Posted by: Nate Nelson | October 15, 2009

The Budget Will Not Be Televised

In today’s edition of The Post, Ohio University students are once again confronted with the realization that their administrators (along with one of their student representatives) see no meaningful role for them in decision-making. While both Student Senate President Robert O’Leary and Graduate Student Senate President Tracy Kelly favor opening meetings of the Budget Planning Council to the public in some way, a large majority of council members — including disgraceful student trustee Chauncey Jackson — are firmly opposed to any such attempt.

I will admit that there is some actual rationale behind their opposition. They argue that opening the council to the public could lead to chaos and gridlock, which is a valid concern. It’s not ideal to have student after student standing up at a council meeting to protest issues they may barely understand. Yet Ms. Kelly, who once also served as a student trustee, argues that this problem could be solved while still opening council meetings to the public by opening them only to the press. After all, it’s a free press that conveys information to the public. Obviously, students and the university community in general would be better served if reporters from The Post, the Athens News, and the Athens Messenger could be present for these meetings and report on them. So why won’t ten of the council members even entertain this idea?

In recent years the budget has been one of the most contentious issues between administrators on the one hand and the rest of the university community on the other. Bad budgeting has seen increases in administrative hiring and administrative pay, including a hefty raise for an extremely unpopular President Roderick McDavis. Meanwhile, these same budgets have frozen faculty salaries, eliminated maintenance and custodial staff, and made deep cuts into academic and community services that students value. Is it really any wonder that administrators don’t want the Budget Planning Council to be more transparent? What might happen if the university community has some idea of administrative budgeting plans well in advance of their implementation?

Although all of those who oppose opening Budget Planning Council meetings to a free press should be ashamed of themselves, there are two opponents who stand out as particularly odious.

The first is new Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit. Dr. Benoit hasn’t been on the job for very long yet, but already she seems to be in lockstep with President McDavis and following firmly in the footsteps of her unpopular predecessor, Kathy Krendl. I’m sure that many students felt as I did when it was announced that a different campus would be, umm, blessed with Krendl’s, erm, talents — and many probably hoped, as I did, that Benoit would offer something different. Well, the verdict is in. Benoit is an administrator’s administrator, and she is as committed as Krendl was to ensuring that administrative decisions that affect the entire university community will exclude most of that community. Dr. Benoit, we can only hope that another foolhardy campus like the one that made the mistake of hiring Dr. Krendl will whisk you away from us soon.

While Benoit’s unsurprising betrayal is serious, even more significant is the treachery of student trustee Chauncey Jackson. An administrative puppet while he served on Student Senate, Jackson has proven even more loyal to the administration since being appointed to the OU Board of Trustees by Gov. Ted Strickland. This is only Jackson’s latest offense against the students he’s supposed to represent. While Leary and Kelly have both done commendable work already in trying to get voting rights for student trustees, Jackson — our actual student trustee — has remained ambivalent. Now he is siding with the administration in keeping Budget Planning Council meetings behind closed doors. Were he to join Leary and Kelly in calling for transparency, he would be creating a united student front that would be difficult to ignore. Instead, he is providing the administration with political cover. According to the Board of Trustees website, “the Ohio University Board of Trustees serves the public trust.” It would logically follow that student trustees serve the public trust of students. Apparently Mr. Jackson would prefer to serve his own personal gain by securing glowing recommendations from university administrators and Columbus politicians. Heckuva job, Chauncey.

Maybe the most disturbing thing for students this year is the realization that we are still seeing business as usual. This is now my third year on the Athens campus, and while I’ve been here I have watched time and again as administrators and their student puppets give lip service to “shared governance” while hoarding governance for themselves. For the first time since I’ve been on this campus, in Robert O’Leary students finally have a Student Senate president who is advocating on their behalf. Still, nothing changes. It is obvious that more drastic measures are called for. Students, represented by both Student Senate and the fledgling Student Union, need to unite with faculty and staff represented by their corresponding senates and unions, in campus-wide protest against current university governance. It’s not just time; it’s long overdue.

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