The second public comment session took place during the most recent Board of Trustees meeting, where individuals were allowed to voice their concerns. Speakers brought up the board’s decision to fire former head football coach Joe Paterno by phone and the actions that followed after the NCAA sanctions.
Out of the eight speakers that were scheduled to talk, six showed up. These public comment sessions could be a source of more conversation between the board and the people it serves, in theory, but in their current form, that’s not happening. As of right now, these sessions call for people to register 48 hours in advance if they have a comment to be made. Additionally, in order to comment, they need to relate to the board’s agenda for that specific meeting.
The board should reform this method and make it easier for people to voice their opinion and lessen the registration time and content restrictions. There’s very little room for dialogue with the trustee members and very little opportunity for real responses. There should be another chance outside of the meetings where people are allowed to relay their messages and concerns toward the board, with the trustees available to have conversations with those who choose to speak. There should be discussion, not just comment.
These public comment sessions are doing very little to improve the gap between the board and the community. Both parties — the board and the public — are not making these meetings as productive as they can be. Chairwoman of the Board Karen Peetz, as well as other trustees, should be available to speak with people. Each member should be equipped with information to answer the public’s questions — even the tough ones.
And students need to uphold their end of the bargain, too. If these meetings are going to be held, then students need to show up and relay their concerns. There needs to be more efficient ways of communicating. The board should be holding a forum at least once a semester that is specifically dedicated to listening and responding to any public concern there might be.
It wouldn’t solve the problem entirely, but that would be a major improvement over the one-way, too short conversations masking as “dialogue” right now.
We need a constructive environment that is designated specifically to fostering and improving the relationship between the board and the public.