees: Various

FAQs:

Q. Why must my committee meetings be open when it deals mostly with personnel issues?       A. You will close your meeting when it is dealing with individuals. When dealing with policies, as opposed to individuals, you will be open.

Q. What if no one is willing to serve on one of the open committees? A. The Senate may decide that Committee isn’t needed.

Q. What happens to a Chairperson who fails to submit the agenda on time? A. After some discussion, the sponsors agreed that neither the Stocks nor the Dunking Stool were appropriate. They hoped that, over time, people would get good at their job. (See how long it took the Senate Chair to get the Senate agenda out on schedule.)

Q. Will committees be able to get their work done if its members are unwilling to speak up in front of strangers, journalists or bloggers? A. That may be a bit of a problem for some members. However, it may be compensated by other members who like the chance to have their views reach an audience. City Councils and School Boards seem to get their work done.

Q. How will we fit everyone into our small room? A. Unless you are serving bodacious goodies at your meetings, you are most likely to have no visitors. In any case, the Chair will limit the number of visitors to those who can reasonably be accommodated. If demand repeatedly exceeds capacity, help to get a larger room can be sought from the Senate Executive Committee; and, BTW, congratulations for attracting such a crowd.

Q. What shall we do if visitors delay our work by asking questions or making comments? A. The Committee or its Chair sets the conditions for the meeting. If visitors’ contributions are not wanted, silence can be a condition of attendance.  If visitor input is wanted, in a regulated manner, a period can be set aside for visitor comments and questions. Desired regulations may be adopted by the individual committees. Of course, these rules must be applied to all visitors without favor.

Q. What about Committees that have rules of confidentiality?  A.  As indicated above, confidentiality agreements are disapproved of by the AAUP. In any case, the right of visitors to attend the meeting cannot be contingent on the signing of such an agreement.

Financial Impact:

Negligible

Sponsor:

Frank Stahl (Biology), Professor Emeritus
Nathan Tublitz (Biology), Professor
Jennifer Freyd (Psychology), Professor

Related Documents:

Feedback from Committee Chairs about open meetings

Email from General Counsel Randy Geller regarding Public Meetings Law and the Intercollegiate Athletics Committee

Alternate opinion regarding Public Meetings Law

Feedback from former Faculty Advisory Council Chair Kim Sheehan

Feedback from former Faculty Advisory Council member Edward Kame’enui

Feedback from Committee on Committees member Anne Laskaya

Open Letter to the Senate on Making FAC Meetings Public

Redlined version of motion, updated 04/15/2014

Tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Senate to vote Wed. on opening up committee meetings

  1. Sam Dotters-Katz, ASUO Presidento says:

    I appreciated your (Bill) comments in the Senate Exec meeting about this issue, supporting the idea that certain exceptions should be made to this policy. Without getting into specifics, our IAC meeting where testimony was given by individuals needing anonymity was very informative. Those individuals only spoke with us on the condition of confidentiality, so I am glad that can continue to happen in the future.

  2. Nathan Z says:

    On the one hand, I have participated in open meetings in which truckling and kowtowing speeches are made to curry the approval and support of the gallery–regardless of the speaker’s actual views. On the other hand, I have participated in restricted meetings in which a smaller group votes in private in ways that most closely align with their own interests.

    Since these vices are likely to be indulged when the opportunity arises and since the democratic advantages of pandering and the hard leadership choices of restricted meetings also need their own opportunities, I propose that we roll dice one week before each meeting whose attendance is not determined by rule (but after the agenda is established). Odd means the meeting will be open; even means that it will be closed.

  3. uomatters says:

    Yeah, that first meeting was a good example of the importance of procedures allowing meetings to be closed for special situations.

    Then of course Rob Illig dropped the ball on following up.

  4. Not a trustee says:

    But I notice the board meetings and its committee meetings are public. The trustees don’t seem scared, or unable to do UO’s business in the open.

    • Sam Dotters-Katz, ASUO Presidento says:

      This has nothing to do with the Board. I agree those should be open, and have to be. That’s pretty obvious. This is University Committees, most of which don’t handle public money.

      • Youngin' says:

        I don’t know why being in charge of public money matters. Holding meetings in the open seems like a good idea regardless.

        If your position is that the Board of Trustees is required to be open by the OPML…well the OPLM applies to any “governing body” of a “public body” and makes no mention of “handling public money.” Since SB270 (which created the board of trustees) Section 16.2 clarified the status of the UO as a “public body” for the purposes of ORS 192.630 (the OPML) and in Section 18 reaffirmed the faculty’s “government” authority, I think the legal status of senate committees is pretty clear cut. Honestly I don’t know how there can be any debate about this…at least among people who have actually read the statutes and the relevant case law.

        I don’t think the law is the reason the sponsor of this legislation want it to pass. Rather, they believe in the values of open government and in transparency. The UO self government might be small and insignificant, but it heartening that there would be an internal push to make it more transparent and responsive. It makes me proud of my association with the UO.

        I will be more proud when it actually passes though.

  5. Old Man says:

    The FAC was created before the Faculty had delegated its governance authority to the Senate (subject to oversight by the Faculty). Its charge was to inform the President on matters of Faculty concern. During DF’s reign the FAC expanded its membership to include upper administrators — ex officio and non-voting — and declared itself “confidential”. This arrangement allows a University President to invoke “shared governance” to justify any presidential action, claiming that the action was supported by “faculty leaders”.
    There are other consequences of allowing an elected committee to have frequent and confidential access to the University President. Most seriously, a committee that claims to represent the concerns of the faculty becomes a secret branch of governance when its voting members confide their decisions to the UO President but not to their constituents. Such a committee acts in violation of the UO Constitution, which states that the UO Senate may not delegate any of its governing authority.
    The Senate can erase these serious concerns by opening the FAC meetings to interested viewers.

    • Correction says:

      The FAC does not vote. Ever. On anything. It’s important to get the facts right, BEFORE pushing for legislation that comes to correct a wrong that does not exist in the first place.

  6. uomatters says:

    The FAC votes about naming opportunities. I think there’s an OAR about that. And of course about its own internal matters – e.g. secrecy policy, chair election, and sometimes what to put on the agenda, etc.

  7. yes, it does says:

    I’ve been there, and I’ve voted. And the FAC charge distinguishes between voting and non-voting members. http://committees.uoregon.edu/node/35

  8. uomatters says:

    I remember voting about the letter we wrote Pernsteiner after he fired Lariviere.

  9. Ron Bramhall says:

    I’ve served on the FAC twice in the last 10 years, and I am a strong proponent of openness and transparency in decision-making on this campus. I think the motion is bad for the FAC for one simple reason – if the FAC is required to have open meetings, it will cease to function, and may cease to exist. We can argue about whether that is a good thing or not, but that is the likely outcome. So the question here is not whether the FAC should be subject to an open-meetings policy but whether we want an FAC at all.

    I don’t know all the history here as some do, but my understanding of the FAC is that it serves in an advisory role to the President. It is not a legislative or representative body per se. It is intended to provide a diverse faculty/OA voice to the President but not to represent faculty in deliberations with the President. Our representative body is the Senate/Assembly so we have an open process designed to debate matters in a public forum and hold administration accountable.

    For the FAC to serve as an advisory body that the President will listen to, the President must trust the FAC and must be able to engage candidly with the FAC. That often means discussing sensitive matters before they should become public. Again, I am a proponent of openness and transparency but I also believe there are some matters that should be deliberated before they become public. The question is – Who decides what those matters are and when they should become public? We can either have a faculty voice in that process or we can let the Administration make those calls unilaterally.

    I agree with many of the criticisms of the FAC – particularly the notion that the FAC has been used by the President in the past as a shill for shared governance to support some controversial Presidential action. That is not necessarily a structural problem – that has more to do with the willingness of any particular FAC to take stands with the President. Sometimes that is a delicate political game, but it can be done. During my first term with the FAC about 4 Presidents ago, this very thing happened. We were asked to publicly say we were consulted about a decision that had already been made and we refused. We also pushed back on that President on many issues and managed to influence his decisions.

    We have to get clear about the function of the FAC, and other bodies, and decide if we want them. The FAC is not a shared governance body in the sense of representation, legislation and policy-making, but it can provide a faculty voice on important matters.

    If we can live with some of the secrecy, and trust our colleagues to hold the line when necessary, we can have a seat at that table. if we can’t, then we can be sure that sensitive deliberations will still happen behind closed doors – we just won’t be there and our public, Senate-driven, governance process will have to suffice.

    • Cat says:

      What I don’t understand is why, if what (some) people really want is to consider, and potentially change, the role and functioning of the FAC, this is bundled in a larger, seemingly generic proposal to affect all committees. This makes it almost impossible to have an open and honest discussion about either the specific (FAC) or the general (how the wide variety of Senate committees should do business).

      It just seems to me a recipe for an ill-considered disaster–not helped by the determination to ram this vote through as fast as possible.

      • observer says:

        So, FAC is in the crosshairs and this appears to be a reasonable development. What is really clear: a select group, while elected, still wants to continue to do business behind closed doors and not be publicly accountable for their actions. The struggle between the open Senate and the closed, selective elective FAC is obvious. Time for change.

        • WTF says:

          Actually, what you state as “really clear” isn’t accurate at all. It may be time for a change for other reasons, but the motivation of current FAC members is not the driving force of the opposition to this motion. Many, if not most, of the opponents are former FAC members.

          There is a legitimate debate to be had – writing off the opposition as simply the self-interests of a select few is lazy thinking.

          • observing WTF says:

            Dear WTF… wtf? You’re certainly entitled to your opinion. Nowhere did I say that *just* current FAC members are the “driving force”. You sound cranky, and a bit presumptive.

          • WTF says:

            Observing:

            You said, “What is really clear: a select group, while elected, still wants to continue to do business behind closed doors and not be publicly accountable for their actions.”

            You didn’t offer any other reasons why someone might disagree with the motion or point to any group other than a “select group, while elected…”

            Therefore, I concluded, reasonably I think, that you meant current FAC members are the only ones objecting to this because of their self-interests.

            Help me understand how to interpret what you wrote differently.

            And I’m not cranky, just pointing out a different perspective than the one I thought you proposed. Who’s being presumptive?

          • observing WTF says:

            “… but the motivation of current FAC members is not the driving force of the opposition to this motion. Many, if not most, of the opponents are former FAC members.”

            Since you’ve established yourself as in the loop and not a “lazy thinker”, how about enlightening us about the opposition to this motion? The motion that passed with one ‘no’ vote and no significant discussion of reasonable opposition from any one other than Hubin who tried to shame Senators, assuming they don’t read the particulars before doing Senate business.

            So, which groups don’t want this motion to succeed and why? It’s time to shine, WTF. ; )

  10. observing WTF says:

    You wrote: “.. writing off the opposition as simply the self-interests of a select few is lazy thinking.”

    Presumably, you were referring to my perspective without asking first for clarification of a short blog post, and for which I was apparently guilty of not first doing a rough draft with complete explanation to the satisfaction of an anonymous blogger. Am I required to offer reasons? Of course not.

    What is there to explain? Reading through the comments leads one to see that those who have been and are still on the FAC were elected, and prefer their meetings be closed. Might there be other groups who feel the same? Yes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.