Winders: Your 10-step program toward better transparency

Paul Mayne // Western News

After spending most of his journalism career in The States, most recently as executive editor of the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald, Winders joined Western’s Masters in Environment and Sustainability program in 2009, and then the Western News as its editor in 2010.

Listen, I get it. Transparency is tough.

Yet, the need for more of it in our governing bodies appears to be the top takeaway for this community from the events of the last few months. There is a reason transparency is worth 19 points in Scrabble, 22 points in Words with Friends and an infinite amount of goodwill inside a postsecondary institution.

However, transparency requires more than flipping a switch. But ‘quick wins’ are out there – especially within the meeting structures of our governing bodies.

Allow me to offer an 11-step program by way of suggestions.

Step 1. Admit we have a problem.

You wouldn’t believe the dumbfounded expressions I get when I say how insular our Board of Governors and university Senate meetings can be. Embrace the fact these are open meetings and should be, first and foremost, aligned in a way for the university community to have easy access to the discussions and decisions during them.

Step 2. Welcome the outside world.

Not everybody knows everybody. Western can be a bit like London in that way – assuming we have all been here for generations and just know one another. Arrange meetings – physically and structurally – where attendees can always ID and hear the person speaking.

Step 3.Cheers to that.

On the first Friday of the academic year, Board and Senate members should host a joint happy hour, inviting the university community to mix, mingle, meet one another and build camaraderie.

Step 4. A gentle reminder.

Chairs need to remind members they are in an open meeting. At Western, we’re not so much secretive as we are suspicious. Watching a Senator question a local journalist about taking photos in an open Senate meeting last week – and then further questioning if he was taking photos or videos, like that mattered – was an embarrassment.

Step 5. Embrace 19th century technology.

Don’t freak out when a member of the press wants to take a photo. It won’t steal anybody’s soul, I promise. Define a space where photos can be taken during a meeting. Don’t limit time, however. This isn’t a Springsteen concert; photographers need more than the first 15 minutes. Nobody cares about pictures of Senators approving the minutes of the last meeting. Let them shoot the debate they came for and then leave.

Step 6. Embrace 20th century technology, Part 1.

Let people record meetings. Currently, the Board does not allow audio recordings of its meetings. Nothing guarantees inaccurate quoting like trusting the speed of a pen.

Step 7. Embrace 20th century technology, Part 2.

Remember those cameras? Well, they can shoot video now. So can phones. It’ll be OK. They are just moving pictures. Same rules apply as in Step 5.

Step 8. Embrace 21st century technology.

We have the technology; let’s webcast Senate and Board meetings. Not everyone can sneak out of work to attend midday meetings.

Step 9. Publish or perish.

Currently, the Board and Senate publish their meeting minutes after they are approved at the next meeting – weeks or months later. Post the minutes within 24 hours of a meeting with a disclaimer reading: PENDING APPROVAL. Of the thousands of meetings I have covered, only one had a non-punctuation complaint about the minutes of a previous meeting.

Step 10. Question period

The Senate is looking into adopting a formalized ‘question period’ at its meetings. Let’s go a step further. Once a year, set an agenda item where any member of the university community can come and ask a question of the Board or Senate.

Step 11. United we stand.

Remember we are on the same team. The barbarians are outside the gates. Transparency is another word for trust – we owe both to our entire university community.