After more than 35 years, faculty meetings at Ohio Wesleyan University will no longer be open to reporters.
On Monday, Ohio Wesleyan faculty members voted to prevent The Transcript, the school’s independent student newspaper, from attending future faculty meetings.
Bob Gitter, professor of economics and a member of the faculty’s executive committee, presented the motion to ban reporters.
In October 2015, a Transcript story was shared with the Delaware Gazette and was posted online. Some faculty complained that university business should not be shared with the broader community. In response, the faculty denied The Transcript access to its Nov. 16 meeting. Then faculty asked its executive committee to consider developing a formal policy regarding student journalists’ attendance at future meetings.
“Faculty meetings will not be open to reporters,” the motion presented by Gitter Monday read, “and a new mechanism in the form of a faculty meeting summary will be made available to the public within 24 hours after the end of the faculty meeting.”
Gitter then called for a closed session so faculty could discuss the proposal.
Faculty voted 47-21 in favor of banning journalists at faculty meetings, beginning next fall. Representatives of Ohio Wesleyan’s student government will be allowed to attend meetings.
Gitter said after the meeting that keeping the faculty sessions open to journalists would have “a chilling effect on what people are willing to say if they feel the comments are going to be published in the newspaper.”
The length of the meetings was also one of Gitter’s concerns.
“The fact is, too often, going into executive session, the meetings are lasting much too long,” Gitter said. “Here it is 7:30 p.m. I had to stay and count ballots, but the meeting didn’t get over until just a few minutes ago.”
The faculty has always reserved the right to enter executive session to discuss sensitive issues.
Monday’s meeting started at 4:30 p.m. and went into a closed session only to discuss the ban. Student journalists were allowed in for the rest of Monday’s meeting.
“There’s a number of reasons (the motion passed), but not everybody that supports a motion supports it for the same reasons,” Gitter said.
Paul E. Kostyu, chair of the journalism department and associate professor of journalism at OWU, opposed the ban.
“I had a lot more questions and I wasn’t allowed to ask them,” Kostyu said, referring to his effort to clarify the committee’s reasoning for the ban. “I would not call it a debate. It was a series of questions and statements from various faculty.”
Thomas Wolber, chair of the executive committee and associate professor of modern foreign language, said he agreed with Kostyu.
“Kostyu was the first one to stand up and ask a number of questions, which were not satisfactorily answered,” Wolber said.
He also said there was inadequate discussion during the meeting.
“I was not given a chance to speak and to voice my opinion,” Wolber said. “The discussion was truncated and that I found unfortunate.”
Kostyu also said he found irony in the faculty’s action.
“Nationally, there is an effort in higher education to be more transparent. It’s ironic we’re going the other direction,” Kostyu said. “This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the federal Freedom of Information Act, yet we are restricting freedom. It’s ironic and hypocritical that the university invited Greg Moore as our commencement speaker. Greg, who may have actually covered faculty meetings as a student, opposes this policy.”
Moore, an OWU trustee, is the former editor of The Denver Post and a 1976 graduate of OWU. He will speak at commencement on May 8.
Matt Cohen is editor-in-chief of The Transcript, the Ohio Wesleyan University student newspaper. Areena Arora is its managing editor.