Student Council defends changes to meeting, press policies

To the editor,

Student Council, which was referred to as Campus Council for much of this semester, would like to thank the Phoenix for its concern about the proposed change to reporting at our meetings. To clarify, the name was to indicate a change in student government structure, but we feel that we can publicize the new structure while maintaining the Student Council name to preserve institutional records.

In past years, StuCo has found that the Daily Gazette and Phoenix StuCo meeting reports have not been sufficiently accurate in portraying the projects we have been working on or the processes by which we make decisions.  We appreciate the Daily Gazette’s dedicated coverage of our meetings, as their reports are well-read by students, faculty, staff and alumni.  However, we found that chronic misquoting and misreporting were often inhibiting our progress on various projects, and we often had to communicate to concerned students or administrators that parts of the report were inaccurate. Furthermore, we noted that StuCo members were unlikely to voice the same important information they would off the record when speaking on-the-record. After looking into the systems that student governments at our peer institutions use to report minutes, we decided that our current system needed to change.

Near the beginning of this semester, we met with the Daily Gazette editors-in-chief and asked that their reporters stay for a 15-minute press conference at the end of our meetings. During this press conference, we would go through our agenda and meeting minutes with the reporters, and they would be welcome to ask questions. If the reporters choose to sit through the meeting, they are welcome to ask about the reasoning for excluding anything discussed in the meeting from the StuCo report. That is, the reporter has the autonomy to bring up anything we discussed in the meeting that he thinks we might have missed. Our discussion with the editors of the Daily Gazette was amiable, and the two StuCo co-presidents came to an agreement with their two editors that this procedure would be a better way to disseminate the most accurate and relevant information. At our meeting on Sunday, March 30, 2014, we voted on this policy as a Council, and the vote passed 5 to 2, with 1 abstention and 2 absences.

What has transpired since then is that the Daily Gazette reporter sits through the meeting, which we never banned any reporters or students from attending, and then proceeds to ask questions during the press conference. Often this merely delays the announcement of projects or proposed changes until we are sure they will occur. However, it also prevents misquoting or misrepresenting the news. Our meetings are still and always will be open; we have just asked that we use a press conference format, which will allow the Council to present our final thoughts and decisions on any matter. We don’t view this change in reporting protocol as a decrease in transparency but rather as an increase in clarity and understanding. We are still open to reports about individual projects the Council is proposing, and we are still open to reporters asking different Council representatives for quotes after the meeting. If reporters hear quotes during the meeting that they would like to include in their write-ups, they are welcome to ask the relevant members of Council whether they are comfortable with those quotes being included.

In order to further increase transparency, we have asked that the Daily Gazette report also include links to our own internal meeting notes, which have always been public along with our agenda, and to our Small Steps Forward page. The internal meeting notes are taken by the student-elected Press Chair and should contain more detail on all subjects discussed during the meeting.  Small Steps Forward is an anonymous suggestions/comments box, and the whole Council is automatically alerted to all submissions via email.

Furthermore, we are working to institutionalize additional transparent practices.  We will be tabling at Sharples near the condiment bar during lunch and dinner on Wednesdays for the remainder of the semester. We hope to solicit more thoughts and opinions and by being more visible and therefore accessible to the campus. The SBC chair and SAC co-directors are also invited to join us to answer any relevant questions. We are also hoping to automate the process for flyering StuCo Reports, sheets of paper that detail important recent updates, around Sharples and dorms to notify the student body of any recent actions and decisions. Finally, we are preparing to launch a new Facebook page that will publicize all important decisions made during our meetings.

We appreciate the patience of the student body during this exciting time during which the Council is working to improve internal efficiency and accountability.

 

Signed,

Jason Heo ’15 and Lanie Schlessinger ‘15

Student Council Co-Presidents

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