Discourse / Editorials / October 31, 2012

Thoughts from the Embers: Plea to open the Board of Trustees

Remember what happened at last week’s Board of Trustees meeting? Unless you’re one of two observers from Student Senate who attended, chances are that you didn’t even know the meeting was taking place. And unless you regularly attend Student Senate meetings, chances are that you’ll never know what issues the trustees discussed that could be affecting your education right now. Current measures to keep students aware of Board business are appreciated yet inadequate; much clearer expectations for student observers are needed in order to keep the student body apprised of what this extremely important group does.

When we think about where the buck stops at Knox, President Teresa Amott usually comes to mind. Certainly most of the administrative decisions we hear about come from her. But Teresa is not the end of the line. It is the Board of Trustees that approves the college’s budget. It is the Board that has formed a “Knox 2030” committee to plan out the college’s future. It is largely the Board that determines the direction of discourse at the upper levels of the college, which in turn affects what happens to the rest of the Knox community.

Given the importance of the Board, then, it would logically follow that information about their meetings would be shared with the student body. And in theory, it is. While the press is not allowed in, as is standard practice at such meetings at colleges across the country, two student observers from Student Senate are selected each year to attend Board meetings on behalf of the entire student body. After each meeting, they return to Senate to relay what was discussed. Yet these verbal reports are brief and often devoid of detail, and they rarely get more than a sentence or two’s worth of mention in Senate meeting minutes. Therefore, what can be several hours of discussion on issues in all areas of life at Knox is boiled down into a few lines of text.

Inevitably, information is lost in translation and the Knox rumor mill runs its course. Or rather, it would if the entire student body attended Senate meetings. But there are only so many students who can make a weekly commitment to attend an hour-long meeting, and Senate minutes have been conspicuously missing from the Senate website this year. Thus, we have a dual-pronged problem. Information about the Board of Trustees is not reaching students, and if it were, it would be comparable to the sort of message you receive at the end of a game of Telephone: garbled, incomplete and rather different from what was originally said. When the average student isn’t aware of Board of Trustees meetings until “Knox-Board Meeting” shows up in his or her wireless network list, we have a serious communication breakdown.

Fortunately, this is a relatively easy problem to solve. After each meeting, student observers should be required to create a written report that can be electronically distributed to the student body. These reports should be comprehensive and as specific as possible. We understand that not every detail of the Board’s discussion is fit for public consumption, and delicate information does need to be handled with care. But there is no reason why topics discussed and the general flow of the conversation cannot be communicated to the student body.

We’ve written several times this year about openness at Knox, from the Dean of the College search to Knox’s budget deficit, and we’ve seen some important strides made. Last week, a campus-wide email informed students of the progress of the Honor Code Review Committee; the week prior, Teresa made an appearance at Senate to ask students to think of better ways that the college can convey information about its finances. These are all good steps, and we applaud Knox for taking them. Yet Board of Trustees meetings are one area of Knox still largely hidden from students’ eyes. We urge the college, in the course of the wider discussion about communication, to consider the usefulness of written reports in conveying information to the student body.

Tags:  board Knox open student body Student Senate trustees

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