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Published: Thursday, 8/28/2003

UT trustees refine policy for comment at meetings

The men's swim team at the University of Toledo no longer exists, but it still is making waves.

The UT Board of Trustees yesterday said it is refining procedures for allowing public comment at its meetings, a response in part to an incident in April when a swim team spokesman trying to save the program was prohibited from addressing the board.

Chairman Joan Uhl Browne said the board has been looking for a long time for a compromise that would open the board to the community without leading to micro-management.

“There are times the board needs to listen,” she said. “This hopefully would give people not within the university an avenue to bring a concern forward.”

A committee investigating the matter found UT has a provision in its bylaws regarding public comment at meetings. All it requires is submitting notice two weeks in advance to the board secretary, something Ms. Browne said she was unaware of in the spring.

A common provision at other schools, the committee found, is that the board chairman can grant or deny the request or refer it to a committee.

Bowling Green State University requires a three-week notice, while Owens Community College requires one. The Medical College of Ohio allows people to address the board but has no official policy.

UT's policy will be revised and reconsidered by a committee in October.

In April, Ms. Browne and the other trustees walked out of a meeting when Kevin Bush, a former men's swim team captain, asked for five minutes to address the board and continued speaking after he was declared out of order.

Mr. Bush wanted to present a plan to save the men's swimming program, one of three eliminated because of a severe budget crisis and gender-equity implications. Trustees, who had been approached individually before the meeting, said the board was not meant to be a court of appeals for operational decisions.

Mr. Bush said he is pleased that the board is reconsidering its stance on public comments and hopes it indicates more of a willingness to act as a check on administrative decisions.

“I think it's a minor victory,” he said.

There still will be no guarantee that concerns will make it to the full board, because they could be referred to committees. But having options is key as UT officials prioritize programs and consider more possible cuts, Ms. Browne said.

One question that will be examined is the rule about giving two weeks notice, because some things could come up closer to a meeting date, Trustee Richard McQuade, Jr., said.

“It seems to me the spirit of these provisions is to permit comment,” he said. “We also want to make sure that public comment doesn't turn into a beer hall brawl.”

Guy Beeman, student government president, said he'd like to see the timing issue addressed as well as a wider sampling of how other institutions handle the issue.

UT's policy will be geared toward people outside UT, Ms. Browne said. Students and faculty can make themselves heard through student government and faculty senate.

In other business, the board approved reduced fees for three tests for sexually transmitted diseases after Trustee Daniel Brennan saidthe expense might make students more reluctant to get tested.

It also created an audit committee to make recommendations related to UT's external and internal audit functions.



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