As the administration takes steps in better codifying the NIU Constitution, administrators must remain cautious, remembering the lack of transparency NIU’s previous governing bodies have demonstrated.
The attorney general issued an opinion Monday that agreed with that of the university in regards to the Senior Leadership Roundtable. The opinion stated that the group, which serves as an advisory body to NIU President Lisa Freeman, is not subject to the Open Meetings Act.
“The [Roundtable’s] prescribed duties appear limited primarily to supporting the president on internal administrative matters [...] While the Bylaws state that the [Roundtable’s] duties include making recommendations to the University Council on issues discussed with the president, those recommendations are expressly limited to ‘basic university policy’ rather than substantive policy issues,” according to the opinion.
Anthropology Professor Kendall Thu said he agrees with the decision because the body is informal, just as his department hosts informal staff meetings. However, Thu also said it is important for members of the Roundtable to continue to have an open dialogue with bodies that are subject to the Open Meetings Act such as University Council.
There were clear violations of the Open Meetings Act under former NIU President Doug Baker, and as a result, there is a lack of trust in the administration from the students. Rebuilding trust takes time, and this will not be easily done without steps that prove the administration is committed to its promise of transparency.
“I think [Freeman] is correct; she should have a staff that can meet informally, but I still believe in transparency,” Thu said. “This doesn’t preclude members [of the Roundtable] from engaging with University Council. They need to make themselves available, give reports and communicate — transparency is crucial given the past.”
Open communication is key in maintaining a transparent environment, and requiring regular reports from members of the Roundtable at governing meetings such as University Council provides openness in light of a decision that incites skepticism.
While the decision to create a Roundtable that is not subject to the Open Meetings Act may not be inherently malicious on part of the administration, it is still one that raises concerns. With cautious optimism, we recognize the improved transparency of Freeman’s administration and put trust in that. However, we urge the university to recognize the fear, founded on precedent, for the future of transparency.