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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Published: 9/4/2003

Access - with a catch

Last spring the University of Toledo board of trustees looked foolish and arrogantly aloof when board members staged a spectacle that should still embarrass them all - they walked out of their own meeting rather than listen to a constituent with an idea to share.

Now, five months later, the board declares that it will henceforth permit public comment - provided notice is supplied two weeks in advance.

In other words, nothing has changed.

The board embarrassed itself in April by refusing to listen to a former UT swimmer protesting the school's plan to discontinue the men's swim team. Instead, led by Chairman Joan Uhl Browne, the board filed out. It was an ugly scene.

Kevin Bush, who swam for UT prior to his graduation 10 years ago, was simply trying to make a brief presentation of a plan he and others had devised that would raise additional revenues and perhaps save the swim team from elimination. Evidently UT President Dan Johnson had not productively communicated with the swimmers, who then felt compelled to take their case to the trustees.

Disgust with UT was not ours alone. The Collegian, the university newspaper, was incredulous, as were others in the UT community. In fact, the two student members of the board of trustees refused to take part in the walkout and stayed to listen.

What they understood, and the other board members still do not, is that the notion of a two-week notice has no relevance any more. There was a time, principally in the 1960s during the Vietnam era, when universities worried about disruptive protests and sit-ins. That siege mentality is long gone.

The two-week advance notice requirement is a rule the board says it has had for years but only now has rediscovered. It ought to jettison it once and for all and commit to a public comment period at every meeting.

Setting aside a portion of every board meeting for public comment seems to us to be a matter of basic fairness. A public university is just another unit of government, and its board members are public servants. City councils and state legislatures can't shut out public input and commentary, and neither can public higher education.

We need to note that it is not just UT that needs to address this issue. Bowling Green State University requires a three-week advance notice, which is even worse, and Owens Community College requires one. The Medical College of Ohio has no official policy. All of our public institutions should move swiftly to make it easier for those with a bone to pick or a compliment to share to cut through all the red tape.

The University of Toledo is still trying to dig itself out from under the debris left behind by the disastrous administration of former President Vik Kapoor. It should not be aggravating its misery by hassling its constituents.

This squabble over public access reminds us once again that this is a weak board reluctant and unable to lift UT out of the ranks of mediocre metropolitan universities.

The University of Toledo should aspire to something much more. The governor could start by appointing new trustees who share that common commitment and who bring something more to the table than past political support.



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