For Immediate Release:
Students Denied the Right to Speak at the Board of Trustees Meetings
Several members of Students for a Democratic Society—the radical activist group that brought Bill Ayers to campus last year and occupied University President Susan Cole’s office last fall--attended the Board of Trustees meetings during the fall semester to demand transparency and accountability from the administration. The Board of Trustees is an appointed decision making body at MSU.
SDS attended meeting in October with the intention of protesting a rule that denies students the right to speak. Interestingly, the student trustees approached the SDS members and assured them that they are allowed to speak at the meetings and can speak at the next meeting if they write a letter 24 hours in advance.
Although SDS was suspicious of these claims, one student—Lisa Grab--followed the student trustees’ advice and sent a letter criticizing the structure and lack dialogue at the Board meetings. Her letter was met with opposition, and she was not granted permission to speak at the next Board meeting. Student trustee, Alex Bychkov responded to Lisa:
“Jon and I made a mistake in relaying the wrong information to you, unfortunately. And for that, on behalf of Jon and myself - I apologize. Students are not allowed to speak during the BoT public session, unless it is a special session - i.e. the tuition hearing this past April. What you can do is send your letter to Jon and I, and we will be sure to bring up those topics in the Student Report to the Board. Your voice can and will be heard.”
Although Alex says he will do what he can in his power to make sure the members of SDS’s voice are heard, SDS is unsure how effective this method will be.
Lisa Grab’s reaction to Alex’s response is skeptical:
“I am not criticizing the student trustees as individuals at all. They have been supportive and polite and offered their help. They made a mistake and gave SDS the wrong information, and that is not a problem. What is a problem is how the board meetings are structured so that everything passes unanimously without discussion and without the public having a clue what is going on. Yes, the student trustees might be able to mention our concerns at a meeting, but is that the same as allowing students to have their individual voices heard? Is that the same as being able to engage in dialogue with the board members? I am skeptical. Students cannot speak at these meetings, and I don’t know why. That’s a problem. Students are allowed to speak at Rutgers Board meetings.”
At the most recent BoT meeting on December 15th, the SDS sat in the first row of the University Hall Conference Center. Several of them chose to duct tape dollar bills over their mouths to symbolize how they are reduced to a source of money for the school and how their voice does not matter. In his address to the board members, AFT President Wolfson said:
“It’s nice to see members of both the faculty and the student body here tonight to observe this meeting. I say ‘observe’ because that’s all they can do … They are being denied what is, in my opinion, a basic right to be heard at a public meeting of a public university. Rutgers allows public participation, and many of the institutions in our sector allow public input. I think the time is overdue for Montclair to allow public input as well … No trustee ever asks a question in public, and there is never any dialog. There are only general, and positive, comments during the President’s report about this sports team or some new residence hall. There is no substantive information presented at these meetings.”
While SDS and the rest of the audience applauded President Wolfson, the board members sat in silence without commenting before moving on to the next item on the agenda.
The next Board of Trustee meeting is scheduled for February 2nd at 4:30pm. As always, the location and agenda have not been announced yet. For more information, please see the BoT Correspondence.
Written by: Lisa Grab