College Closes Doors To Press For “Consensus”
March 10, 2016
As the student newspaper for the Fort Steilacoom campus, our duty is to bring you information about what is going on around school. This could be anything from event coverage to new teacher hires. In addition to covering events and personalities, we seek to report on changes in policies that impact the student experience, such as academic success, discipline, behavior expectations or even safety.
Striving to bring the most current information, our editors and writers attend student and staff meetings around campus and the district. For the most part, we have been able to attend them until last fall quarter.
A Pioneer reporter attempted to attend the District Governance Council, a body that reviews all proposed policy changes before they go to the Board of Trustees for final approval, on November 12, 2015 only to be met with a stern “No. No press!” from Chancellor Michele Johnson and the reporter left.
The chancellor stated that her reason for closing the doors to the press was to be able to seek “consensus” when sending policies forward to the Trustees. She did not explain how the presence of a student reporter could affect consensus among the Council members, although later she said that she wanted Council members to be able to speak openly without “being misquoted.”
Over the next few weeks, there were several discussion and emails exchanged. Johnson sought counsel from Assistant Attorney General Linda Sullivan-Colglazier. It came down to the argument that meetings were not open and were a school, not public meeting. The term the AAG used was that the Council was an “internal committee” not subject to the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.
Per minutes of the meeting: “Linda Sullivan-Colglazier stated that the OPMA states that: All meetings of the governing body of a public agency shall be open and public and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the governing body of a public agency, except as otherwise provided in this chapter. The OPMA contains specific definitions of “public agency,” “governing body,” and “meeting” in RCW 42.30.020 (see below for details). While the governance councils provide an important component of the district’s governance system structure, they are not a “governing body” of the institution as defined by the OPMA and are not subject to the requirement of the act. Linda mentioned the difference between “Public Meetings” vs “Campus Meetings,” and that this would be a good distinction for students to learn.”
Another meeting, the Student Advancement Council, using the AAG’s same definition of an internal committee and not a governing body, was closed to the Pioneer. Worrying other meetings would be closed, The Pioneer checked with the administrative assistant in charge of the Education and Facilities Planning Committee, and were told The Pioneer are welcome to attend.
The point is that even if the meeting is not an open meeting and the AAG is correct, closing the door to the press is an option and not mandatory. Closing the meeting is not mandatory, therefore it is the chancellor choice to bar the press. Is the reason, “consensus,” reason enough to close the meeting to press, not allowing them to inform students of the discussion of policies that could impact their academic lives? The chancellor says there student government is there to be a relay, but who keeps the government in check? The media.
In our opinion, this is the very definition of the Council. At its Nov. 12 meeting, the chancellor said that any issue or policy that goes to the Board of Trustees “comes here first,” to the Council. Therefore, the Council is acting upon behalf of this governing body, the Board. Without the Council, the Board would have to do the work itself of ensuring policies meeting codes and regulations and laws are in proper format and language.
We believe that all students have the right to know what is being discussed that directly affect them. If consensus is the main problem, then we have already lost, for that seems like a strict controlling of the members of the Cabinet.
“...a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is afraid of its people.”
Pres. John F. Kennedy, 1962