Community Content: UPUA Closed Meeting the Wrong Move
This column was submitted by a member of the community. You can have your content published on Onward State by submitting it here. The following remarks were delivered to the UPUA at last night’s open forum regarding its controversial decision to close part of its normally open meeting to the media and public to discuss the Freeh report.
Good evening everyone. My name is Michael Kramer, and I am a former member of the UPUA General Assembly and Executive Board. Closing this meeting later in the evening is ill conceived and inadvisable. It’s contrary to the interests of the UPUA, the student body, and the often-cited goal of transparency in government. It’s admirable that you wish to educate yourselves in a calm and orderly manner, so that you can make an informed decision. However, it’s your responsibility to educate your constituents as well. Do they not deserve to hear credible debate and stances on the issue? Mr. Speaker, you referred to closing the meeting as “inviting friends over” to your apartment. However, this isn’t your apartment. This is an official meeting of the UPUA in the HUB. This is the forum in which your voice goes on the record.
“I don’t want public pressure to stop anyone from saying what they feel” is what you said Speaker Wortman. In the same article critiquing the decision by this body, you were quoted saying: “I take great insult to the idea that any member of this organization would not have the fortitude to stand up and say what they feel.” Why the two quotes? Which one is an accurate representation of your estimation of the abilities of these Representatives? I’m inclined to say the first one, since you think they need the privacy of an apartment conversation to discuss this matter. You clearly contradicted yourself, and in suggesting closing this meeting you have shown me you feel a stronger desire to lead this Assembly, rather than merely guide it, than is appropriate to your office. I hope you are willing, in the future, to think through your actions as they reflect on your office, especially when it’s in a negative fashion.
Transparency isn’t something you pick and choose based on content. President Ganjam, that no voting will occur tonight on this issue doesn’t mean, “there is nothing that needs to be transparent.” That no vote will occur seems a weak argument that the public should not be able to know exactly what happens during this discussion. You ran on a platform to attain this office that espoused fiscal transparency for the university, roundtable based government to include more students, and at least three other initiatives based upon creating boards with student input in various aspects of the university. You emphasized inclusion, and tonight you exclude for what I consider arbitrary and indefensible reasons. Tonight, you are making a debate on a subject that emotionally impacts many students at Penn State a secret. This is not necessary.
Speaking of necessary, Vice President McDonald, your comment that “I see it as being as transparent as possible,” was poorly thought out, and downright foolish. The meeting required a 2/3rds vote to become private. By definition that means it is possible to be more transparent. Conversely, if you mean to imply that, rather than a physical or parliamentary impossibility, the members of this Assembly are unable to state their opinions or acknowledge their ignorance on a subject, any subject, but especially this one, then you show little faith in their moral fortitude, honesty with their peers and constituents, and general rhetorical ability to state their own ideas.
This issue is not a “unique” one. Students at Penn State have been dealing with conversations concerning the Sandusky Scandal, Joe Paterno, the Freeh Report, football culture, Penn State Values, etc… for years. If the leadership of UPUA truly feels that this topic is unique to this moment, you haven’t been paying attention. Lord’s resolution deals with a very painful memory for many Penn State students. It reminds us once again of that all-encompassing damnation that so many in the country have placed on this campus, when we, the students, had nothing to do with the events that occurred. And what do students see when they look at a closed-door meeting to discuss what’s going on? It doesn’t take much stretching of the imagination to see an Assembly that doesn’t care about them. That doesn’t think it needs to include them in its discussions.
The clarion call for transparency isn’t something I’ve ever had much respect for, often seeing it as an overused springboard from which people complain about what they really care about. However, the standard of transparent government is a noble, and morally correct, one. Without it, the purpose of a Republic no longer makes sense. Your issues as an Assembly are not different from those of the students. Your voice is theirs, and you don’t get to hide that voice away, regardless of whether you feel embarrassed by what you say and what you don’t know. Occasionally I’ve seen Representatives forget that, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
In sum, I suggest a motion to suspend the rules to allow the addition of a vote to re-open the discussion to the public, and a vote in favor of said re-opening. Don’t let this become this Assembly’s big mistake. Every Assembly has one or two that all too often define their terms of office, but you still have the opportunity to fix yours and make it an embarrassing “could have been.” Rather than an embarrassing “was.”